February 23, 2019

Reconsidering the Jewish American Princess

“The Jewish American Princess, or JAP, embodies both an attitude and a style of dressing. The archetype was forged in the mid-1950s, in concert with the Jewish-American middle-class ascent. Where it came from, nobody knows. The JAP has survived through an alliance with pop culture — showing her face sporadically in books, in music, and onscreen, even up to the present.

The JAP is neither Jewish nor American alone. She makes herself known where these identities collide in a calamity of Coach bags, upmarket loungewear, and entitled dispositions toward luxury and ease. For Jewish American girls in Jewish American places — summer camps, Hebrew schools, the suburbs of New Jersey — her image sets forth a list of inelastic rules, a predetermined path through the dark of adolescence into the flames of female Jewish life. She is at once a real identity marker and an imagined stereotype. Like most cultural constructs that tell women how to be, her image can be freeing and oppressive at the same time.

As a philosophy, JAP style prioritizes grooming, trepidatious trendiness, and comfort. In any given season, the components of the look are drawn from a subset of mainstream fashion trends. “She buys in multiples (almost hysterically in multiples),” wrote Julie Baumgold in a 1971 New York magazine op-ed. “She has safe tastes, choosing an item like shorts when it is peaking.” JAP style is less concerned with capital-F fashion than it is with simply replicating itself.”

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