passover style - A journey towards being put together

It is Passover, the commemoration of the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. This holiday is a celebration of freedom, and the story of the journey towards freedom provides a great metaphor for liberation and self-expression on many different levels. Style is one of them. (That is, I am not putting forward a political theory discussion about freedom, nor am I attempting any definitive and profound religious interpretation of Passover – as if there is ever a definitive interpretation in Jewish tradition…).

What does it mean to be put together in terms of style? When we appear in the world with our style, are we letting others—real or internalized (the social gaze of the what/how you should, shouldn’t, wear depending on sex, age, position, etc.)—dictate the clothes we choose? Or are we giving voice to who we are? We may be put together in the eyes of others, but what matters for liberation and self-expression is to be put together in substance and style, to bring out who we are and what we are about with the clothes we wear.

What are the elements of the Passover story that helps us think about the liberating journey from substance to style? (This is going to be bullet point like).

Maror. Maror are the bitter herbs. Maror help us think about our discomfort and the misalignment between our substance and our style. You know you don’t feel fully yourself, but what is preventing you from showing up genuinely and dressing the way you aspire to? What are the enslaving beliefs and social gaze that you have internalized? While the social gaze is particularly acute for women, we are all subject to it, and confronting the source of “bitterness” is the first step of the journey.

Wisdom of the heart. Your heart knows when there is a disconnect and you are not being truly yourself. You may come up with many rational explanations about your style – you are busy, that is how executives dress, my social circle buys these brands, etc. – but you can’t fool your heart. You may not know exactly what your style is, but you have the feel and inspiration.

Action. There is no journey from discomfort to self-expression without action. It is not enough to be inspired. (I owe the emphasis on this point about action to Sue Reinhold’s “Reasons of the Heart.”) Action is what makes us human, and this is where Passover meets Hannah Arendt (probably vice versa). You have to dive deep into discomfort and what is limiting you, and let the wisdom of your heart set you in motion: go through your wardrobe, venture new clothes, get rid of what doesn’t feel like you … that is, do something about your style ... (Perhaps this is where marketers got their inspiration for their call to action: Passover meets Hannah Arendt meets Marketing. Probably never together in the same sentence before now.)

Law. You may be thinking that you can’t just get rid of enslaving limiting beliefs and dress however you want, because there is always a social dimension, a context. And you are right. It is not by chance that the giving of the 10 Commandments comes right after the exodus, at the moment of physical liberation – there is no freedom without law (and the analogy here has to with context). When we let others define our meaning in clothes, by action or omission, we are relinquishing our voice.

What does this mean for our journey of style liberation? We are immersed in social contexts that limit sartorial choices, and, yes, respecting and sizing the context is crucial (Also in style there is some need of respectability towards others). But, first, if there is not a totalizing dressing code (as I had in my first year of high school under dictatorship in Argentina), you always have room for self-expression. And second, even if there is a highly limiting dressing code in one setting, you can bring self-expression into other settings. With freedom, we have to figure out what is context and what our limiting beliefs, on one hand, and what is our space for self-expression and how much we can handle, on the other (who said freedom was easy?).

Remember that you were once enslaved. Well, it doesn’t go exactly like this, but here’s the gist. If you were enslaved (misaligned, disconnected) and now are free (aligned, genuine and confident in your style), your solidarity is with those who are still enslaved. (I am amazed at the concise version I have written). But isn’t the journey from discomfort to self-expression in style a purely self-indulgent one? If genuinely introspective, the journey to find your sartorial voice has two important interpersonal effects. First, it makes you aware that others may have limiting beliefs and discomforts; making you less judgmental and more understanding. Second, by showing up genuine and confident, you become a model and inspiration for others to embark in the journey of style liberation. There is nothing simultaneously so personal and inter-relational.

Afikomen. Last but not least. The Passover Seder involves something that has to be put together – the middle matzah of the three matzot on the seder table is broken in two, and the larger piece is hidden, and later found and reunited. This piece is called the afikomen, and it represents liberation. When you are put together inside out – and that involves the way you look – you are liberated.

It is about the journey. You may not be fully aware of how free you can be. You may not know how exactly to go about it. You may need help. But you know it’s possible to dismantle those limiting beliefs, embrace the wisdom of your heart, and be put together. Let's talk about setting your journey in motion.

Chag sameach,


Mara Kolesas1 Comment