Jewish Humor Meets Personal-Style Blogging
Silver clogs. Fisherman sweaters. High-waisted jeans. These are just a few of the sartorial choices I’ve made in recent years that in no way flatter or turn heads, but that I adore. So I was thrilled to come across “Man Repeller,” Leandra Medine’s personal-style blog. Medine, 24, began the site in 2010 while in college at the New School and living at home with her parents on the Upper East Side. Through her blog, she’s crafted a career for herself as one of the most prominent fashion personalities of our time.
What explains Medine’s success? “Man Repeller” shares many traits with other popular personal-style blogs: It’s run by a young, photogenic woman who wears pricey clothes, covers runways, gets featured in the mainstream fashion press, and collaborates with designers.
But unlike other such blogs – “Fashion Toast”, say, or “Sea of Shoes”, Medine’s makes a particular argument about fashion: the clothing that most delights women is often the very same clothing that men do not understand. High-fashion or runway-inspired garb rarely shows off curves or sends reassuring messages that the wearer is girlfriend material. In Medine’s world, fashion is about looking interesting or impressing other women, not snagging a mate.
I should emphasize that Medine herself does not, as a rule, repel men. Indeed, she recently married one. Her posts on how to make an otherwise man-attracting outfit man-repelling typically begin with photos of her in a skimpy get-up and conclude, several layers later, with something approaching Edina Monsoon. The concept depends on this contradiction.
I find that many men simply can’t understand why a woman would wear something that men don’t even like. This might seem like a feminist case for fashion. But the most obvious reminder that fashion is not aimed at pleasing men is that runway models typically look preadolescent and emaciated. That is hardly a feminist triumph. So [the relationship between fashion and feminism remains ambiguous. But Medine may have helped get a conversation going, and at the very least filled a niche.
Whether or not we view it as a feminist blog (a label Medine herself does not embrace), “Man Repeller” is in several ways a Jewish blog. Medine is a graduate of Ramaz. She references her holiday observances on her blog, and included a Shabbat dinner into her New York Fashion Week activities.
When the maxi skirt — a look she associates with her Orthodox day school — became a hot new trend, and when female street-style subjects embraced hats, not unlike one worn by Hasidic men, she dedicated posts to these looks, including street-style examples and her own styling interpretation.
Medine riffs on the two opposite clichés of how Jewish women might dress: ultra-modest and designer-budget. On her blog, she shows that much of what one finds on the runway is as lust-inspiring as yeshiva attire, referring to [an acid-wash denim vest] (http://www.manrepeller.com/2012/08/wearing-pencil-skirts.html), for example, as “birth control.” Meanwhile, her outfits are definitively secular. Also unequivocally high-end — a choice she’s been criticized for.
Which brings us to the other, more controversial stereotype Medine plays with: the princess. She has been quoted saying things such as, “My favorite shoes of all time are a pair from Alexander Wang. I got them the summer I started The Man Repeller, and I had to beg my dad to buy them for me at Barneys.”
But she appears to avoid the criticism heaped onto other style bloggers who come from similar wealthy (and generous) families. This is in part because she preempts these responses by owning up to her privilege. But it’s also that she subverts the cliché. Medine wears expensive clothes, but not to fit in with a conformist milieu or to lure a rich husband. Rather, she does so as a way of demonstrating indifference to such goals.
For all her attractiveness, Medine’s tone is one of self-deprecation, in the tradition of Woody Allen or maybe Rhoda Morgenstern. In this way, she subverts one last stereotype of the Jewish woman: the sad-sack who can’t get a date. That a blog with this concept has a Jewish author and deals so heavily in Jewish themes seems, to me at least, no coincidence.