How We Got a New School Sweatshirt: Part 2 – Sweatshirts in General & Mine in Particular

I was talking about tznius and white uniform blouses in part 1, as well as the problems with layering a shirt underneath to avoid show-through.

My personal approach to avoid show-through during high school was to wear a sweatshirt. I wore a sweatshirt every single day of high school from 10th through 12th grade. Rain, shine, sleet, hail, summer, winter, fall, and spring. I wore my sweatshirt.

My sweatshirt was chosen with care. Tzinus affects the sweatshirts you can wear, so I was meticulous in choosing mine.

It couldn’t be a hoodie. Hoodies were the bane of our teachers’ existence. Hoodies should not  be worn by a bas melech because they are low class.

(I did not understand why hoodies were low class when I was in high school. Everyone I knew owned a hoodie, regardless of class. Now, thanks to Treyvon Martin, I understand: a hoodie means you’re going to rob someone. That is definitely not something that a bas Yisroel should project.)

The other problem with hoodies was that, so often, they came with a big G, A, P embroidered across the front. The problem with this is dual:

1 – A bas Yisroel is not a billboard. They are not meant to be advertisements for brand names. They are not meant to be read. Certainly, their chests are not meant to be read, because

2 – someone might realize that there is a chest underneath, and their mind will wander. (Yes, even under a hoodie a chest is sometimes visible.)

3 – Would a bas melech walk around in a hoodie?

So hoodies were out.

I wasn’t all that into the pullover idea anyway, since I wanted the option of unzipping for climate control. When you wear a sweatshirt all year round, it can get hot. A zipper could alleviate some of the inevitable discomfort.

So the obvious solution was a zip-up sweatshirt. No logo, no brand name, no big, bright embroidery. Not in a loud color. Nothing, in fact, to draw your attention to the sweatshirt or to whomever might be inside. As sweatshirts go, my grey zip-up was about as un-notable as they come.

But as the lone grey zip-up in a hall of baggy white oxfords, it was notable. And every day I got told to take it off. Sometimes twice a day. The teachers who ordered me to remove it were not purposely stripping me down to a thin veil over my underwear. It was simply against the rules to wear anything but a school sweatshirt.

But I didn’t own a school sweatshirt, and I refused to buy one. Here’s why:

There aren’t that many uniform stores in Brooklyn. In fact, arguably, there was a monopoly on the trade by one single store in Boro Park. You’d go there a week before the school year and meet everyone else in your class because there was no place else to go. You’d be packed in with students from every single school in Brooklyn, which is a lot of them, predominantly gabbing in Yiddish.

Shopping was never my favorite pastime, and salespeople were at the top of the list of people I loathed. I was a nerdy kid who wanted to buy boring, conservative clothing, preferably a size too big for tznius reasons, and I did not enjoy being told I looked gorgeous in every hideous, ill-fitting rag recommended by some Israeli woman wearing too much makeup because she was trying to clear out some stock.

At the uniform store, when we finished the shirt and skirt purchases, the saleswoman dropped a huge, baggy sweater in a vomit-green color over my head and announced that it “fit perfectly.”

I pointed out that the sleeves drooped over my fingertips and the v-neck went down to my naval.

She said I was wearing it wrong. She rolled the sleeves up and yanked the collar back so it went halfway down my back: the v-neck was now in reasonable territory.

I was not an assertive or confrontational kid. I took the sweater off and told my mother I wanted to go home.

So I never got a school sweater.

Lots of people didn’t. They were ugly, they didn’t fit, and they cost too much. Students who did own school sweaters often ripped them off as they passed through the school gate at the end of the day, replacing them with GAP hoodies.

There was an abortive attempt by some students to get a different school sweater adopted by the masses. This one was blue and had a crew neck. It was  less  ugly, although you could only call it “nice” in a relativistic sense. It was nicer. It was not nice.

But if you can’t get students to buy or wear a superbly hideous sweater when all the cool kids are wearing it, you aren’t going to get anyone to plunk down another $35 for a mildly hideous sweater when only a handful of nerds are wearing it.

We might be bais Yaakov, but we’re still high school.

Continued in Part 3 – My Visit to the Rebbetzin’s Sanctum

How We Got a New School Sweatshirt: Part 2 – Sweatshirts in General & Mine in Particular

2 thoughts on “How We Got a New School Sweatshirt: Part 2 – Sweatshirts in General & Mine in Particular

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