The Tzniut Project. Women from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of observances have volunteered to anonymously answer questions that I have written about their practices, people's assumptions, and more. For more information on the project, click here. Please continue to check back with The Tzniut Project to read more stories and comment abundantly!
Note: This post is contributed by a reader.
1. How do you affiliate Jewishly? Feel free to elaborate on the words people use to describe you and the words you use to describe yourself.
Orthodox Religious Zionist. I don't think "Modern Orthodox" really fits in Israel. Not חרד"ל. Every time I've been to shul in America, I was identified as Israeli.
2. Growing up, did your mother or grandmother dress modestly in any way? Do you think modesty was something instilled in you by your family? Did you dress modestly growing up?
I am a convert; my family was non-affiliated from a Protestant background. My mother, who was a professional fashion seamstress, was always of the opinion that the artful conceal was more becoming than the reveal. She NEVER would have said, "If you've got it, flaunt it;" flaunting was considered tacky and low-class, worse, inappropriate for most situations. She would wear short-sleeved and sleeveless things, but never anything tight. She would wear slacks, but never jeans. As a child, I judged clothes by their appropriateness for tree climbing and did not favor skirts. In the 1960s, it was not allowed to wear pants in public school. My mother made me sets of matching bell-bottomed slacks and zip-up jumpers to wear to school, so I would not feel too restricted. In retrospect, this would be very acceptable dati-leumi [national-religious] garb today.
3. Are you married? How does your spouse feel about your choices for modest dress? Is it a dialogue or does your partner leave the mitzvah to you?
I am married. My husband generally likes my choice of dress. We do discuss what he finds attractive and what seems appropriate modesty-wise to both of us. He really hates wigs, in principle and in appearance, so I would never wear one no matter how bored I got with my other headcoverings.
4. What would you wear on a typical day? On Shabbos? If you dress differently on weekdays and Shabbos, why do you make this distinction and how?
I usually wear a cotton-poly shirt with 3/4 or long sleeves and a skirt. I used to wear only long skirts, but under the influence of my married daughter, I have started wearing "sharwallim" or footless tights under knee-length skirts. I cover my hair with a beret nowadays, but I have shifted from scarves to hats and back again. I usually wear my bangs out, although when I had long hair, sometimes I would wear a scarf with the end of my braid out, bangs in. For several years, I had a physically draining job in which I worked Fridays, coming home right before Shabbat. When it was just the family, I would get out of the bath and into a sweatsuit. After some persistent encouragement from my husband, I got some better-looking "sharwallim" to wear with shirts and tunics -- something in which I could collapse when the need arose. I don't work there anymore, but I still like something soft and comfortable -- if Shabbati -- for Friday nights. During the day, I'm more likely to wear a long skirt; something more dressy than my weekly outfits.
5. What do you think other people infer from your clothing and hair covering choices? Has anyone ever said anything to you outright that expresses a judgment based on your appearance? (Ex: “You don’t cover your hair or wear skirts, so why do you keep kosher?”)
People assume I'm religious but not Haredi. People (including haredim) ask me all the time what direction in which to daven, whose kashrut "holds" in a cafeteria or restaurant, even if they don't know me. Where I live, Sefardi women I don't even know ask me what time the mikvah opens or how short they need to cut their nails.
6. Have you ever surprised someone by dressing more or less modestly and making them rethink their stereotypes about what it means to be an observant Jew?
I think that may be one of the reasons I've started wearing pants with tunics and under skirts. More and more women I respect are doing it, it looks good on me, and I feel covered up. I don't climb trees much anymore, but I like to be free to do some spontaneous yoga stretches in private. Also, I find I rather like stating in my dress that I am not haredi.
7. When you see someone who observes tzniut differently than you, what are your initial thoughts? How do you deal with them?
Over the years, I have become much less judgemental regarding religious women in slacks (without skirts), not covering their hair, or wearing only a haircovering that is largely symbolic. I think that this is a healthy sign, young religious women who probably would not otherwise cover their hair, doing it as a sign of identifying as a married religious woman. It is offputting to me when women and girls who dress more "to the right" do so in ways that are dowdy. It really bugs me when they wear calf-length skirts and sit so that I can see their half-hose underneath. I was raised to think that showing your half-hose was tacky. ("Half-hose for half-wits,"as my sister used to say.) Why make a fuss about wearing socks under your skirt if you're only going to be tacky about it? Knee socks don't bother me that way. I've seen a lot of ladies with the "shalim" and a few Jewish burkha ladies, and it annoys me. A very attention-getting way of declaring your tzniut.
8. I say modesty or tzniut … what does that mean to you?
Not drawing attention by being flashy or too declarative. Not dressing to offend or to be a public spectacle. Keeping my body private.
9. Anything else you’d like to add about your choices, experiences, and more!
I started coloring my graying hair because I met several hijab-wearing Moslem ladies who kept their hair stylishly cut, with highlights. There seemed to be something seriously wrong with looking gray and shaggy for my husband and family, but well-groomed for everybody else. I have also been asked by Moslem women how exactly I tied my scarves.