Batsheva and Me

I want a Batsheva dress.

Batsheva Hay’s clothes from her eponymous brand seem like garments I’ll never own; I’ve got so used to imagining them that I wonder if I’ve mythologized them. She ships globally, but that doesn’t help; it feels inaccessible and frivolous to receive this would-be package of expensive express. The clothes come from the Upper West Side, might as well be outer space.

But there’s nothing I can do to rid myself of this material yearning. It’s impossible when it arises from an aesthetic experience, as it affects and arouses the nerves inside of me that make me who I am.

My view on aesthetic experience is shaped by Steven Fesmire’s explanation in his book Dewey. He refers to aesthetics as acts of “perception and enjoyment” and that aesthetics “is the most direct and complete manifestation there is of experience as experience”. The enjoyment is not necessarily because an aesthetic experience makes someone feel good, but is enjoyable because it makes someone feel something “through imagination.”

I daydream of living in Batsheva garments; it’s the only way to have what I desire. It is a healthy habit to dream of what you want but do not have because your imagination can bring those seemingly celestial things to you.

What I dream of living in from Batsheva can be traced to the Fall 2020 Ready-to-Wear collection, released in February. The look book was photographed by the designer’s husband, and photographer, Alexei Hay, the images capture women modelling the garments as they skate in a rink. Their faces look straight at the camera with knowingness. Are they wondering if I will feel it too? I do.

I imagine I am skating in the rink too. Though it is during my free time, for my own pleasure. Like all the other women, I’m in a timeless yet modern prairie dress of tactile prints and textures. I’m wearing white pantyhose under black fishnets, and a glittering red bandana, with a matching red corset over the dress. 

The garments alone do not stir my senses, movement bears responsibility as well. I can imagine feeling the crisp air; I can hear the fresh breaks of ice as my blades slice the floor. I am moving in garments that move me, I am moving in garments that I have been told I cannot move in for modesty is associated with stiffness rather than freedom. This is where movement became synonymous with her clothes. Garments like these become like a dear friend who empowers me to move, and weave, and transform at my own speed, even if it won’t be easy. 

I’ve had fantasies like this since childhood. Dreams influenced by what I see on screens of faraway times, even as far as to when there were no screens, just fields of green.  
Comfort has always been there for me in these styles of dress. My body’s been dressed in prairie dresses, house dresses, puffed sleeves and seemingly out-of-time things ever since I could remember (and the hand-me-downs could almost fit me). It would be this way even if I didn’t admire Anne Shirley from the age of six, or watch Little House on the Prairie (watching Little House reruns everyday after school wasn’t enough for me, I used to rent the episodes from our local video store).

Regularly going to my orthodox neighbours for Shabbat during my adolescent years gave me the opportunity to dress in a tznius fashion, rules of dress that never felt restrictive, because they gave me chances to play with forms of style, and inhabit and explore different spaces, externally and internally. And of course, by reflexively revelling in the moment when I could finally wear my grandmother’s nightgowns or house dresses in and outside of the house. 

I never characterize myself as someone who dresses modestly or perhaps in whatever is or is not currently viewed as contemporary—those defining terms shift based on the assumptions and perspectives of others. I wear what I want to when I want to. I can move in and out of spaces without changing what I am wearing because how I feel in my clothes is not solely defined by the clothes I wear.

There have been several Batsheva campaigns and collections since February, including a recent campaign where Batsheva herself prays over lit Shabbat candles accompanied by the words “ENJOY YOUR SOUL” and “BATSHEVA”. Knowing Batsheva Hay is a practicing Jew like me, who steeps herself in artistic practices, just as I do, only deepens the connection I feel towards her clothes, and even to her. But these pictures are performances intended to be captured while posing, whereas those at the ice rink, because of the movement, feel spontaneous.

Batsheva is grounded in the present and the past. Dualities exist in each garment as individualism is free to roam rather than mold into the pattern, shape, texture, and stitches of these clothes. By Batsheva Hay’s designs embodying and encouraging movement, I imagine living inside these seams would be a  place where unsettled folks settled in dualities are whole.

Header image design/collage by Orly Zebak. 

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