Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Tzniut Project 15: "The Uniform"

This is the fifteenth 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 have been waiting for a post from the Chasidic world, and here it is! Also, B"H = Baruch HaShem (essentially, blessed is G-d).

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 consider myself to be just plain Chareidi. We affiliate with Chabad so I guess that makes us Chabad or Lubavitch? I am not really sure. I know my family describe us as "ultra orthodox." Really we are just regular frum yidden.

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? 
Modesty was definitely not something I saw growing up, not by my mom and later on not even by my grandmother (albeit always in a very classy way B"H). When my family came to America they really assimilated into the culture. Growing up I did not so much dress modestly as much as I dressed very casually and sporty. I loved wearing jeans and T-shirts, sport suits, etc. But by the time I got to the middle of high school that all changed. That is when I really started my entry into the realm of short skirts, open tops, etc. This phase though only lasted two years. I started dressing tzniusly soon after I got to Stern College in New York.

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? 
We have been married for a year and usually my husband leaves the tznius dress up to me. Lately though he has been pretty picky about how I dress around the house (I blame it on our baby girl). When I get home I just want to let loose (i.e. walk around in pants under a skirt, maybe a shirt does not come up to my collar bone). He would not ever let me walk around our apartment with my hair uncovered or even in a short-sleeve shirt. I am pretty much okay with it and used to it ... I was dressing this way around the house before I got married anyways (except for the covering hair part).

I happen to be a lot more careful of how I dress to go out so he never mentions anything about that ... unless something is accidentally showing that should not be. It is definitely a dialogue for us. I think though that my husband's desire for me to be fully tznius in the house comes not only because of our daughter but also because that is what he saw at home. His mom is always fully tznius at home with her hair covered. His dad as well walks around in pants and a button down. My husband comes home and the only thing he does is change his pants, otherwise he stays in his tzitis and a button down shirt. My husband B"H takes his tznius of dress very seriously, he does not wear/own jeans and T-shirts, ever.

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 would wear a pleated skirt, some kind of top and a kiki riki/linda leal top underneath. Every single top I have in my closet gets worn with one of these shirts underneath. I, like my husband, dont wear/own any denim. I definitely try to make a distinction between my weekday dress and my Shabbos dress. I feel it is important to do so because Shabbos is all about honoring the King of Kings. We spend the whole day preparing a beautiful table in honor of Shabbos, have a nice becher [kiddush cup] and lichters [Shabbos candlesticks/lights], I think it is just as important to spend some time preparing ourselves as well!

Now we are home every Shabbos because we dont use the eruv, and even at home I make it a point to dress up for Shabbos. It also make me feel regal, I like it and so does my husband :) We rarely have an opportunity to pay a little extra attention to how we look, well for me Shabbos is that opportunity. I make that distinction by wearing my full sheitel instead of a tichel or my fall. I also make that distinction by wearing some kind of fancy top and wearing jewelry (since I don't usually wear it during the week). My skirts are all interchangeable from weekday to Shabbos.

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?”) 
At least in the community I live in people understand that I am frum/chareidi. I basically wear the "uniform": pleated skirt, some kind of top with a shirt underneath, the "chareidi" shoes, tights, sheitel/tichel. I think that my family infers that I am nuts! No one has ever said anything to me outright, and if they wanted to they kept it to themselves. I have to admit though that I am judgmental of people's appearances ... and perhaps that is why I choose to dress as I do, but don't get me wrong I enjoy my style.

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 dont think that I have ... My style of tznius has been evolving ever since I made my choice about four years ago. I had many bumps in the road when I went from zero to sixty and then back again. By the time I left Israel in 2009 I had chosen the "chareidi" style, and I'm really happy with my choice. I think that is the challenge of a lot of Baalei Teshuva, finding a tznius zone that works both for the person and within the community. I know that for me, honestly, community (both in Israel and L.A.) had a lot to do with my choice. My family can make stupid and hurtful comments about the fact that I dress tzniusly, especially when we go shopping or they buy me something, but I stick my ground, and they will hopefully one day stop making unnecessary comments.

7. When you see someone who observes tzniut differently than you, what are your initial thoughts? How do you deal with them? 
None of your readers will like this, and trust me I realize that this is not the right thing to do. I categorize them. I categorize people's observance by how they dress. It has been an uphill battle to get rid of this habit, if any of your readers have advice on this topic I will gladly hear it. I try not to judge them as people based on how they dress. If we are talking then I will listen, I won't automatically dismiss them chas v'shalom ["G-d forbid"]. What can I say, I have got some serious work to do in this department.

8. I say modesty or tzniut … what does that mean to you? 
To me it means mode of dress, speech, and actions. Most of the time it comes up on reference to dress, but there have been times between my husband and I where it has come up in actions. I think that over the years as Yiddishkeit has evolved and changed there has been a far greater emphasis on tzniut as a mode of dress rather than on speech and actions.

9. Anything else you’d like to add about your choices, experiences, and more! 
My style and closet have changed quite often over the last four years. In the beginning of my frumkeit journey I was all over the place trying to figure out where in the frum spectrum I wanted to be. I really think, at least thats how its has been for me, that community (and niche, i.e. "chassiddish") have a large influence in the realm of tnius as a mode of dress. For me personally, the reason I chose and have stayed with my current style is due to

  1. being way more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have before,
  2. finally choosing a niche/community within the frum world, and
  3. getting married and having a baby (since I want to be a good example for my children).