By SARAH MELAMED
When I first came to Israel I was often asked “So you’re religious?” No. People would retort: “How come you’re wearing a long skirt?”
In this small, densely populated country religion and politics shape the lives of everyone. Fashion has come to signify where each person fits within the greater society. Soon enough my long American skirts were relegated to visiting Orthodox neighborhoods.
My choice of dress used to be a matter of comfort but here in Israel it’s not so simple: clothing reflects ethnicity, religion, gender, age, degree of assimilation, fashion trends and socio-economic status.
Israel is made up of immigrants from vastly different cultures. In the past ethnic clothes were worn by new arrivals but the second generation discarded their parents’ outdated wear for modernity. Others consider their attire a part of their identity and pride, too deeply rooted to contemplate changing.
For example, the ultra religious, be they Muslim, Christian or Jewish, have a uniform announcing their faith. Subgroups differentiate themselves, from head coverings to the color of their socks.
Today I people-watch from a sidewalk café, trying to identify people after years of studying the idiosyncrasies of local style. Secular styles have merged in the West but tell-tale signs still set them apart: the baseball cap, clothes a tad too stylish, shirt tucked into trousers. When an American tourist passes, I can’t help but smile. I used to look like that before I began dressing as I wanted to be perceived locally, wearing clothes — short skirts! — that announced who I was before I even opened my mouth.
Sarah Melamed is an American food blogger from Israel, interested in ethnic food, culture and history.