Monday, June 2, 2008

Rethinking Denim

Mention denim in frummy circles and you get funny looks. Denim is not looked at with favor. I don't understand why given what happened to me below.

Denim figured into two impromptu shopping expeditions I took. What I found makes me believe that we need to upgrade denim from casual "worker" clothing to you can wear it anywhere clothing. I had a few spare minutes and ran into a store on Avenue J looking for a tichel. The store sells hats and tichlach so I browsed for a few minutes. That's when I discovered I was really not in Kansas anymore and was somewhere in Oz. There it was, a fairly plain cap hat in denim. I picked it up, looked at the price tag and then had to look again. I was putting the hat back on the shelf and preparing to leave the store when the sales person told me "That's such a big seller and what a bargain." I backed out quickly. That bargain was $57.00.

I was on Coney Island Avenue and dropped into a store that sells ladies clothing. I wandered over to a rack that had denim skirts on it. Again, I could not believe what numbers were on the price tags. The cheapest skirt on the rack--this is denim we are talking about--was $95 and there were others with price tags in the $110-145 range. And, oh joy, we were talking about dry clean only.

So yes, denim seems to have become the new silk, at least in Flatbush. People may look down their noses at the stuff but then they pay through the nose for it. The prices are so over the top. And yet this is where frum Brooklyn shops?

All the way back to my car I repeated to myself "There's no place like home, there's no place like home." And then I got into my car and went there. "There" hasn't yet elevated denim to the price range of couture clothing. Hmmm, I wonder what silk costs in Flatbush?


Bas~Melech said...

I was so miserable when I first came to Brooklyn and realized that I could no longer be "frum" in denim. I had this real love affair with denim because it matches just about everything while being neither black nor stain-magnet. But I was REALLY stumped when slinky came in its place. Someone explain to me how slinky skirts are more aidel than denim.

The "denim" you are talking about that's back in is not the comfy denim of yore. If it's in the shape of a suit, that's no denim in my book! It doesn't even feel the same.

And speaking of denim, all respectability aside, camp season is coming up and I WANT MY BIZ SKIRTS BACK!!!

(ok, ok, sorry for that outburst. Now I'll go put on my cute pleated skirt like a good girly)

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic but you raised the idea when you mentioned tichlach. Just why does something that small cost that much?It's sure not the amount of material that is in the tichel. And it isn't the work either. Very little sewing on most of them. I can guess which store you went in to. A small tichel not even one foot square in material runs about $30 to $40 dollars. They keep staying in business so someone must be buying the stuff. But why?

If high schools want a good project for their girls teach them how to sew their own tichels. Save a fortune that way.

Anonymous said...

If you're really aidel, you don't wear denim suits either. But the store I think you went into is known for being overpriced - you can get the same skirts elsewhere for about $10 cheaper, for what comfort it gives you.

:-/ I'm pretty sure the real aidel don't either wear slinky. That's for the Flatbush pretenders who attend the same schools.

But I'd like to join you for the cry-in - denim is so practical. The material they make my black skirts out of wears out so fast, and you can't wear most of them to dig in the garden. Couldn't they at least differentiate between torn, washed out denim, and the nice type they make Shira skirts out of?
Noooo, course not. This is Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

The reason denim is back is because of the Russians. Back in Soviet Union denim was considered on the fansy side and it was common to wear it to weddings and other big events. So, as more and more Russians become frum denim is becoming more popular. And since Russians don't mix that much among others they don't care about the rest of Brooklyn's attitude towards denim (except for the school interviews and such, but that's a diffent subject).

ProfK said...

Just a little "English teacher-ing" before someone raises eyebrows about denim as appropriate for weddings. The original material was developed in France and was known as "serge de Nimes" or "material de Nimes," named after the town it was produced in. It was closer to what we consider serged woolen fabrics today, although not made of wool. It was not used to make work clothes and was frequently seen in women's winter cloaks, sometimes lined with ermine. Not "lower class" at all.

What Levi Strauss did with the material is a different story, and probably the cause of some people's turning up their noses at it. And just to complete the record, Strauss was not the first person to make a pair of pants out of the material--that happened in Genoa, Italy and the name "jeans" comes from Genoa.

Scraps said...

I never stopped wearing denim, public opinion be hanged. But then, I wouldn't shop in Brooklyn if you paid me, nor do I live there--thank goodness. I don't have much denim in my wardrobe anymore, as I'm not supposed to wear it to work [snort--not like anyone follows that rule anyway, but I try], but I don't not wear it b'shitta.

But honestly--$95+ for a denim skirt?! That's not even highway robbery, that's just plain insane.

And Bas~Melech, I'm with you--I still don't understand how slinky skirts were ever deemed "kosher" to the Brooklyn consumer; the loose-fitting, comfortable denim skirts of yesteryear were far more tzanua. Sadly, my Bis skirt went missing in E"Y during my seminary year, never to be found again. :(

Lion of Zion said...

"That bargain was $57.00."

i have a pair of jeans that i will have to cut down to shorts soon. you can have the legs to make hats. keep one and give me the other to sell.

Anonymous said...

You really don't want to know what silk costs in Brooklyn or linen either. If you thought the price of denim was high you might c'v faint at the prices of these items.

Anonymous said...

Not from NY and my kids are still little but don't the kids in NY go to camp with denim skirts? Are parents really spending this kind of money on camp clothes? How did things get to the point where a fabric can be frummy or not? Here (midwest) everyone wears denim during the daytime around the house and out shopping. About the only time we don't wear denim is to shul. Denim here is kind of everyday or informal but it has nothing to do with frumkeit.

Anonymous said...

Scraps, I wore out my Bis skirt but I bought some material and took it and the old skirt to a local lady who sews. Because it really didn't take much work she only charged me $30--I sewed up the hem. Was worth it for the comfort. And everyone asks me now where I found it.

Anonymous said...

Since we moved to NJ my wife does all the clothes shopping here. You can't imagine how much all of our clothing bills have gone down. I really didn't know how much out of whack Brooklyn prices were until we moved. Last year I might not have wondered about your hat or skirt prices--this year I know better.

And since we've moved my wife has started wearing denim again because nobody here cares or makes frumkeit comments about it. My sister who lives in Brooklyn envies my wife the freedom.

Anonymous said...

The denim thing in Brooklyn has really gotten out of control. I went to visit a friend who had had a baby. Whle I was there I decided to run into a grocery store for a few items. I was wearing a denim suit, not shlubby denim either. I had on a matching denim hat. While I was waiting to pay for the groceries one woman says to another one next to her in Yiddish pointing me out that she didn't know that goyim also shopped in this store. Torah according to Brooklyn. Sheeesh!

ProfK said...

I thank you for the offer of the jeans but if I get really in the mood I'll swipe a pair of my son's.

Orthonomics said...

Clothing: another budget area that is most certainly out of proportion in the frum community, especially in NY.

The most expensive single piece I have ever bought cost me $30. I did buy two suits when I was single while out with a friend and felt guilty for spending over $150 if not more (I love the suits but had to block this from my memory). I still wear the suits, thankfully. I may not look stunning, but I refuse to spend so much on clothing or shoes.

Anonymous said...

I didn't come to being frum through birth but as a BT. The woman who was guiding me contacted some girls in Brooklyn to take me under their wing. Did they cover serious halachic topics with me? Did they talk about achdus? No, the first thing they did was look at the denim skirt I arrived at their house in and then proceeded to tell me all the thou shalt nots beginning with denim. The whole thing started to turn me off and I headed out of town for school with no firm commitment to being frum. Lucky for me I found someone at school with a better approach. By the time I graduated I was fully frum and headed to Israel for some in depth study. I learned enough to know that if your whole measure of being frum rests on denim then you had better take another good look at just how frum you really are.

Bas~Melech said...

B4S -- I hereby give you a dispensation to wear denim for gardening. (Pssst, don't tell, but I wear denim for art and cleaning -- and not the refined type either, but the faded, floor-length variety :-O )

Frankly, the prices in Brooklyn don't get to me as much as the GAS prices now. I used to be of the mentality, "Brooklyn -- oy, whatever, they're hopeless. I'll shop elsewhere." But now, getting to elsewhere costs approximately as much as shopping in Brooklyn.

All I can say is that anyone who wants me to support them in learning had better be prepared to move.

Anonymous said...

Bas Melech, you are right that gas prices may factor in on small ticket items. It's not cost effective to spend 50 cents to save 20 cents. But using the car to travel from Brooklyn to New Jersey shouldn't take more than 80 miles tops round trip. Say you spend $4 per gallon and only get 20 miles to the gallon in a large car. You are spending $16 in gas. But also say that the skirt that costs $95 in Brooklyn only costs you $30 in Jersey. Even with gas the savings are worth the trip. Imagine if you bought two skirts. And even imagine a smaller car with better mileage so the trip costs less.

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling in a rebellious mood this morning, so how about this. Let's make a new holiday. Let's call it Denim in Brooklyn day. On that day every single girl and woman has to go out on the streets of Brooklyn wearing denim. Know what's going to happen? Nothing. The sky won't cave in, the birds won't stop singing. People will not be leaving Judaism in droves. People won't suddenly be doing aveiros they didn't do before. The Torah c"v won't suddenly be in danger. The denim "rule" is nothing but shtuss and it's more than time to show it up for what it is. Because if we don't do this and do it now then what is next? Maybe velvet and silk will need to be banned as not tsniusdik enough. After all, designers always refer to those fabrics as sensuous and touchable. And that "past nit" for frum girls.

Anonymous said...

Denim isn't "frum" anymore? When did that happen? We all run around Staten Island in it. If people want to be stupid and spend obscene amounts on denim, that's their problem. I practically live in denim (in my business casual office, I'm considered fashionable because my denim comes in the long skirt variety).

J.C. Penney is now selling a very comfy (and blessedly long--the website lets you search by skirt length!) denim skirt on their website for $24.99. It's mermaidish, so it's not for every figure, but I can attest that it wears and stretches well. You could get a lot of hats out of one :-)

Bas~Melech said...

Anonymously --
You've already accurately stated that nothing would happen. Now allow me to clarify why that is: because people wouldn't do it. It would be an excuse to look around trying to "catch" who's doing this strange new thing.

Offspring -- Denim hasn't been frum in Brooklyn for a looooong time.

Which reminds me of another potentially humorous post i could do: Those wacky discussions kids would start in HS with any susceptibe teacher. "Why can't we wear denim?" (If I were the teacher, I'd probably say, "Good question. Who says you can't wear denim? Go ahead." and continue with whatever was just interruped. Some foolish teachers would fall for this multiple times)