Ever since I moved to Israel six months ago, I have noticed that I am repeatedly the best-dressed person in the room. What room? Any room. I have had two jobs in Israel, in reputable companies with offices in fashionable expensive high-rises. In my previous job my supervisor, a marketing director, used jeans everyday with no exception. In parties and social events Israelis, unlike yours truly, don’t even use blazer jackets. Although Tel-Avivians excel in beauty, the client attire in your local supermarket does not fall far behind that used in a rural Texas Walmart. Israelis simply don’t care much about fashion, and the sophistication of the city does not match the clothing of its inhabitants. But why?
There are a couple of reasons for this phenomenon. The most obvious is that Tel Aviv is a city with a warm climate, no need to use tons of fabric over your skin. That was the same excuse I got in Los Angeles, except professionals in Los Angeles dress impeccably, and an LA cocktail party attendee would not blush in comparison to its Parisian counterpart. The only people in Los Angeles who do not dress well are, you guessed it, the Israelis. Los Angeles has the largest Israeli expat community in the world, and from your valley chach-chach to your Santa Monica tech nerd, one thing unites them all – sandals, wife beaters, shorts, and in the female case, a strange tendency to wear daisy dukes. If you, my dear reader, are unfamiliar with these terms, congratulations, you still have hope. So, getting back to my point, temperature cannot be the only reason. There is also something cultural about this.
For the second reason, I have to appeal to my own European identity. I was born in a stale, boring, southern European society, where everything was predictable. In Lisbon of the 80’s everything from your job, to your social class, to the food you ate could almost be predicted the day you were born. The Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers called this “Design for Life”. Escape from the norm demanded courage, demanded imagination – it demanded clothing. In Lisbon what you wore said more about you than anything you could say or do. I call into play my Portuguese experience, because I believe that what binds Israelis and, for instance, the heartland of the US (Alabama you are out!) is a deep belief in freedom, individual destiny and that the individual should be judged by his actions and not by his appearance. Also, both Israelis and those Americans come from settler societies, that value manual labour as opposed to looking like you never picked up a hammer in your life. The attitude in both Israel and in the heartland of the US is “who cares what I wear as long as it is comfortable”. Tel Aviv is the anti-Lisbon.
I am, of course, giving an over-simplified explanation to a subtler cultural problem. Not all Europeans dress well, and not all Israelis dress poorly. For as much as I admire Israeli pragmatism and settler spirit, I wish Israelis could learn something from Paris. The orthodox need to wear deodorant when they use public transportation, and I need someone else to wear blazers to bar mitzvahs so I don’t look like the waiter.