I was lucky enough to spend several weeks in Israel last month, most of the time in Jerusalem. As I always am when I visit, I was fascinated by the way all kinds of women dress — Muslim, Jewish, Christian. It’s so cool and interesting how minute variations in the way a scarf is tied or a skirt is worn can signal one’s identity and community — but that’s fodder for another blog post. What also really interested me was seeing how expertly Orthodox Jewish women use layers to adapt and modify their clothes so they work for them.
Let me explain. Modern Orthodox women in general tend to dress modestly — arms covered, fairly high necklines, skirts to the knee. But there are many, many variations to this generalization, and the way women adapt clothing to these standards can teach the rest of us a thing or two about being creative with our clothes.
For instance, many dresses come to mid-thigh only. No problem! Slip a straight cotton/lycra knee-length skirt on underneath, and you are good to go. Or slip on a pair of leggings or even slim or baggy pants instead (which doesn’t suit the standards of everyone but was something I did see a lot of). If there’s a dress with spaghetti straps, slip a t-shirt on underneath or a cropped cardigan on top.
All these layers mean more pieces to coordinate in terms of color, pattern, and silhouette. But the layers are a great way for anyone — not just Orthodox Jews — to get a look you like while using layers to play up the parts of your body you like and minimize the parts you don’t like.
I found I reached for my cardigans and shrugs a lot while we were in Israel — I could pop them on over a sleeveless dress and be ready to go into one of the many holy sites or visit with Orthodox friends. I pick them up at Target and Eileen Fisher, among other places. (A little shrug or jacket is a great way to add some detail and interest to a basic neutral dress, which makes this a great strategy for travel!) Now that I’m back, I am thinking about how I will use leggings once it is a little cooler — and am browsing shorter skirts and dresses, something I would normally never do, because I don’t really love my legs.
How do you use layers to keep your body happy in variable temperatures or to play up features you like or downplay those you don’t like as much?
(Ketura Persellin is an image consultant, writer, and public speaker in Washington, DC, and surrounding suburbs.)