Religion has always been really important to me. Growing up as a modern Orthodox Jew, I went to yeshiva [and] but I also grew up in Brooklyn, and I would lie, cheat, and steal to get onto the island of Manhattan. I remember saving up for my first pair of Manolo Blahniks when I was 16 years old, and I made myself fit into the last pair that was on sale in my size.
[Ever since] I was a young child, I just loved clothes. I feel like clothes are really a fabulous way of expressing yourself. And it’s not about wearing something loud, it’s not about wearing something that says look at me. You can really kind of start articulating who you are and what you want to say. But there’s always this traditional part of me that kept the Jewish laws like being kosher, keeping the laws of Sabbath. And it was a really kind of interesting thing to get into the fashion industry, which—it’s not that there aren’t people who are religious in the fashion industry—it’s that, for fashion people, fashion is their religion. So it was always challenging to balance the traditional way that I grew up with the modern world [of] New York City.
One of my very best friends from growing up in Brooklyn is a girl named Rosie Assoulin. Now, Rosie Assoulin happens to be a name that people know. She’s a fashion designer and getting tons of press for her amazing gowns, but when Rosie was 19 and I was about 23, we made a pact that someday she’d make my wedding dress. So when I met the man I would marry I called Rosie and I said, “This is happening—do you still want to do it?” And she said: “Absolutely.”
It’s funny, I never thought of myself as a Bridezilla, and I didn’t become one. The one thing I cared about was my dress. It was off-the-shoulder with these long, billowing sleeves in textured silk. It kind of had this boxy, A-line top. It was actually a skirt and top, but it looked like a gown. And the skirt itself, it was fitted throughout the hips and then it kind of trumpeted out into this long train. The first time I tried the entire thing on I screamed: “Rosie! I’m a bride!” I had never thought I’d feel that bridal moment but then there it was. It was a really special moment to have it be with a friend, on Seventh Avenue, and to see it go from sketch to muslin to the real thing. It was the most “couture” experience I’ve ever had and it was really, really special.
The Jewish wedding ceremony is really the combining of two souls, that is something that is very special and sacred; the bride and groom come into a room before the ceremony and sign something that’s called the ketubah that is a Jewish wedding agreement. Once the ketubah has been signed, and the glass has been stepped on, the marriage is complete and the souls are considered joined for life.
Life is full of surprises I guess. And to make a long story short, our souls weren’t meant to be together. As much thought and effort and love that went into my wedding dress, that’s as much shock and pain that went into choosing what I would wear to my divorce, and while most girls dream about their wedding dress, I’d be hard pressed to find a woman or a man that anticipates what they would wear to their divorce. But to me, clothing isn’t superficial; fashion isn’t superficial. It’s another language for me, it’s my jargon. And it was important for me to express myself in a way that I wanted to in a situation where I felt I had no control. As an Orthodox Jew, I knew a lot about the wedding process before I got married.
What I had no idea about was an Orthodox Jewish divorce. There are stringent laws and the key part of a Jewish divorce is the obtainment of a “get.” A “get” is a Jewish divorce decree that the husband serves the wife with, and with that document the wife is then free to marry whom she likes. It is up to the husband or man’s discretion whether to give a get, when to give a get, how to give a get. It’s intense, and it’s heart-wrenching, it really is. It tore my heart out.
I walk into this room and there’s this huge conference table. The longest one I’ve ever seen. At one end are three rabbinical judges, two witnesses, and my soon-to-be ex-husband. At the other end of the table are my parents and I. One key part of the get ceremony is that the woman is instructed not to speak except for one word: yes or no, whether she accepts this decree of divorce from her husband. Being a writer and an editor by trade, I’m a communicator. Once someone takes away my first amendment rights, I’m angry. The notion of not being able to say anything was infuriating, upsetting, and I felt helpless.
But being a fashion editor, fashion is my jargon, it’s the way that I articulate myself. And so I chose my outfit very methodically. Let’s just start from the bottom up. I wore my highest black suede ankle booties from Christian Louboutin. I know Christian fairly well, and I’ve heard him speak often times about the energy that the red sole brings to a woman. It’s not just about the sex appeal, it’s about the power, and I wanted to feel power. And I think that these particular booties had a platform.
It was a crop top but my midriff was covered by my high-waisted skirt. And the sleeves zipped away from wrist to elbow, almost giving me these Beyoncé-style wings. Because I was about to be freed and I wanted to feel that Beyoncé, I wanted to feel that freedom.
I’m 5’8’’, they must have made me like 6 feet. I wanted to be eye-level or above with my soon-to-be ex-husband. And going on up from there I wore these sheer black hose because I still wanted to remember that I am a sexy, strong woman, but I still had to be fairly modest in front of the rabbis. So, I wore this dark purple Margiela skirt set. And the skirt was below the knee, which is considered modest and appropriate, and it had a matching long-sleeve top. It was a crop top but my midriff was covered by my high-waisted skirt. And the sleeves zipped away from wrist to elbow, almost giving me these Beyoncé-style wings. Because I was about to be freed and I wanted to feel that Beyoncé, I wanted to feel that freedom, I wanted to feel that I was about to fly, subtly of course. And then I wore this necklace that [jewelry designer] Jennifer Fisher, an amazing friend of mine and a warrior herself made me, and it’s a gold collar. It’s just a simple, thick gold wire that has an opening in the back, but I wore it opened in front as a symbol of freedom.
When I walked in with my parents alongside me, I started to shake. I was terrified of the unknown and terrified of what my future would hold. I still am sometimes. But at one point, the rabbis asked me to stand directly across from my soon-to-be ex-husband, and I remember thinking I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it I was going to faint. And then I channeled the strength of my clothes. I know it sounds silly but I thought about the power of my red soles and the sex appeal of my sheer hose and the strength of my outfit, and the freedom that I wanted, and the wings of my sleeves, and it made me strong. And I stood above eye-level. It wasn’t a competition to be taller than him, but it was a way of me saying that I’m strong, too, and I’m worthy of being regarded.
When we stood up across from one other and he looked me directly in the eye saying nothing, but handing me the now-completed get document, my heart was racing as it is now as I tell this story. But I felt this instant freedom, and all of a sudden I got excited for all the potential that was there.
Now, I’m not telling you this story to feel bad for me or to say that clothes can save the world, but that they can make you feel strong, or happy, or excited, or any number of feelings that you feel or you want to express. And that when I couldn’t speak or express myself through words, I was able to express myself through what I was wearing, and that’s really powerful.
The below was adapted from a February 2015 episode of “What I Wore When,” a Glamour podcast. The author lives in New York City.