Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Make Me Modest: Tips for Your Wardrobe

I realized something funny recently while interviewing for jobs. I dress the way I think that the interviewee will perceive me. Getting all up in my head much?

I interviewed with a few individuals in a more "frum" atmosphere and made sure to wear a longer skirt and more reserved colors while when going to more startup-style offices I dabbled in more bold color combinations and varied fabric choices. I made sure my mitpacha (head scarf) was a bit more wild in color at the startups and a bit more tame at the other offices. I wore my high-wedge sandals to the startup offices, but flats to the other interviews. Without a doubt, I was almost always the most "dressed up" person in all of the startup offices because, well, much to my husband's dismay, this isn't a suit-and-tie culture in the workplace. It's a quirky shirt, jeans, and sandals that come off the moment you sit down in your work chair kind of place. (Which I just squeeeee at!)

On a daily basis, I don't dwell much on what I'm wearing, mostly because it's Israel and there are as many different ways to dress here as there are Jews. I'm never really concerned about looking too religious or not religious enough; I just wear what I wear. In that way, then, Israel is a bit more freeing when it comes to clothing and tzniut (modesty).

On that note, I recently got a question from a reader that I thought might be perfect for answering in this post. She asks,
My question is if you have advice on how to "tzniusify" a normal, secular wardrobe. Any tips and tricks for people who are transitioning to a more modest style of clothing? I'd appreciate any advice, especially for cold climates as well (sorry to remind of cold in this heat). Oh, and I'd also love to get some tips on head covering. What are your favourites? What accessories and helpers do you use?
The amazing thing about making your normal wardrobe more modest is that it's easier than ever since the kosher clothing community has made some pretty cool advances in making it easier to shop in the "real world" and still be modest as we understand the term.

In short, in the religious Jewish world, tzniut is considering how you dress, carry yourself, and the words you use as if HaShem were always with you (and, really, HaShem is always with you): 
Do justly, love mercy, and walk modestly with your God (Micah 6:8)
Most religious Jews accomplish this by covering the knees, the elbows, and the collarbone --  not in a stifling way, but in a "hey, the stuff I'm covering is special and between me, HaShem, and my partner (if I have one)!" I will mention that there are lots of variations here in Israel, including some women who wear "Hammer" or Harem pants and short-sleeve shirts. The pants, to me, seem less airy and more diaper-like than wearing a skirt. There are also women who won't wear open-toed shoes, always wearing stockings or hose, and don't show a lick of skin besides from that on the hands and face. Call me crazy, but in Israel, that's a huge no-go for me. 

The nice thing about colder climates is that layering is always in, meaning it's actually easier to be modestly dressed. Using cardigans and layering really give you endless opportunities for modest attire. But to transition some of your non-modest clothing over, there are plenty of options.

This is a tank top I purchased at TJ Maxx
with a black 3/4-length shell.

Plenty of companies sell shells, which allow you to turn tank tops, short-sleeve shirts, v-necks and beautiful summer dresses into something more modest. My favorites are Kosher Casual and Halftees, the latter which makes its shells in a more forgiving fabric that is cooler in the summer, not to mention that they are versatile in that they're reversible for different depths in the front. I find Kosher Casual's fabric to be a little stifling in the summertime, but in the winter the higher neck keeps me warm! Kosher Casual also sells a cool bolero-style shell that is nice underneath T-shirts. Halftees offers quite a few different options, including 3/4-length, "boyfriend"-style, tank top-style and cap-sleeve halftees, and Kosher Casual offers up 3/4 length and tank-style. (Note: I exclusively buy the "crop" style, simply because I find the extra fabric of regular shells overwhelming.)

On that note, if you're not quite as svelte as me, there are lots of options for skirt extenders and other nifty and sneaky modesty helpers, like the Layering Dress and Skirt Extenders. There's also the SuperSlip Skirt Extender by Shell Sheli, which Redefining Rebbetzin reviewed last year. If you're tall, sometimes these things are just convenient, rather than exclusively made for modesty. I'll admit that I don't usually need the skirt extenders, mostly because even the average skirt tends to be long on me because I'm not that tall (around 5'4.5"). I like to stock my wardrobe with lots of cotton foldover skirts, mostly because they're comfortable, airy, and go with just about anything. 

This is a sleeveless shirt I purchased at Target.
It would be quite 
revealing without a shell underneath. 

The only difficult thing to transition from not-modest to modest these days is the swimsuit. Unfortunately, there just isn't a way to make that super cute bikini fit the modest model. That being said, there are a half-dozen companies that have come out with some pretty amazing alternatives that, I'll be completely honest, I'd probably rather wear even if I weren't a religious Jew. They're stylish and cover up all the areas that make us ladies a bit skittish about going to the pool. I own a suit by HydroChic that I recently wore to a very chiloni (secular) pool and shockingly, I didn't get too many wacky looks, despite being the only woman over several days wearing such a getup. 
It's like I'm glowing!!

As for head covering, that's a whole other post on its own! Let me work something up and maybe make a quick video with a few different ways I wear mine. Stay tuned (and keep me honest by nudging me if I don't post anything soon). 

If you have questions, Ask Chaviva Anything! is dead, but you can still email your questions in to kvetching dot editor at gmail dot com.