Style Out There : Brooklyn’s Hasidic Hipsters-
“We are the only species which consciously, deliberately alters its appearance. This has been true throughout human history and will always be so because bodily expression can communicate things which words never can. Far from a superficial, insignificant, medium of expression, the customized body lies at the heart of human nature and capability.”
- Ted Polhemus
Modest Fashion. Crown Heights, New York - How do you reconcile your need to have individualism with your religious beliefs?
Day 1 -
An easy day and a nice introduction into the project. I didn't truly know what to expect from Mimi and Mushky, but i never could have imagined the warm reception that greeted us. They are two radiant and genuinely pleasant girls. I was impressed not only at how they took their time to explain in detail every facet of their religion and traditions, but did so in a way that helped me understand on a personal level why THEY followed the customs.
When i researched the story, for me covering your head with a wig had implications of sexism. I felt it repressed these women and made them voicelessly submissive. But, as Mimi and Mushky explained their feelings behind it, i started to understand that this was a blessing for them. A way for them to connect to their faith and perform a mitzvah. It was keeping something sacred and special for their husbands. This was THEIR choice!
One fun afternoon spent trying on different hair styles at Binah Wigs helped me realize that I had ignorantly viewed this tradition as a confinement or a limitation. Mimi, Mushky and i were just three girls, like any others, in a hair salon discussing the latest trends, what styles and cuts we thought best suited our face shapes, and gossiping about our lives.
In some ways it was even better than a regular hair salon, where else can i go from a sleek short platinum blonde cut to raven haired long luscious locks in a matter of minutes?
My biggest takeaway from day one was just realizing that Mimi and Mushky and probably many other orthodox jewish girl are no different from me. We use fashion to put forward a vision of ourselves. Their fashion, however, is led by their faith. It is tied to modesty but they aren't hindered by it.
Day 2 - (Mipster - Muslim Hipster)
Visiting Mushky and Mimi at home was also very special for me, not just to see their family dynamics but more as it gave me insight into their beliefs. Mushkys husband explained to me how that, for example, if you stop to bless a cookie before you eat it, or if you wait 3 years to cut your childs hair for the first time, it makes you value and appreciate the act more. Living with intention, or being more mindful of what you do. Too often i shovel food down whilst I'm “on the go”. I'm not present in the moment and I'm just filling a need. He explained how if you paused, you could take the time to think about what you are eating, and be thankful for it, and contemplate how it ended up being on a plate in front of you and who worked to grow the food. A concept that i thought was truly beautiful!
The pop up sale was really a magical event to witness. I felt privileged to see the Mipster girls gel so well with Mimi and Mushky. They represent two religions that have a long history of conflict and yet, in a small stoop in Brooklyn, ‘modest fashion’ is the common thread that connects these women of disparate faith. As they chatted excitedly they discovered so many commonalities in their religions, and rather than have the conversation escalate to a debate about their traditions and practices, instead there was an obvious joy and intrigue to know more about one another. The conversation soon turned to fashion, and they were busy swapping notes on where to get the best fabrics, what designers they like, what nail polishes were acceptable under prayer guidelines, and where to buy them. It was an inter-religious sisterhood, and now they could give each other insights in to what was the best from their previously separated communities.
Mimi, Mushky, Layla, Ibtihaj and Nzinga are all remarkable women. They are a group of fashion designers, entrepreneurs, an architect and a world champion fencer. They serve to be a shining example, and this meeting, a microcosm for society to learn from. They demonstrated how people can interact and co exist together despite their religious backgrounds. They identified themselves as being soul sisters, a new age of jewish or muslim women, whose faith is and will always be a priority, but fashion is as much of a part of their daily lives as prayer is. These were strong, motivated and inspiring women to be around. They could speak openly and educatedly about negative issues they have faced. Islam is probably the most controversial of all religions at present and yet these girls refuse to be defined by their hijab. They felt that to often they were lumped in to this one stereotype of “muslim girl” and there was no room for personal expression within that. In the west we champion diversity in individualism, and yet we are so quick to judge a woman who wears a hijab? The implications of wearing one piece of fabric is incredible!
I got on so well with the girls that after we wrapped filming for the day, we decided to all have dinner together. Now, with the cameras off us, the girls really started to relax and i got a much better sense of their characters. I invited some girl friends of mine who model in New York to join us who don't practice any religion, and we all sat and chatted for close to 3 hours! (And it only ended because we were the last people in the restaurant to leave).
I feel very honored to have had these experiences over the last 2 days. Style Out There is providing me with an incredible opportunity, not just from a work perspective but also from one of personal development.
Any preconceived notions i might have had of orthodox jewish or muslim girls, which were wholly in place due to my ignorance have been shattered. It really opened me up to question how i view people from cultures unfamiliar to my own and most importantly, how am i received. The more we talked, the more our religious labels were stripped away. Although Mimi, Mushky, and the Mipsters visibly look different to me because of their choice of modest fashion, at its heart it was apparent that we all just enjoyed and celebrated the open pursuit of individual self expression.