In the first of a Jewish Daily Forward series on her former Hasidic life, “Hush” author Judy Brown discusses pantyhose and movies, two subjects that help carve the line between Hasidic and mainstream society, or as Brown puts it, “the 16th century, in which we live, and the 21st, in which we don’t.”
One day, Brown recounts, as she sat with her pantyhose-clad legs in a baby pool, a young Hasidic man walked by and thought her wet legs were bare — a taboo in the ultra-Orthodox enclave in which Brown grew up — “like a careless whore” and reported it to the rabbi. While she cleared up the misunderstanding, Brown uses the experience as a starting point for her musings.
It is the way things are in the confined ZIP codes of Brooklyn, where an ancient way of life still thrives, along with its dress codes, language and traditions.
Is this good? Is this bad? I do not know. It is a warm world that is suffocating yet reassuring.
She elaborates on the presence of pantyhose in the conservative Brooklyn community and how their color is enough to pass judgment on the girls whose legs they adorn.
Legs must be covered at all times, preferably in opaque beige.
Sheer beige was fine, too. If the temptation got too great, perhaps off-black. But black, navy, brown or any other color was forbidden. Dark pantyhose had once been in style in the world out there — no one could recall the decade or place — and hence, forbidden in here.
High school teachers warned of the spiritual denigration. Shidduchim depended on it. The girl who wore black tights was quickly relegated to class B, the “modern” type. A fine girl, perhaps. Excellent character traits. But with such legwear, it was explained, many an excellent marriage prospect stopped dead in its tracks.
Then there’s the movies. ”We don’t go to the movies,” Brown writes. But the “Hasidish-ish,” herself included, do.
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.
Then, when meeting up with Shira to watch Sex and the City, Brown realized she was the only one in pantyhose that summer day in Tribeca — and managed to find some peace in the realization.
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.”