This is the eighth 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.
I would probably define myself as Modern Orthodox. I grew up conservative but attending a (non-New York) Orthodox synagogue -- although probably only a handful of families were 100 percent Orthodox. In high school started to become more observant (NCSY) and then went to Stern College. While at Stern and for about five years after, I was identifying as more right-wing in my views/observance, but I've gradually drifted to a more Modern Orthodox hashkafa (during the past 20 years).
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?
Although there were no overt religious influences regarding modest dress, I would definitely say that my mother never dressed in tight-fitting clothing or plunging necklines. And that way of dress certainly was a model for me. Although I (and my mother) wore pants and sleeveless tops growing up, again it wasn't anything that was too flashy/sexual. I do remember in the late 1960s when I was 5- to 10-years-old, what hemline length was acceptable in skirts/dresses -- this was when mini-dresses were in fashion -- was a frequent discussion. I guess the message was that one could wear them after a fashion, if they were just slightly short without looking trashy.
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'm not married ... when I've been in relationships, sleeve length/neckline definitely hasn't been an issue. Occasionally pants versus skirts has come up. But I definitely wouldn't say that's been a deal breaker! Although it does irk me (greatly) that every shadchan/dating service geared to Orthodox people, asks (of women) if they wear pants and if they plan on covering their hair (and usually that's all they ask in regard to religious practice) -- as if these two issues define a person's hashkafa and practice of Judaism.
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'm currently in a skirt-wearing phase (I've gone back and forth re: pants versus skirts vis a vis tzinut) so I must say there's not much difference in my dress between weekday and Shabbat. I try to wear nicer/newer clothing on Shabbat but can't say I'm very strict about this. The reason I think to wear nicer/newer clothing on Shabbat is to make Shabbat more special, to give it kavod (honor). In warm weather I will go to synagogue without hose. I usually wear sleeves of some kind but am not strict on length nor on neckline.
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?”)
I definitely think people in the Orthodox world make assumptions/judgements based on if a woman is wearing pants or skirts or (if married) covers her hair (and how) or doesn't. And I must admit to being guilty of the same. I think this is especially true in the metro-NY area ... I think in a smaller community, these differences wouldn't matter as much. And people have definitely expressed surprise that I attend/support women's tefilla groups and more egalitarian Shabbat morning services based on, among other things, my dress. And people have assumed that I'm not as committed to keeping the (minor) fast days ... and I would guess that assumption is in large part because of wearing skirts only.
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?
Occasionally non-Jewish co-workers will be surprised at the shortness of a skirt (top of the knee) ... I work in an office owned and run by observant Jews, many chasidish.
7. When you see someone who observes tzniut differently than you, what are your initial thoughts? How do you deal with them?
As mentioned above, I would say I usually make an assumption based on how someone is dressed ... but I also think I'm easily dissuaded of that impression if the persons actions/words don't jive with my impression. Certainly the person who I find out has thought about how and why they dress, even if it's different than me, impresses me ... and I'm happy to have that exposure (to their thinking).
8. I say modesty or tzniut … what does that mean to you?
I think it means dressing fashionably but not overly sexual. I think of tzniut also as a way of conduct -- and I could be totally wrong here -- but to me there's a connection between untzinut and chillul hashem.
9. Anything else you’d like to add about your choices, experiences, and more!