At the start of “My Unorthodox Life,” the Netflix reality series about Julia Haart, the fashion director who turned her back on her strict religious upbringing for the high Manhattan life, Batsheva, her eldest daughter, walks on the tray in a pair of jeans.
“What are you wearing?” Batsheva’s husband Ben asks sullenly. “I got used to your not covering your hair. But pants?
She upset not only her sense of decorum, but also a strict and often misunderstood dress code dating back to Biblical times. Ben, who has been slower to abandon the traditions of his Orthodox upbringing, asks for time to process his choice. Obviously, she doesn’t have it.
“The idea that a woman can wear short skirts but not pants – it’s really just a state of mind that you are raised with,” Batsheva said the other day. “I thought it was time to deprogram that thought.”
Such fashion debates are at the heart of a spectacle in which fashion, with secularism’s most splashy totems – the TriBeCa penthouse, the helicopter rides to the Hamptons – is itself a protagonist. It is also a flashpoint around which family tensions revolve.
These tensions are largely stoked by Julia, the 50-year-old family matriarch and resident brand, who rejected restrictions from her Orthodox community in Monsey, NY, for a fairy tale hybrid from “Jersey Shore” and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
An irrepressible mixture of ambition, right and caustic indignation, she spends much of her time in the series denouncing the restrictive mores of her culture and, in particular, her insistence on a version of modesty that forbids showing his collarbone, knees and elbows.
Waging a philosophical war against the community she fled, she gives free rein to her own fiercely evangelical inclination. “The idea that women should cover up, that they are responsible for men’s impulses and impure thoughts, is pure fundamentalism,” Ms. Haart said in an interview. “It has nothing to do with Judaism.”
Fashion, she insists, has been a liberating force in her life, the most visible and immediately accessible badge of her unfettered self-expression.
On the show, she exults by pushing boundaries, flaunting generous expanses of what her daughters would call “boobages” and greeting visitors in hot metallic leather pants and high skirts.
More provocatively, she dons a tailored romper for an impromptu visit to Monsey. “You get some stares,” her friend and colleague Robert Brotherton mutters as she negotiates the aisles of her hometown supermarket. But Julia is impassive.
She is more inclined to preach the gospel of personal growth than to discuss the high-end labels that she favors. But even in the bedroom, it seems, her own initials aren’t enough, her pajamas daringly stamped with fancy Vuitton monograms. She sports chilli-colored pants and a star-studded top in the show, proclaiming, “To me, every low-cut top, every miniskirt is an emblem of freedom.”
Ms. Haart’s relentless sermon can seem abrasive at times. “The way she talks about freedom reminds me of someone who resents all the rules very much,” said Amy Klein, who alluded to her own abandonment of religious orthodoxy in an article on Kveller, a site Web focused on Jewish culture and motherhood.
Was she acting by zavka? “It’s Yiddish for ‘despite’,” Klein said. “The idea is that you should dress provocatively so that you really feel like you’re rebelling. “
There is no doubt that Ms. Haart’s journey has been filled with trepidation, as will likely be detailed in her upcoming memoir, “Brazen: My Unorthodox Journey From Long Sleeves to Lingerie”. After leaving her husband, Yosef Hendler, who is portrayed sympathetically on the show, “I slept with other men but I still wore my wig,” she said. “This is the level of fear I had. For me, removing my sheitel meant that God was going to kill me and that I would go to hell.
She faced her fears in small steps, first selling insurance to save enough money to leave Monsey and eventually designing a line of killer heels much like the six-inch stiletto heels she wears on the show. . “Show me a law that says I can’t wear high heel shoes,” she scoffs.
Or for that matter, the flashy togs that are part of the line she created for Elite World Group, the conglomerate of models and talents that she owns with her husband, Silvio Scaglia Haart, a collection filled with candy pink jackets. imitation crocodile, emerald sequins jumpsuits and sequins love.
Her daughters tend to be inspired by their mom style. Miriam, 20, a Stanford student, favors bright tartan strapless tops, hot pink puffer jackets and skinny tank tops. Batsheva, 28, adopts a look with cottage accents, all fluffy skirts and puffed sleeves, with an occasional, if not overtly racy neckline.
Belonging to labels such as Valentino, Fendi and Dior, she shows her tastes for caviar on the series, as well as on Instagram and TikTok. Very daughter of her mother, she favors prints and bright colors: burning coral, soft lilac and hibiscus. Like her mother, she has come a long way.
Ms Haart attended Bais Yaakov Seminar in Monsey, where she raised her eyebrows when wearing a red dress. “Someone complained and I was called to the rabbi’s office,” she recalls. “He said to me, ‘You have to stop wearing color. It is not appropriate. You attract attention. But where in the Bible do they say you can’t wear color?
“Modesty is not mentioned in the scriptures,” said Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. “These rabbinical interpretations of modesty have been fed back into biblical texts over time. “
Deeply rooted in the Talmud, the main source of Jewish law and tradition, these interpretations, Dr Sarna said, were largely based on the assumption that the sight of a woman, and even her voice, is exciting to people. men.
Historically, the call for modesty has not been uniformly or universally heard. “A considerable degree of divergence has been found in social norms in this area, which have been significantly influenced by social, economic and geographic differences,” observes Yosef Ahituv in The Jewish Women’s Archive.
Men, it should be noted, were hardly exempt from the rules. The boys had to show up to school in a regular uniform consisting of black pants and white shirts buttoned up to the neck, recalls Ben. “That way they wouldn’t be distracted from their studies. “
And yet, says Dr Sarna, “The paradox of modesty is that its obligations fall primarily on women.
Because standards were rarely codified, schools were often left to enforce regulations, including the edict to cover the knees. Dr Sarna still remembers a time when teachers measured girls’ skirts to determine how many inches they were above the knee. “Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel were also modest,” he said. “But I have my doubts as to whether anyone was measuring skirts at that time.”
Ms Haart grew irritated at similar restrictions and eventually ditched them with her sheitel and calf skirts, trading them in for the golden accessories of a company’s success. Her boldness won her an following, but she also aroused anger.
“The show is not called ‘My Fringe Sect Life’, it’s called ‘My Unorthodox Life’,” read a Jerusalem Post opinion piece. Julia “therefore points the accusing finger at all traditional Orthodox Jews”.
Others question his motives, speculating that the show was a marketing ploy designed to pave the way for a planned public offering from Elite World Group.
Julia’s style alone sparked a lot of gossip.
“I know Netflix loves to fetishize ex-Orthodox women who abandon their Judaism” Chavie Lieber, reporter for The Business of Fashion, wrote on Twitter, referring to the almost lustful fascination engendered by shows like “Shtisel” and “Unorthodox”.
But as she observes, “There are thousands (millions?) Of Orthodox women who have a very different history. And yes, some of us also work in #mode.
While Julia hammers herself repeatedly, and somewhat on the defensive, her problem is not with her faith but with all expressions of religious extremism. In search of a consensus, it aligns itself largely with the precepts of feminism.
“How many times have I been told as a girl, ‘Julia, your dancing, your learning the Talmud, these things are not appropriate,'” she said. “I want to eradicate this whole concept of a wise woman. “
And with it the notion of adapted outfit. “We rely on men to tell us what God wants from us”, she likes to reprimand. “I want women to choose for themselves.