Fashion! Turn to the Left

Synchronicity Boutique (Photo by David Stuck)
Synchronicity Boutique (Photo by David Stuck)

One crucial aspect of the b’nai mitzvah ceremony, not to mention post-party, is looking the part.

“Thirteen is a very tricky age,” Synchronicity Boutique owner Karen Mazer said, amplifying her observation with the notion that in outfitting both younger and older persons alike, she and her staff have all manner of considerations to deal with in assuring their customers — whether bat mitzvahs, parents, aunts, siblings — are satisfied.

“Girls do not want to dress like little girls, and women do not want to dress like old ladies,” Mazer, who opened her store in 2003, said. She laughed at the dichotomy extant that “kids can’t wait to be 21, and adults want to stay 29.”

Hence, the importance of Mazer’s store having dresses that “appeal to just about every woman of every age, shape, size and budget” for every occasion, be they bat mitzvahs or any other “happy occasion.”

Though Mazer said her store does focus more on adults than children, she added that there’s a great deal of care that must be put into outfitting a younger person. Sudden physical changes are certainly an issue — hence her urging customers to buy their bat mitzvah dress no more than three months in advance.

She also suggested a dress with a corseted back for bat mitzvahs and a similarly functioning corset for mothers, aunts and grandparents alike.

Permitting a young woman whose shape and size is in flux over the course of a short amount of time to tighten or loosen up her dress easily is ideal for comfort, and, similarly, lace in the back of a dress for a mom or another more mature woman will allow for “accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative” accordingly, as Mazer tactfully put it.

For every occasion, the happy and special part should be starting at my store. It should be fun.
— Karen Mazer, owner, Synchronicity Boutique

The right dress also depends on other elements involved: whether the ceremony will take place in a synagogue or not; whether it takes place at night or in the morning; whether there’s a party immediately after or not; and the various dress requirements depending on denominational observation.

“The universal themes are that shoulders must be covered,” Mazer said. “Which is something a lot of rabbis have urged us to emphasize for mothers; something that should be considered for themselves as well as their daughters.”

Mazer went on to say that rabbis have additionally requested that mothers and daughters remember the all-important proposition that the ceremony should not be the first time a young woman wears heels.

“They’re going to be on the bimah for a long time and march around with the Torah, and you don’t want them wobbling or falling,” Mazer pointed out.

Cohen’s Clothiers (Photo provided)
Cohen’s Clothiers (Photo provided)

Of course, suitable length of the dress is needful too. Mazer suggests that her customers sit on a chair in front of a mirror with their chosen dress on and make sure they’re comfortable … but also not unintentionally revealing more than they’d like in so doing.

“Now, this doesn’t mean the dress has to be down to the ankles,” Mazer said, laughing.

Given all of these particulars — height/build/synagogue requirements/ time of day/colors/themes, etc. — Mazer said her staff and she “find as close to what the person is looking for as possible, usually quite successfully.”

Jan’s Boutique’s Paul Virilli agrees that customers generally have an idea of what they want before they come to his store (in New Jersey, a two-hour drive from Baltimore).

“Most people have images of dresses on their phone,” Virilli said. “Customers are looking online. They know what they want; they’ve been shopping around.”

“People come to us from Delaware, Washington and Maryland for a reason,” Virilli said, boasting that his store happens to have the largest selection in the region.

“Once we know where the affair is going to be, whether it’s going to be fancy or casual, we can direct them. There’s also price points: Everyone has a different budget. Once we know what they’re looking for, we point them in the right direction.”

The right direction can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint, as Mazer suggested in her observation of this being a “tricky” age to fit young people.

“The timetable is around puberty, and that’s when you have very significant growth spurts, especially in males,” Gilbert Cohen, third-generation owner of 112-year-old Cohen’s Clothiers, said.

“Males can explode in that 12- to 13-year-old range. What happens is if you get something too far ahead of time, you get to the bar mitzvah and you can’t even wear the garment.”

Cohen, who specializes in male sartorial effects, recommended boys wait no more than four to six weeks before the ceremony to purchase their suits. He added that his business offers a free, in-store alteration service “because most tailors don’t understand children.” So last-minute changes are not impossible to make, if needed.

Another challenge for Cohen beyond the typical budgetary and growth concerns on the part of parents is the fact that sometimes he must deal with “the maelstrom” that comes up when parents are no longer married and might be rather disputatious with one another about how they see the ceremony and outfit for their son’s bar mitzvah.

“When the parents are arguing, we have to satisfy both parties,” Virilli said. “We have to remember that we can’t leave the bar mitzvah boy in the middle of that, though.”

Virilli seemed unfazed by such challenges: “This is what we do, this is our game. We know what we’re doing here.”

At the end of the day, of course, it’s all about a magical experience for all involved, celebrating a critical transition in the life of these special young people.

“For every occasion, the happy and special part should be starting at my store,” Mazer said. “It should be fun.”

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