The Fashion Conundrum: Does being fashionable clash with being tznius?

In beauty, Religion, Uncategorized, Women on March 1, 2009 at 5:30 am

There’s a widespread mentality in certain Jewish circles that being on the cutting edge of fashion and style is not in the confines of tznius– the Jewish dictates of modesty. In my years in bais yaakov teachers went so far as to tell us that being on the cutting edge of fashion was clearly against the laws of tznius. That a girl who was dressed extremely attractive was drawing unnecessary attention to herself. I was told that this rule also applied to sweatshirts or t-shirts with chest logos and even dark nail polish. All of these things fell under the guise of what is know as prust or improper for the Jewish girl/woman.

I’ve veered pretty far away from that line of thinking and most of those people today would definitely call me a shiksa in my jeans and tichels/hats/occasionally sheitel and they really would have run the other way if they met me in my non-hair covering phase. Although I’m certainly no halachic authority, I went to bais yaakov after all(where they teach you just enough to get your MRS) and I certainly hope no takes this as any psak or halachic ruling I would like to speculate on this further, especially as this seems to a topic on many of my fellow j-bloggers minds……

A Jewish woman is considered a princess in Hebrew, a bas melech. The daughter of a king would only be kitted in the finest of fashions and of course would set the fashion tone for the entire country. She of course would never be dressed in any way that would disrespect her father the king but she certainly would always be expected to look more beautiful and put together than anyone else in the kingdom. The same goes true for the Jewish princess.

I honestly feel that an orthodox Jewish women should always be as fashionable and as classy as possible. There are many ways to look fantastic without baring it all. In general the women I find the most elegant are those who choose to cover it up rather than let it all hang out. Obviously just because you wear a skirt doesn’t mean that you are classy, or elegant I have seen many pants that are more modest that certain skirts. I’m also not here to get into debates on pants, short sleeves, how you cover your hair or any of that sort thing, in my opinion each person must do what they feel comfortable doing and it is between them and God.

Yet I think that each Jewish woman and all women should think of themselves as a princess and therefore there is nothing wrong with wearing stylish fashionable clothes so long as they aren’t thigh high and cut down to the belly button. I think that if you dress stylishly but elegantly you are still tzanua and in no way breaking any tznius code. I think that when people tell you otherwise they are steering you away from looking and feeling your best.

As a Jewish princess you should buy the best clothes you can afford, the best head coverings and conduct yourself with grace and class. There is no one in the world that will argue with you that you are not tznius if you follow those rules.

In a related albeit different topic I see many ads and in store displays showing head covering styles popular among Jewish women. In this month’s Vogue there is a Ralph Lauren ad showing a woman wearing a chasidic style turban, but Ralph’s real surname is Lipschitz after all and he grew up in the 50’s in the Bronx he probably saw plenty of those. I was also recently in Zara and I saw a mitpachat style tichel on a mannequin’s head, this could also be due to all the Muslims in Spain but I’d rather think that this is the influence of the stylish Brooklyn and Israeli chicas rocking the mitpachat.

I think that it’s important to remember that what narrow minded people tell you isn’t always halacha, and that tznius and fashion forward can go hand in hand, and not only not be polar opposites, but heighten the honor and grace of the Jewish woman.

  1. I agree. I think elegance and class is the most gorgeous and tznius thing for a Jewish woman. Fancy silk suits and designer shoes with tights is just extremely put together. Modesty has come back “in style” so to speak and I think it’s great. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s “not tznius” to follow fashion. The point is that we aren’t too strongly influenced by non-Jewish philosophies and ideas. The extreme is what Jewish women would do if all women started wearing mini-skirts and tank tops…

  2. Hi Arielle,
    While I do take issue with your proposal that “all Jewish women think of themselves as a princess,” I agree with your basic argument that being fashionable can still be frum. In light of that, thought you might be interested in this article I wrote a while back for the online mag 614, “Should Jewish Women Look Frumpy Or Hot” (I didn’t choose the title):
    Toward the end I touch on some of the points you made here.

    • Rebeccah, I think you are taking my sentence out of context. There is a saying “Kol Kivuda Bas Melech Penima.” Meaning All the honor of the kings daughter is hidden. Which was Bais Yaakov’s way of telling us A) be Tznius and B) As a Jew you are the daughter of a king. I like this concept from a self esteem view to think of yourself as a princess, and it is a frequent concept that we as Jewish daughters should consider ourselves princesses which was my meaning, not that all Jewish women think of themselves as princesses.

  3. Hey Arielle,
    I understood your context and your meaning. I just think, given the way the concept of the Jewish Princess has evolved (i.e. the JAP), those words should not be put together lightly, and it’s not necessarily a way of thinking that we should perpetuate. That said, I wasn’t offended or anything. And if you find this concept a positive one for your own self-esteem, great! It would be interesting to see if the J.A.P. stereotype can be traced in any way to the “Kol Kivuda Bas Melech Penima” saying.

  4. From everything I have seen it seems to me that purposefully being “out of style” is going against the spirit of halacha in a number of ways. 1st they tell us to dress very modestly and not to stand out, yet when they go against modern trends in fashion a woman stands out even more. This draws people’s eyes to this woman and instead of society looking at her as if she is the daughter of a king and respect what she is doing, they take pity on her and judge the religion baselessly on the assumption that her “man driven religion” forces her to cover herself and cause her to be uncomfortable. The women that I have seen that keep halacha with regards to being tziut but still keep up with basic fashion trends blend in with the crowd and don’t draw undue attention to themselves. 2. I understand that we should not become mainstream and lose our identity as Jews, but when we dress so differently as to illicit discomfort from others it can only serve to provide a metaphorical barrier. People are often intimidated by these people because of their belief system but also means they won’t talk to them to understand their beliefs. This is a root cause of discrimination and xenophobia, a fear and hatred of the “other.” 3. It creates a breakdown of religion. Above all we are taught to love each other and to help each other. Some of those that I would classify as zealots go so far as to not only take certain practices on themselves but to feel that others who have not accepted these cultural norms (even from other geographic/cultural areas)are wrong. This, too, can lead to hatred of fellow Jews and at the least break down Jewish fraternity and good feelings. Surely in a day when people are judged based on the color of their skirt and are hated within their own community on the grounds of modesty even when keeping within the confines of accepted halacha, moshiach cannot come and bring peace to the people. Instead of judging each other, we should help each other to find the right path. With all of our heart and soul we should maintain good intentions and accept people as they are and help them to see what they could be through our own patience, understanding, and above all chesed.

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