Hebrew Hear-Say: Out of the closet

A reader in California asked me to ad-dress a certain topic: clothing. At the risk of skirting the issue, I'd like to first note that I have witnessed some clothes encounters when Americans and Brits had to come to terms with what they wear. As a summer youth-group counselor years ago, I remember a 16-year-old girl struggling with that oh-so-wearing issue of how to dress for a certain occasion. Ultimately, she flounced out of the room saying: "Well, I'm just going to wear a vest and pants!" To the British ear, this sounded like a decision to go out wearing just underwear, so I was relieved to see her later in trousers and a sleeveless top. Now if only she'd said michnasayim and afuda I would not have feared she was about to reveal all by setting off in tahtonim and a gufiya (collectively known as levanim/"whites"). I have to admit fashion is not my scene. I tend to dress more according to common sense than fashion sense: If it's not comfortable, I'm not going to look good in it. I'm more of a record-setter than a trend-setter. I don't do retro, I just wait for the fashions to return. But Israel, of course, is known to be at the cutting edge of the fashion industry, with some indisputably world-class designers. Israel being Israel, on the other hand, you can argue over just about everything, and clothing is no exception. In fact, there is sometimes a very thin line between the fashion statement and the political statement. During the summer of disengagement, wearing orange put you firmly in the pro-Gush Katif camp. There are Women in Green (always in the Right) and Women in Black (who see red at the Women in Green). And you can tell a lot about a gal by the length of her skirt (hatza'it) and sleeves (sharvulim) - the subject of much hemming and hawing in certain communities. Equally revealing, in the nonliteral sense, is the style and size of a guy's yarmulke (or of course the absence of a skullcap): The knitted kippa (kippa sruga) which is actually crocheted (national religious community) vs the black kippa (ultra-Orthodox); the Bratslavers' white kippa vs the colorful Bucharan kippa (kippa bucharit); and all of them against the kippat grush (ha'penny kippa - a tiny basically symbolic headcovering). Doctorates have been written on the dress codes among haredim, whose streimels, jacket length and whether or not they tuck their trousers into their socks all depend on whose "court" they belong to. Lately the matter of dress codes has come to the fore in the discussion over the sexy (or sexist) ad in the American men's magazine Maxim in which Israeli female soldiers are dressed to kill (in the pacifists' sense of the phrase), wearing some of our famous swimwear (bigdei yam). I admit that a photo spread of the average middle-aged male IDF reservist who has lost the battle of the bulge might not be as attractive to the potential tourist, but I don't want visitors to be caught collectively with their pants down - it's below the belt, or as they say here: mitahat lahagora. Still, I guess when it comes to the country's image, it's better the admen rather than the military call the shots. The reader who asked about our dress codes originally contacted me after I wrote in a previous column that "svederim" (from the English "sweaters") were for a while on the firing line when the IDF reportedly considered retiring military pullovers from service because our macho young men were not wearing them. Apparently, the mighty home front of Jewish mothers got wind of the idea and forced the army to retreat. We all know sweaters are what you have to wear when your mother gets cold. But just what to call them is often less clear-cut. The correct Hebrew word for a pullover ("pakres") has been utterly defeated and you're more likely to see the general term "srigim" (knitwear) to cover all: the miktora (cardigan) and the lesuta (the correct word for a buttoned "vest" which I don't think I have seen anywhere other than the pages of the Hebrew Language Academy's Lamed Leshoncha. The reader asked about the word "sudar," which her son's Israeli Hebrew teacher uses for a jumper, although this technically refers to a piece of material that covers the neck. (And don't get me started on a "golf," which is a whole different ball game.) In the post-"kova tembel" age - remember that quintessential kibbutzniks' hat? - Israeli men tend to wear a baseball caps (kova mitzhiya) in the heat of the summer. And although it's no longer unusual to find businessmen here dressed in suits (halifot) and ties (anivot), Israelis still tend to opt for the informal - the simple hultzat triko (T-shirt) and jins (jeans, to you or me). "Skin jins" (skinny jeans) are second nature to this year's female slave to fads, but you never know what the fashion industry has up its sleeve. liat@jpost.com