The festival of Purim is just around the corner. Every year, Jews read The Book of Esther, which tells the story of how the Jewish people narrowly escaped annihilation (again) by a fancy hat-wearing dude named Haman in ancient Persia (NB: not the whole story). My favorite thing about Purim is that it features not one but two strong, sassy female characters. Queen Esther (who foils Haman's plot) and Vashti (who is the previous wife of Esther's husband) are resourceful, smart, and don’t have time for your shit.
Many Jewish holidays involve copious amounts of wine (looking at you, Passover), but none are quite as debauched as Purim. The only mitzvah that’s easier than getting drunk and having fun is getting drunk and having fun IN COSTUME! Depending who you ask, dressing up for Purim is done either a) to acknowledge that we must often disguise who we truly are to be safe or b) because costumes and masquerade are consistent themes throughout the story. All of life is one big sexy drag show, and Jewish adults all over the world use this opportunity to let their freak flag fly.
Purim is not the Jewish Halloween as some have suggested, but the evolution of costuming is similar. Dana Kessler for Tablet magazine has observed that Purim costumes have gotten “skimpier and sexier.” These days, finding non-orthodox women dressed as Esther or Vashti is surprisingly rare. We’ve collectively taken the metaphors and run with them. This holiday is about celebrating Biblical feminists! How often does a beguiling lady play the role of protagonist or hero in religious texts? In 2012, the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) called for a boycott of sexy Purim costumes, claiming that “with only these kinds of costumes available to women, it leaves them with little choice but to wear a near-pornographic outfit.” The point is well taken...ish. It is worth having a healthy critique of sexy costume culture, and some may argue that it’s a particularly salient discussion in the context of a religious holiday. However, being a sexy bee is not in direct conflict with Purim’s feminist themes of body autonomy and female empowerment. Slut shaming and a distinct lack of creativity are in conflict. If women want to wear revealing costumes during ANY holiday, that’s our prerogative.
As with any party, you have to know your audience and be clear on the what you’re trying to achieve. I don’t want to police other women’s bodies, but probably don’t show up to your rabbi’s house in full sexy baby. Otherwise, you do you! However, women dressing up for Purim can choose one of many options that are not “near pornographic.” Be a mensch (Jews are encouraged to be extra charitable during Purim), drink a stupid amount, and dance to freedom, wearing whatever you want! Need inspiration for costumes that are sassy, unique and relevant? This is what I would do:
If you’re feeling traditional, go as Queen Esther or Vashti.
When I was in religious school, being Esther or Vashti meant wearing a “party dress” and throwing on a crown. Dressing as a Persian queen could look FLY.
If you’re feeling sexy, why not be a mermaid?
Mermaids are a symbol of fierce femininity, and you’ll look hot in this curve-hugging tail.
If you want to celebrate your body autonomy, be a dominatrix Darth Vader.
Because… look at it! You’d look amazing.
If you’re feeling feisty and opinionated, go as Frida Kahlo.
Frida was gorgeous, strong-willed and uber talented. She’s the perfect contemporary Purim inspiration.
Chag sameach! Eat, drink and look awesome.