Saturday, February 9, 2008

It's All a Coverup

Figuring out what clothes will cost a young couple is almost impossible. This is a case where the factors affecting spending are so variable as to make one figure impossible. But let's look at those factors.

What you do. If you are sitting and learning your required "uniform" is pretty much set. You can get away with far fewer clothes since you are wearing the same thing day in and day out, always assuming that laundry is being done frequently. Your chavrusa is highly unlikely to notice if a button is missing or if your cuffs are fraying. If you are working in an office someone just might notice if you've worn the same shirt and tie 30 days running. Frayed shirt cuffs and obviously patched pants are frowned upon. You will need more clothes. Women who are working will clearly need to have more clothes as they cannot, unlike a man, wear the same black suit and same white blouse with it five days in a row. That's not a fashion statement but a female fact of life. If you want to avoid having people talk and talk about you, you are going to wear something different each day in a week. If you are a woman staying at home with young children then your daytime clothing does not have to be as varied. Note "does not have to be." The owner of the local grocery is just not going to remember that you wore the same skirt and top when you were in 4 days before. Clothing is far more casual if you are a stay at home mom, or at least should be.

Where you live. Frum communities have "standards" of dress. It is sometimes difficult if not impossible to figure out just who is setting these standards but they exist and are known about by the residents of these communities. Some communities are more formal in their requirements then others. Women who go out of their homes to shop and run errands and go to their children's schools are expected to be dressed in a certain way, or at least certain types of clothing are frowned upon. Years back one of the Borough Park Bais Yaakov schools sent home a note to parents that mothers who were coming to pick up their children were not to be wearing hats or tichels but were to be wearing sheitlach. Everyone complied. What constitutes casual wear in one community might well be Shabbos wear in another. Skirt lengths, skirt material, foot wear, types of stockings, types of coats etc. all have to meet community standards, standards that can and do change every few years. Of course you can decide to wear what you want and the standards be damned, but do not discount the discomfort level if you are always the odd man out.

Outsiders who come into a community for visiting or shopping can be spotted immediately because of the way they are dressed. Here in the US the worst that can happen is that you get strange looks. In Israel, dressing wrong can get you beaten up or "chased out of Dodge."

This applies to men as well, although in a more limited sense. If you are wearing jeans or chinos in a community where black slacks is the norm, you are going to get funny looks and you are going to be talked about, sometimes to your face, and mostly behind your back.

Social Obligations: This is more of a problem for women then for men. Various types of social affairs require different types of clothing. Conversation in a clothing store: Chaya--I really like this skirt! Malka--but where will you be able to wear it? Chaya--I was thinking to Rivka's vort with a nice top. Malka--nope, not a vort skirt. Maybe for Shabbos afternoon? Chaya--Nah, a little over the top for the afternoon. Malka--would probably be good for a kiddush in shul. Chaya--you can't wear a skirt to shul on Shabbos, only a suit! Malka--maybe for a bris? Yeah, that might work but only with the right top. Chaya--I don't see any of those tops here. Malka--yeah, nice skirt but it has no place to really go.

There is no social aspect of frum lives that doesn't seem to have a "required" uniform. Woe betide the woman who doesn't get with the program. And just to make things more fun, the required uniform changes every few years. You really think you are going to be able to wear that "little black dress" for the next 20 years?

Overheard at a l'chaim: "That woman really should not have worn such an inappropriate outfit. All it does is force the rest of us to speak loshon horah"

Go ahead, make a detailed list of all the various types of social functions and community functions you are likely to attend, and then list all the types of clothing needed to be "properly" dressed at those functions.

Men actually have it a lot easier in this area. A black suit and a white shirt takes you through an awful lot of social functions.

The ins and outs of style. Books could and have been written on dressing stylishly. What they all boil down to is this: styles change--frequently. Ergo, you are going to have to go shopping to stay in style. Styles change seasonally, so fall's colors will not be spring's colors, and this season's hem lines will not be next season's hem lines. And men's fashion is not immune from change either, although the changes remain around for longer. Flat front trousers versus pleated front trousers. Two button suits versus three or four button suits. Straight leg pants versus flared leg pants. Trouser cuffs versus no cuffs.

Style addiction is a very real problem in many frum communities. And it is partially fueled by having clothing stores in the community, owned by frum people who are not going to make a living if you wear the same suit for the next 10 years.

The Cleaner Must Have Shrunk My Suit: Weight and size fluctuate, sometimes for biological reasons and sometimes for many other reasons. Women and men frequently have multiple wardrobes--the before and after method of getting dressed. It seems that the answer to "this doesn't fit right any more" is to go shopping rather than to try and do something about any weight loss or gain. Newly married couples in their first few years are particularly prone to this malady.

So How Much Will Clothing Cost Us? If you are trying to figure out how much to budget for clothing then first make a list of absolutely everything that you can wear. Don't just stick to the obvious. Underwear also needs to be paid for. And socks and stockings. And gloves and scarfs. And foot wear of all kinds such as various kinds of shoes, boots, and slippers. And robes and pajamas and nightgowns. And hats, male and female. Now figure out what kinds of activities you will be participating in. Ask yourself what community standards are where you are living. And be honest and rate yourself on the "I want to be in style" scale. And then really be honest and ask yourself where you are willing to shop--does it have to be Lord and Taylors or Bloomingdales or one of the "Avenue" shops? Or are you willing to spend some time in the discount malls or online?

Toss this figure into your budget--and it is way too low for many, many people that I know--at least as a place holder to remind you that clothing has to be paid for. Let's add in "only" $2500 a year for clothing the two of you. That brings our total for a place to live, cars, food and clothing to $60,700. After tax income. And you're not finished yet. There is more, way more, that needs to go into the budget.

To be continued.


the apple said...

Overheard at a l'chaim: "That woman really should not have worn such an inappropriate outfit. All it does is force the rest of us to speak loshon horah"

That has to be the most messed-up logic and worst self-serving justification I have ever heard. Okay, maybe not ever, but it's up there.

Also, it seems to be that most of the reasons you listed for needing a new wardrobe seem to have to do with what other people are going to think about how you are dressed. Not that you should go out of your way to smack community standards of tznius in the face, but I think it's a little sad that it would be so concerning what other people think. Grrrrrrrrrr. This subject bothers me to no end.

ProfK said...

It bothers me too but it's not only tsnius issues--it's "appropriateness" as decided by I don't know whom and everyone follows along. Try wearing a hat to teach in most of the frum schools--no way, no how. Has nothing to do with tsnius when the head is completely covered.

Nor is it only a Jewish thing. Many businesses and offices have a "style" of dressing that they expect their employees to meet.

I can only offer this crumb of comfort: when you get to be my age you start to do what you want and wear what you want and your age offers a protection of sorts. People may look at you strangely but they mostly keep their mouths shut.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but your 2500 would barely cover my wife. And yes, this is probably the argument we have the most is what clothes cost her. But her mother and even my mother back her up. To be honest I hate the whole shtick of having to wear what they are all wearing.

Anonymous said...

If children had to wait to get married until they could have all the money you show here they would not be marrying until very late, maybe in the late 20s or 30s. That is not acceptable for frum communities so they marry early and they carry some debt and their parents help out and they get out of debt with no problem. You are being very alarmist here. The debt problem is just not all that big a deal.

Bas~Melech said...

You didn't factor in maternity clothes. When needed, they can cost double the price of ordinary clothing. And it's twice as hard to find them tsniusdik.

Anonymous said...

If you shop the jewish stores there is no way that 2500 will cover things just for the woman alone and not counting the man. For sure not in Brooklyn or the five towns area.

Anonymous said...

No offense to lazar above, but it's that attitude that's causing serious financial problems in the frum community. It is, in fact, a big deal.

A frum couple, could, in fact, marry early if (and only if) they actually got the skills to make a living first. Two 21- or 22-year-olds with college degrees could earn enough to get by without assistance (or, at the very least--the debt the'd be carrying would be for educational degrees that got them to the point of being self-sufficient).

If he's dedicated to learning, a man can learn early in the morning and late in the evening--and live up to the financial responsibilities of marriage the rest of the day. It worked for the Amoraim. And his educated Balabusta could help make ends meet. Going into debt and then expecting your parents or those in the community who are making a living to bail you out is wrong. A man who doesn't teach his son a trade and fiscal responsibility, but instead teaches him to rely upon his parents for financial backing is teaching him to be a thief.

Anonymous said...

Well said anonymous. But it needs to be stressed that teaching a son that trade is not enough. The son actually has to use that trade to support his family. So many of the college boys sit down for many years to learn and then are way behind in their earning power. And that's when the debt problem starts. Lazar is wrong. Debt is always a big problem. In case of an emergency it may sometimes be necessary but it shouldn't be for regular living.

Anonymous said...

I just don't care about the style thing all that much but even I find myself sometimes buying things just to fit in with what everyone else is wearing. It's easier then having to explain all the time or getting the funny looks. Maybe when I'm married I can finally say enough and dress in what is comfortable for me instead of what is this years fashion?

Anonymous said...

I'm vaguely remembering that there used to be some regularly scheduled buses to some of the outlet malls. Maybe we need to get them back and have more of them so that people can see personally that they are getting ripped off by the local merchants.

Before our son's bar mitzvah we took a trip to Jersey. I got my fancy french suit and so did my son for slightly under $200 total. My wife and girls ended up spending less than $400 for 5 people. Seven nice outfits for less then $600--show me where you can do that shopping in Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

You're missing the point anonymous. For some people it's only a nice outfit if it has the right label and it also comes from the right store.

Anonymous said...

That's true chaya, but sad. And also self-defeating.

My mom and I once had to go into Manhattan on a school-related errand and, thanks to a freak thunderstorm, got marooned in Bloomingdales for a while. I'd never been inside, so my mom took me up to the "big designer" floor. We both laughed when we got there. The more "important" the label, the uglier and more poorly made the dress. And the stores in Borough Park are generally no different. One store was selling an UNLINED "designer" dress for $500. Utter chutzpah.

Anonymous said...

Clothing is really the one area where you can do something to stay on a budget. Unless you shop around you are going to overpay. Plus, my roommates and I share the big budget clothes. Each of us bought one wedding outfit. usually we aren't invited to the same places so we borrow from each other. 4 outfits for the price of only one. Sibs could do this or cousins or friends. These clothes aren't worn that often so why have to have so many of themn?

Anonymous said...

Someone is probably going to yell some name at me but isn't this more of a female problem then a male problem? I don't have any trouble in wearing a suit until it falls apart. Seen one black suit seen them all. My sisters never seem to stop shopping. You should have heard the yelling when my dad offered that he saw no reason why the girls couldn't wear the same dresses they wore to my oldest sister's wedding to the next sister's wedding.

Anonymous said...

Not going to call you a name Shalom because I think you're right. It gets even worse if you have daughters. Mine are still little and I can't believe all the clothes stuff that even little girls seem to need.

Commenter Abbi said...

Actually, this is really a charedi problem. I'm dati leumi living in Israel and I buy 2-3 tzanua, reasonably price, comfortable shabbat outfits a year (usually seasonless, and I add or subtract sweaters/layers for warmth). I buy a few long/short sleeved t shirts per season + 3-4 twill/denim skirts per season for the week ( I work from home).

I went to my brother's in Har Nof for shabbat and was pretty shocked at the shabbat clothing situation there. All the little girls were wearing brown/black velvet outfits (mini versions of women's clothing). My little girls were wearing pink/purple Carter's jumpers. Clearly, two different worlds. And I'm not sorry to not be living there. My friends and neighbors could care less what I wear any day of the week, and if I wear the same shabbat outfit twice, no one blinks an eye.

The charedi obsession with appearances seems to easily spill over into old fashioned materialism.