Worried about what to wear on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? Don’t stress it! Forward reporter Rebecca Spence tracked down superstar fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, who has his own strong views - on both fashion and tradition - and shared them with us via e-mail. Known for both his high-end couture and a newer collection in Target stores, which features cutting-edge designs at affordable prices, Mizrahi was born and raised in the heart of Brooklyn’s (ahem) close-knit Sephardic Jewish community.
RS: With the High Holy Days approaching, are there any style guidelines worth observing for the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar?
IM: For the High Holy Days, I say go over the top. When else do you get a chance to dress up during the day or in an evening context that isn’t a big debauch? I love the idea of dressy day clothes, though they are almost nonexistent. These days it’s either drab day clothes or it’s crazy, slutty evening dresses. Try and find a fabulous tailored suit that doesn’t reek of the workplace, or a dress that has sleeves. What’s a nice yeshiva girl to do?
RS: Do you have any advice on what to wear on Rosh Hashanah?
IM: For Rosh Hashanah I always see fur trim - either the clothes or the accessories. I guess it’s my formative experience of seeing everyone at Congregation Beth Torah on Ocean Parkway [in Brooklyn] in the ’70s and ’80s vying for fur-trimmed attention. It’s actually the one thing you can rely on as a classic for Rosh Hashanah. (We’re lucky the holiday falls later this year than usual. Chances are it won’t be too hot for the sable collar and cuffs.)
RS: How about Yom Kippur?
IM: Yom Kippur is hard, but one solution is something else I observed at Beth Torah those years. It was the custom on Erev Yom Kippur for people to dress in light colors: beige, off-white, banana. It was a wonderful thing, all those people throwing away their sins in shades of white. I think it’s considered disrespectful on this holiday to wear leather or animal skin, which is another reason to get your fur-trimmed thrills at Rosh Hashanah. On [Yom Kippur] everyone is supposed to jump on the Stella McCartney bandwagon and wear synthetic shoes. What about a divine pair of satin Prada platform clogs? Or velvet clogs from Marc Jacobs with socks? That’s a sin anyone could atone for.
RS: Any major do’s or don’ts for either holiday?
IM: There are no major do’s or don’ts I can think of, except to try and look at once stylish and appropriate, which is not my usual advice. Normally I advise individuality over anything else. I remember once, sometime in the mid-’70s, my friend’s mom wore thigh-high Yves Saint Laurent boots on Rosh Hashanah, which were divine, only it turned out to be 90 degrees that day. I suppose when you pop for boots like that, nothing will stop you from wearing them. I remember trying to defend this person later at home. I said to my mom, “She was making a statement,” and my mom said, “Yeah, she was stating how stupid she really is.”
RS: Would frills be out for Yom Kippur, the somber Day of Atonement?
IM: Frills on Yom Kippur don’t seem wrong. There are right frills and wrong frills. I would say frills and décolletage would be wrong for such a somber day, though a high ruffled neck might be classic and respectful. The other thing that might be wrong is a lot of color. A Day-Glo pink dress might not be the best idea. But a pale, fleshy pink one might be divine (especially with pearls).
RS: How about black on Rosh Hashanah, the festive New Year?
IM: I would have to meet the person before banishing black from the Rosh Hashanah palette. On the right person, black is as cheery as sky blue. No reason not to be svelte and sophisticated on the New Year. Rosh Hashanah definitely offers a stylish person a wider array of choices. If it’s black you like, wear it, as so many do. (Including me this year: I put on about 10 pounds giving up smoking, and the only way to look the least bit presentable is black. I will be dieting this year, and next Rosh Hashanah I’ll be in full regalia.)