A Woman's Spirituality, Measured by Hosiery

Beige Stockings and Modesty in Hasidic Brooklyn

Lisa Anchin

By Judy Brown (Eishes Chayil)

Published August 28, 2012, issue of August 31, 2012.
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The distance between the 16th century, in which we live, and the 21st, in which we don’t, is one 40-minute subway ride. It takes some practice, but you quickly learn to navigate the edges, seamlessly straddling the thick red line separating Here from There.

I went to see movies all the time. I went with my Modern Orthodox friend, Shira, and she found it impossible to comprehend. The tights, I mean, and the movies.

“If you watch movies, then why wear these thick pantyhose in 90 degree weather? If movies are okay, then not wearing pantyhose is okay, too.”

I disagreed. A movie was different. You watched for an hour, and then it was over. Pantyhose were so much more — a bold statement, a part of one’s identity.

Shira shook her head, exasperated. She said it was just insane, us living in a world that no longer existed.

I told her that we could disrespect each other’s way of life and still be friends. I said this when one day, while shopping at Macy’s, she convinced me to try on jeans. She grabbed a pair of Levi’s and firmly shoved me into the fitting room. She waved them over my head, saying she just had to see what I looked like in pants.

It was an arduous process, pushing my legs into two separate entities that hung from the same waistband. Shira helped. She pulled and she pushed, yanking up the jeans. She then stood proudly in front of me and announced that they were perfect. I winced.

I had never been so uncomfortable in my entire life. My legs were suffocating. They yearned for the flare and swirl of a skirt. Pants, I discovered as I tried to bend my knees, were impossible to sit down in. My thighs spread out like squashed gefilte fish.

Shira could not understand me. I could not understand her. We did not always have to understand each other, I said; she only had to hand me my skirt from where she had hidden it in her yellow bag.

The following Wednesday we went to Tribeca to see the movie “Sex and the City.” In Tribeca, people don’t wear pantyhose. I know because I saw them: mobs of extremely secular people shuffling in flip-flops, pretending to be comfortable. As I strode down the block toward Shira, stroking the soft ends of my custom wig, I could see her observing me, her eyes starting at my neck, moving past my fitted T-shirt and the matching belt, to my at-the-knee skirt, and then stopping at my legs. She grimaced. She pointed. She wiped the sweat off her forehead.

“The sun is complaining about the heat,” she said. “And you’re wearing pantyhose?”

I looked at her shiny toes wiggling out her sandals. I stroked my thigh protectively. I sniffed at her Upper West Side absurdity. I told her it was she who had it all wrong. My pantyhose protected my legs from spiritual degeneration and skin cancer. I had come to this foreign side of town to watch a movie with too much sex and impossibly fashionable clothing because I wanted to, and my pantyhose had nothing to do with it. I said many other proud things about our traditions, heritage and whatever talmudic passages I could remember, at which point she said: “Okay, okay. Let’s go watch the movie.”

It was a moment of truth. It was a profound coming-to-terms with being the sole pantyhose-wearer in all of Tribeca. And I was at peace with that. Because when the movie was finished, and what’s-her-name finally had sex with what’s-his-name in the walk-in shoe closet, I would ride the train back to There, over There, deep in the 16th century where I mostly lived, and where we all unanimously agreed that pantyhose were necessary and good. Just not wet.

Judy Brown wrote the novel “Hush” under the pseudonym Eishes Chayil. She is currently working on her second book.


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