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The Scarf That Helped My Grandmother Escape Nazi Germany

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The Stories Our Textiles Tell

In December 1941, on the last night of Hanukkah, soldiers under the orders of Nazi Germany invaded Zabaltov, the Polish shtetl my grandparents lived in. My grandmother, then 26, escaped mass shootings by hiding under her bed for a few days and then fleeing to the streets. She bumped into another survivor from her town — a stranger, really — who would later become her husband, and my grandfather. The pair was eventually found by a Polish farmer, who hid them and ten others in a pit inside his barn.

The Jews in hiding would come out briefly during nightfall, and the stronger ones, like my grandfather, would gather food. My grandfather would wrap my grandmother’s portion in a dark green scarf and pass it down to her gently. Years later, after they were married and had immigrated to Brooklyn, my grandmother would continue to cherish that scarf, using it only on Friday nights to cover her hair when lighting Shabbat candles. After she died in 2004, the scarf was passed down to her daughter.

While my aunt is the rightful inheritor of the scarf, my sisters and I fantasize about owning it one day and using it for our own religious rituals. I can vividly recall one heated Shabbat meal where we explained to our father how much it meant to us. Yes, it’s “just a piece of material,” we conceded, but our family’s story is entangled in its fibers.

Photo: Under Armour

As special as that green scarf is to my family, there are so many sacred garments woven into our faith. Religion might come from a place on high, but it is carried out in an earthly manner, which is why rituals are often accompanied by beautiful material objects. It’s why the musallah, the Muslim prayer mat, is richly embroidered with Islamic symbols; it’s why the ceremonial clothing worn in Mormon temples must be white; it’s why Catholic priests wear brightly colored vestments, each hue corresponding to the season’s liturgical color.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, having recently visited Yeshiva University Museum’s exhibit Uncommon Threads, which is on view through April and features a glorious array of exquisite clothing and textiles from Jewish life. There’s a delicate lace circumcision gown from 1898, a regal 19th century wedding dress from Turkey made of maroon Ottoman velvet and adorned with silver thread, a silk matzah cover from the Hasidic region of Galicia.

On the surface, these pieces seem purely practical, like my grandmother’s green scarf. But they have a life of their own; this is why we care so much for them in the first place. They simultaneously retain external beauty and tell a deeper story of love, faith, and devotion. “Jews have always attached great meaning to garments and textiles,” Bonni-Dara Michaels, the museum’s collections curator, told me. “These bring the Jewish past vividly alive.” By using and preserving these objects, their memories live on.  Chavie Lieber, senior reporter

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You Can Finally Shop at Modcloth in Person
The Modcloth store

The first permanent ModCloth store smells like popcorn and perfume at its grand opening in downtown Austin, and feels like a boho-lite carnival. The semi-chaotic energy that often accompanies a well-attended public event is inescapable: Women wait on line for free hair braiding, free makeup applications, free manicures, and free temporary tattoos (the assortment is replete with feathers and arrows); and children and teens crowd around both the orange and white themed candy station and five-flavor popcorn table. There’s live music and lots of curious shoppers. It’s a historic moment for the company, which has, until now, remained a digital-only mainstay of funky fashion hunters for more than a decade and a half. The line to try on clothes in one of the five velvet-curtained fitting rooms is two hours long.

“When we got started, it was so tiny,” says chief creative officer Susan Gregg Koger, who founded ModCloth in 2002. “I was 17 and just about to go off to my first year of college at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. And quite honestly, I wanted to build the type of store that I wanted to shop at.” Koger’s passion for vintage apparel and frustration with limited suburban mall offerings spurred her to create a digital store initially focused on showcasing one-of-a-kind thrift store finds, then dubbed, “Affordable Mod and Emo Vintage Clothing.” But the model wasn’t sustainable.

As Koger told The New York Times in 2010, “We knew we needed to change. It was too labor-intensive and capital-intensive to find, photograph, and sell one-of-a-kinds. [...] Our value proposition was that we had and knew these customers who were pro-fashion and liked our point of view.”

Capital investments allowed ModCloth to source independent designers and morph into a bonafide player in the fashion retail market, offering new, vintage-y looking, and retro-inspired alternatives to more conventional fast fashion and ready-to-wear brands.

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Just One Thing
The Fleece-Lined Leggings You Didn't Know You Needed
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Athleta Fleece-Lined Leggings, $89

The only reason I waited so long to buy a pair of Athleta’s Fleece-Lined Leggings ($89) is because I knew that once I owned them, it would be very, very hard for me to wear any other pants. And I love my other pants.

I am not an athleisure aficionado. I wear workout clothes when I’m working out and not-stretchy clothes when I’m not. I love real clothes. But now I’m typing this on the seventh straight day of wearing leg fleeces to walk, lounge, cook, eat, play board games, read, do literally everything one does over the holidays, and I have never been so snug and so comfortable and so cozy.

My fleece legging fantasy life has come to an end this week, and now they’re relegated to weekends, but our time together was glorious. And I wish the same kind of pant experience for you. I cannot recommend these soft, tight-but-in-a-gentle way, flattering (yes, really) warm pants enough. Britt Aboutaleb, editor-in-chief

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