Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Shopping for clothes in Israel was once a family affair. In that pre-China era, clothing was expensive and exchanges depended solely on the goodwill of the seller. Refunds were virtually unheard of. Whatever you bought was, like a diamond, yours “forever.” This meant that every purchase was fraught with danger. What if you didn’t like it when you got home? What if you found a defect? What if it didn’t match the item it was supposed to have matched?

In order to avoid such problems, people went shopping en masse. That is to say, they brought along family, and sometimes friends, to voice their opinions and give advice. This at least gave them a running chance of getting things right. No sane mother would allow a daughter to go shopping on her own and, if a dress was needed for an important affair like a wedding, grandmothers, aunts and sisters came along as the jury. Even grown women shopped for “important affairs” accompanied by an assemblage of supporters.

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Since clothing was expensive and styles didn’t change as quickly as they do now, things were made to last and sales were a rarity. A sale meant a mere ten percent reduction on clothes no longer in style. Shopping was not a fun thing; it was serious work, and you were expected to deal with it responsibly. It had to be done, so you did it, and you heaved a sigh of relief when it was over.

Fortunately, those days are over and the New World Order has reached the Middle East. Today, as designers churn out new creations as quickly as their computers can cut and paste, and Chinese manufacturers turn out finished products in masses and heaps, we too have a New Season several times a year, accompanied by its New Collection – or, as it’s known here, Ha’Collectzia Hachadasha. Out goes all the old stuff. In comes the new. Who wants to look out of date?

Shopping in Israel is finally fun. We can buy new, all the time, at prices we never dreamed of. We don’t need our mothers or other advisers. At most, we take along a friend for company. Wear and toss is our motto, just like in the United States. Heaven forbid that we be found wearing mono-colored blue sneakers if multi-colored yellow is now what’s “in.” And if we aren’t happy with a purchase, we can exchange most things within two weeks or actually get a refund within twenty-four hours. (If this is not a sign of Messianic times in the Holy Land, I don’t know what is.) Smaller stores may still tell you that it’s “illegal” to give a refund after the stipulated time, but the big chain stores just return your money without batting an eyelash.

But life is never perfect (sigh) and there is now a new and difficult problem to confront. I no longer need a jury to shop but I do have an Awesome Escort who insists upon accompanying and advising me on my shopping trips. (No, not my husband. I wouldn’t drag him into Women’s Clothing departments.)

As I make my way through bulging racks of stylish clothing of Chinese origin, I make a horrendous discovery. These new designers forgot to include sleeves and necklines in most of their creations and their dresses are ridiculously short – the length of tunics.

And the sizes! Obviously they were all designed for Chinese mini-women!

I was once a tall, skinny American teen who wore a slim size 14. Somewhere along the line, those guys in Paris decided to downsize all the sizes. Who gave them the right to decide what constitutes a size (or a style, for that matter)? What was once a 14 has now been redesigned and reduced to a 10. If you want to find an old size 14, you now go to the size 18 rack. And if you’ve gained a few pounds along the way, try your luck in the 20s!

But they don’t make many nice, stylish dresses in 18s or 20s nowadays (with or without incidentals like sleeves and necks!). The really nice stuff comes only in tiny teeny-bopper sizes. Add my height (and a few pounds gained since I was fourteen…) into the equation and you will begin to understand the difficulties of finding an attractive but modest piece of clothing that actually fits. At this point, my escort makes his (or is it her?) entrance.

Remember Jiminy Cricket, the voice of conscience for the puppet Pinocchio? Well, I don’t have a Jiminy Cricket but I have an Awesome Escort. Like the Divine Voice Eliyahu Hanavi heard at Chorev, my Escort also has a small, quiet, thin voice. An insistent voice. “These sleeves look long enough,” I tell myself as I finger a possible purchase. “No one will notice a missing centimeter or two.”

“I will notice,” says the Voice. The Voice also notices necklines. And lengths. And cuts and colors. Is the silvery orange creation okay for a bubby to wear at a grandson’s wedding or should I stick to the more subdued silvery olive? The orange is infinitely more stunning.

“Stunning?” says the Voice. “Stunning?” it repeats.

I am quiet. Is the entire dress just a bit too stunning? You know, not quite the sort of dress you’d wear to go up to the Beis HaMikdash (may it be built soon!). But a dress for a wedding isn’t as demanding as a dress for the Beis HaMikdash, is it?

“Isn’t it?” asks the Voice.

I protest. “I have to find something to wear and there’s nothing else here!”

“There are other stores,” proclaims the Voice and falls silent.

“That’s easy for you to say,” I mutter. “Your feet don’t hurt!”

But I plod on to the next store, accompanied by my Escort – even though I try to ignore him/her (choose your own gender!). Even though I’m tired and it’s late and I’ve visited more stores than I care to count. Even though I am not in a very receptive listening mode for quiet, insistent voices.

On second thought, perhaps I am. The dictionary defines “mode” as style, manner, method, means or approach. My style and manner of dress and the method, means and approach I use to achieve it are all parts of who I am. All parts of one, sometimes conflicting, whole. It’s that small, thin Voice that works hard to keep all the parts together while keeping me in Divinely-clothed mode. Paris designers are constantly producing stunning, new, seasonal fashions, but I guess Divine mode is eternally in style.

And by the way, I actually did find something to wear to the wedding. It was simple, elegant and in vogue. Just what the Voice ordered. And it just goes to show you that G-d’s gifts are unlimited, even in larger sizes!

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