Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell has a lovely and thought-provoking piece up today on Dolce & Gabbana’s new fashion line for Muslim women. She points out that high-end hijabs and abayas are a good business bet: “In 2011, Reuters reported that Arab women were the biggest buyers of haute couture, and they continue to dominate a market that only serves an estimated 2,000 privileged clients worldwide.”
Meanwhile in the proletariat, H&M has a new scarf in its collection that bears a striking resemblance to a tallit—the fringed garment that some Jews wear during worship.
Exhibit A: “White Wool Tallit” from www.worldofjudaica.com.
Exhibit B: “Striped Scarf,” a new arrival from H&M.
Theoretically, some well-intentioned gentile might have thought: stripes, fringe-y threads, so hot this winter. But, seriously, check out those knots.
The defining element of the tallit are the knots tied in each of the four corners. Unless we’re living in some excellent parallel universe in which H&M makes sure its under-$20 fashion items can double as prayer shawls, these “striped scarves” aren’t kosher to use during worship. It’s a curious blurring of the religious and the secular: holy garb that’s worn by a tiny minority of people in the world, appropriated as a trend item for a middlebrow fashion business. Note the “patterned wool-blend scarf” that looks remarkably like a keffiyeh under “others also bought” in the bottom right-hand corner of the sales page above.
This is an anodyne version of religious-imagery appropriation in fashion, but businesses, including H&M, have gotten in trouble for this kind of thing before. In 2014, the retailer withdrew a tank top featuring a Star of David + skull from its stores, citing complaints from customers. Later that summer, Zara pulled a striped shirt featuring a golden Star of David on the chest pocket hours after it debuted in the chain’s Albanian, French, Swedish, and Israeli online stores because the item resembled the garments Jews and other prisoners were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust.
As Chrisman-Campbell points out, as abayas and hijabs become part of mainstream fashion in the West, “they’ll be vulnerable to the same trends, knockoffs, and inflated price tags as any other article of Western clothing.” The H&M tallit knock-off is something a little different: As pseudo-Jewish garb becomes mainstream, the imagery of Jewish worship may become a little bit more normalized in the cultures where this item is sold. Ironically, this is a throwback to the tallit’s roots. In the deserts of ancient Judea, all the shepherds used to wear this kind of shawl, which wasn’t anything special. The tallit is holy because the Bible commands that “the children of Israel” tie fringes on their garments—the knots are what make the otherwise-mundane outerwear sacred. Thanks to H&M, this kind of four-cornered clothing is making a comeback, for Jews and gentiles alike to enjoy—but now with fringes included.
(Hat tip: Daniel Harris)