This is the seventh in a multi-part series called 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.
I would say that I am Centerist Modern Orthodox. I only wear skirts, cover my knees, elbows, and collarbone. In terms of hair coverings, I wear a combination of sheitals/falls everyday (I have 3 that I rotate). I cover my hair with a tichel when I work out at the gym, but I still wear a skirt and long sleeves there (and I definitely feel like I stand out!) I have a modest personal style blog, which some may say is not very tzanua considering I post pictures of what I wear everyday, but my goal is to show that modest dress can be fashionable and doesn't have to be frumpy or unflattering. All the time people tell me that I give a 'tznius way of dressing' a better name because I do it with my own personal style and flair.
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?
As I am a baalas teshuva, my mother does not conform to the tradition definition of 'tznius.' That being said, I don't think I have ever seen my mother in something overtly revealing. Even though my parents live in SW Florida, my mother doesn't wear shorts, she prefers capri pants. She does wear sleeveless and short sleeve shirts, but nothing tight and the sleeveless shirts only reveal a bit of her shoulder. She likes her clothes to fit well, but not be body-hugging. My mother instilled in me the virtue of covering up to attract the right type of attention. She told me that it was important to let people see my personality first and too much of my body. I went through a period in high school where I wore halter tops and tight jeans. I was never fully comfortable with myself when I dressed like that.
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 happily married, Baruch Hashem! My husband likes the way I dress and leaves all modest decisions up to me. Sometimes he jokes that it would be nice if I wore lower cut tops (not cleavage baring, just lower), but then I remind him that I cover up my body out of respect for him, and I know that that is important to him. We've talked about certain aspects of tznius together, but in the end it has been my choice.
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?
On a typical day I wear a high neck undershirt, some sort of nice shirt or sweater, a skirt, a fun necklace (I am really into fun accessories), and a cute pair of shoes. On Shabbos I tend to wear much fancier clothes to enhance the kedusha of Shabbos. During the week, I wear my two falls (either my hat fall with a hat or scarf, or my full fall with a bit of bangs pulled out to look more natural) and on Shabbos I tend to wear my full sheital. I will admit that I dress up more that the normal person during the week. I feel better about myself when I feel confident about the way I look. On Shabbos I dress up more than usual. I wear heels, put on more makeup, wear my nicest clothes. I feel that dressing up more for Shabbos is a big part of lichvod haShabbos.
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 definitely infer that I am an Orthodox Jew and that I am Shomer Mitzvos. However, I know that I stand out in certain settings because I am not afraid to wear bold colors and accessories. People ask me all the time on the streets of Manhattan where certain kosher restaurants are, where shuls are, which bus to take to certain Jewish neighborhoods/cities in NY and NJ, etc.
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 know that I have surprise many people, men and women alike, because I stretch the parameters of traditional tznius. I want people to understand that being tznius doesn't mean that you have to dress in a burlap sack or wear all black. I want to show Jews and Non-Jews that tznius can be fun and fashionable and something that people want to do, rather than feel like it is a restrictive set of rules that they have to follow. I want to break boundaries and show everyone that you can have your own personal style and still be tznius!
7. When you see someone who observes tzniut differently than you, what are your initial thoughts? How do you deal with them?
I always wonder what their rationale is for dressing the way that they do. I try my best to be free of judgement, however, I will admit that I am human and therefore I know that judgement is inevitable. I am mostly curious about why people choose what they choose. For example, if a woman wears skirts all the time and short sleeves, I am curious why she does that (aside from being a bit jealous since I am always boiling in the summer months!!). Or if someone wears pants but covers their hair a certain way, I really want to know why. (Although I am aware that hair covering and tznius, while related, are very different mitzvos). It is mostly just a sense of curiousity and wanting to learn about other people's Jewish journeys and identities.
8. I say modesty or tzniut … what does that mean to you?
To me, tznius means being attractive but not attracting. Tznius means taking pride in yourself and your image enough to want to cover it up so that it is special, but also being aware that the point is not to make you feel ugly or subjugated. Tznius is a way to show off your personality to others so that they see you for you and not a pile of body parts or a huge potato sack. Its a way to highlight your best features in a demure way and feel good about yourself.
9. Anything else you’d like to add about your choices, experiences, and more!
My journey has been a long and involved one. It took years for me to get comfortable with certain decisions and there were regressions along the way. My words of wisdom is take it one day at a time. If you are trying out skirts for the first time, don't go cold turkey or give yourself an ultimatum. If you want to wear pants the next day, wear pants. If not go another day in a skirt. Just take it slowly. If you go about it with the right frame of mind, it will stick and you will come to love your choices. If you approach it the wrong way, you will feel resentment and it will be given up sooner than you think. Go at your own personal speed and listen to yourself. Only you know whats right for you in your journey of being tznius.