Modesty doesn't mean looking like a fashion disaster. It means looking dignified and well-put together without causing a traffic accident when you walk down the street...
by Racheli Reckles
I was born and raised in Miami Beach, one of the most exotic cities in the U.S. The accepted dress code is to walk around with no less than 85% of your body showing at all times. Food shopping and walking the dog are no exception.
Over time, I made teshuva and traded in my low-rise jeans for below-the-knee skirts and tank tops for long-sleeved shirts. Believe me, there were plenty of times where I felt jealous of those around me. Why did they get to prance around in their yoga pants while I had to drag what felt like a tablecloth with an elastic waistband around my... um... waist?
Anyhow, moving to a religious community in Israel sure made it easier to dress modestly. For the first few years, though, I had no sense of style because tznius, the concept of modesty, was relatively new to me, and I didnít have any close friends to score some free cool clothes off of. Plus, I gave birth twice within two years, so obviously there was no way I was looking fashionable. I was just struggling to survive, really.
Eventually, I was able to make my fashion designer mother proud and finally found my style. Iím happy with it overall, but since Iíve gone back to my roots and started dressing cool again, Iíve realized something. And itís bothering me very much.
What Iím seeing around here is that many women dress like they put zero effort into their looks. ZERO. Itís like they got dressed in the dark, or intentionally picked the most mismatched colors to put together. And donít even get me started on the shoes.
Now I know this problem seems to be more in Israel than in the States and other Western countries, but nonetheless I think it should be pointed out for a reason.
You see, I believe that this kind of modesty is too extreme.
So glad you asked!
You see, modesty doesnít mean you have to look like a fashion disaster. It means that you must look dignified and well-put together without causing a traffic accident when you walk down the street.
Now Iíll be the first to admit that Iím no expert in modesty. But I know what looks good.
And I can tell you that many women who overdo it on the modesty just donít look good.
Now before you get all crazy on me for sounding so judgmental, stop getting all defensive and listen up.
It is our obligation as Jewish Torah-observant women to have a look of understated elegance about us. Are we not called the daughters of the King? If youíve ever seen pictures of royalty, which I know you have, you can see that women like Kate Middleton have a very beautiful and classy look. Women like her know how to look beautiful without looking sexy or cheap.
That, I believe, is the secret of tznius. As a Jewish woman, it is your obligation to be a dignified representative of the Jewish People. Let the world look at us and see how refined, how elegant, how classy a Torah-observant Jew is.
Walking around looking raggedy, like a housekeeper or a grandma when youíre only 35, is unacceptable. Wearing orthopedic shoes with white tennis socks and clothes that you can use for rags is unacceptable. Looking washed out, haggard, and disheveled is unacceptable.
Holy women! There is no official competition for who is the most modest woman on the block. Dressing unattractive is not modest - itís just unattractive.
I remember this famous quote by the Lubavitcher Rebbe zĒl on modesty: ďLook attractive, not attracting.Ē
Modesty, like everything else in life, is about learning to find your balance. Itís about learning what works for you and what doesnít. It takes time, lots of mistakes, and persistence to get it right.
If you wear makeup, make sure you keep it classy and understated. If you wear a wig, make sure itís not too long and flirty. If you wear a head scarf, for G-dís sake donít pull it down to your eyebrows! Put on some nice elegant earrings and a classy watch or bracelet.
Believe me, these things donít have to cost a lot of money! You canít believe what I can find for less than $3!
Oh, and another thing! Men, this means you too. If you walk around with your shirt stained and half tucked in, or your buttons broken on your jacket, or your stomach pulling your shirt so tight that itís about to explode in the front, or your beard looks like Tom Hanks in ďCast Away,Ē then youíre not being modest either!
In fact, youíre also doing a great disservice to your people. If the Torah considers an observant man to be the iconic example of a good Jew, and even more so if he learns, then how is it acceptable to walk around looking like a bum? Get a shirt without stains, make your beard presentable, and invest in a nice pair of black shoes. And for G-dís sake, use deodorant!!