Dress Codes: Mixing Fashion with Faith

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Sarah Elizabeth Sagal, Orthodox Jew

From her stockings in midsummer to her close-toed shoes and long-sleeved shirts, Sarah Elizabeth Sagal is not your average Los Angeles girl. That's because the 27-year-old librarian is also an Orthodox Jew who adheres to a strict interpretation of religious laws found in the Jewish holy book, the Torah. "The point is to be attractive but not attracting," says Sagal, who is married and has a toddler son. "God gave us these precious souls and I really want that to shine through. There's no need to show off my body when I would rather people know my inner essence."

What sets Orthodox Jews like Sagal apart is their strict adherence to their faith and to rituals that affect everything from their diet to their dress. The dress code emphasizes modesty. "My skirts must cover my knees whether I'm standing or sitting, and my shirts must rise above my collarbone and cover my elbows," explains Sagal. "I cover my hair, too. I could wear a scarf or a hat, but I wear wigs because they're less conspicuous." (Orthodox Jews believe a woman's hair should be seen only by her husband.)

Getting an inconspicuous wig can be an expensive proposition: Sagal's range anywhere from $400 to $2,500 and are made from human hair. "People often ask me, 'Why cover up your own hair with someone else's? Isn't that cheating?' " she says. "I grappled with that question and wore head scarves at first, but really, they're hard to match with other clothing and they make me stand out. The whole point is to not be conspicuous, and that's what a wig achieves. Also, it's not like I'm wearing some long, blond, eye-catching thing. It looks nice, but it's not sexy."

When Sagal hangs out with nonobservant friends, her Orthodox lifestyle doesn't really get in the way. "Thankfully, there are tons of kosher restaurants in Los Angeles," she says. "That makes it easy for me to be proactive and say 'Oh, let's eat there!'" But she does have to make more obvious concessions to her faith when engaging in activities like swimming, working out at a gym, or riding a bike. She swims in women-only pools and wears a high-neck top and knee-length skirt with leggings underneath, all made from swimwear material. And to work out? Sagal wears a knee-length skirt and leggings -- and she doesn't work out in front of men. "I can do most everything, but people do stare," she says. "It's Los Angeles, and I know they're wondering, Why doesn't she just wear shorts like everyone else?"

Continued on page 5:  Saba Syeda, Conservative Muslim


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