The Jewish Intern at the Fashion Magazine

By: Chaviva Freedman  |  February 3, 2017

elle mag

I’m standing in front of one of the tallest buildings in New York City—the Hearst Tower. A twinge of nervousness runs through my body. I look around, glance at Columbus Circle to the North, take a deep breath, count to three and go through the revolving door. It’s my first day as an editorial intern for the high-end fashion periodical Elle Magazine, and I am standing still in a sea of people, knowing that this day could change my life forever.

I know what you’re thinking: what in the world is the girl who constantly proclaims she doesn’t care for fashion doing at a magazine that competes with the ever-famous Vogue for readers? To be honest, I have absolutely no idea how I got here. Actually, I do know: I applied for the position after a professor told me that the magazine emailed the English department, looking for journalism majors to intern for the spring. The bigger question that goes through my mind is, Why am I here? Why me? Fashion doesn’t run through my veins. I hate wearing makeup. Don’t even get me started about having to do my hair. You’ll just get a long rant ending with, “Who cares? My curly hair is great!” There are so many things that say, “She doesn’t fit in! Get out!” But that’s why I’m here. I’m part of the ultimate dichotomy: the Orthodox Jewish woman that works for a magazine whose stance on clothing is completely against my values.

When I secured the internship, the thought of being the Jewish intern came up in my mind more than once. It’s an odd juxtaposition, trying to maintain this idea that a Jewish woman respects herself and the clothes she wears, but working in an institution and field where the norm is to shamelessly show off all the parts of your body. I think the reason I sit in this office chair and type out my thoughts during my lunch break (thank you Elle for this little moment of peace) is to prove people wrong. Not the Jewish community: the fashion community. The community that doesn’t understand that having style can mean dressing with modest standards. Look at all the blogs and Instagram accounts dedicated towards modest fashion. It’s something that not even my fellow interns can wrap around their heads around. These outlets opens the fashion world to a small sphere of women who want to bridge the gap between the two.

I remember being eight years old and looking through the latest issue of Elle Magazine that sat on my grandmother’s couch in Montreal, Canada. I sifted through the pages and couldn’t comprehend what a fashion trend was or what it meant to be “in style.” In contrast to that memory, now, at 21 years old, I glance at the most recent issue and see two of the stars featured on the revolving covers, Zoë Kravitz and Shailene Woodley. It surprises me that their clothes are pretty modest, with a nod to classic 1960’s fashion. A thought runs through my mind: did the stylists for the photoshoot even realize that the clothing can be deemed as “modest” by fashion’s standards? Did they realize that the clothes could be potentially (emphasis on potentially) deemed as “modest” by Jewish standards? Did they know that someone like me would see the pictures and think that they just showed me a way to merge the two seemingly opposite worlds together? It’s an intriguing thought, and one that the stylists, and frankly the editors, probably didn’t realize existed before I picked up the magazine.

As I return to my assignment for the day, I think about the circumstance I’m in. Having this internship makes me feel pretty lucky. But with all that luck, I feel like I have a new responsibility. I have the responsibility to show my peers, and frankly, my Jewish people, that there is a way to merge our religious views with the fashion world. Again, I think of those Instagram accounts and blogs for modest fashion. I recognize that although I am not the one who looks like she would be fit for this position, I happen to be the one in these shoes. I’m the one responsible for our reputation.

Is there really a way to merge your religious views with fashion? It seems so. Although I probably will not be the one with the fashion website by the time my internship finishes (you’ll probably find me in my favorite pair of jeans and a comfy sweatshirt), I will be the one to say that I dared to help bridge the gap and make it easier for other Orthodox Jewish women to make the transition into high-end fashion. And I like that.