She Will be a Tz’nuah

The Modest Woman

When Hashem created Chava, He did not create her the way He created Adam, the first man.  He built the woman from Adam.

כא  וַיַּפֵּל ה’ אֱלֹ-ים תַּרְדֵּמָה עַל-הָאָדָם, וַיִּישָׁן; וַיִּקַּח, אַחַת מִצַּלְעֹתָיו, וַיִּסְגֹּר בָּשָׂר, תַּחְתֶּנָּה.

And Hashem caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept.  And He took one of his ribs, and He closed up the flesh in its place. — Bereishis  2:21

כב  וַיִּבֶן ה’ אֱלֹ-ים אֶת-הַצֵּלָע אֲשֶׁר-לָקַח מִן-הָאָדָם, לְאִשָּׁה; וַיְבִאֶהָ, אֶל-הָאָדָם.

And Hashem built the rib that He took from the man into a woman; and He brought her to the man. —  Bereishis  2:22

Why did Hashem create the woman this way vis-a-vis from Adam’s rib? Chazal says that G-d created woman from the rib, from an internal (modest) place, so that she will be modest. [1] In addition, Hashem instructed every limb of the woman,
“תהי אשה צנועה, תהי אשה צנועה” (You will be a modest woman) at the time of her creation.
[2]  We can deduce from this that women have an innate ability and sensitivity to modesty as she is developed from a place of modesty.

Shopping Challenges

How many of us would agree that when we go shopping for clothes, that we inherently sense that a particular clothing is not modest for us?  Here are some of the challenges that face today’s modest clothing shopper.

Sizing

Sizing is probably one of the most important challenges.  Different countries try to adopt their own standards for what is considered average sizes for their population.  Within the U.S., there is no agreement to a standard size.  Standard sizing does not fit most, no matter how it is marketed.  Due to international migration and a mixed population in a melting pot, a “standard size fits most” model is simply misleading.  In addition, a size 2 for brand X may be different than a size 2 for brand Y.  How often does a shopper have to remember her size(s) based on where she shops?

Fit

A garment that fits one woman with adequate ease may be too form-fitting for another.   Or, a garment may be designed to be form-fitting and the woman may feel uncomfortable revealing too much of herself to the world.  Many modest women for the sake of modesty opt for a looser fit.

Length

A garment may be styled right but just not the at the desired length — too short or too long.  Our Rabbis have determined that the minimum length of a skirt or dress hemline is 4 inches below the knee.  This will ensure that the thighs will be covered when sitting down, walking or climbing.  Unfortunately many skirts marketed today as tznius lack this basic minimal length requirement.  So buyers beware.

Transparency

A garment may be made with sheer fabric and will require a lining.  Super lightweight fabrics such as chiffon generally requires two layers of fabric plus a lining for modesty.  Most lightweight knit fabrics and shirting fabrics are not opaque.  Cotton interlock fabrics tend to be medium weight and more opaque, but its polyester cousin is very thin and less opaque.

Clingy Fabric

Most lightweight knit fabrics such as jerseys tend to cling to the body.  Its woven clingy counterparts include the lightweight satin charmeuse. These clingy materials are often used for making layering shells reinforced with spandex and the like.  Layering shells are meant to be worn layered under other garments, not as the outer garment itself.  Pairing a shell with an outright immodest garment does not necessarily make the entire outfit modest and the entire combination does not portray a modest image of the wearer.  The shell does not fix the immodesty problem.  Buyer beware.

Attracting

A good rule of thumb for modesty is to be attractive but not attracting.  A garment may be styled just right but the overall fabric is loud and catches attention.  Some fabric have loud prints, textures and color combinations and are attention-grabbing.  How does one identify an attracting fabric?  Costumes are often made with loud contrasting colors and glitter.  Professional skaters and circus performers often wear costumes that sparkle and shine.  Fabrics with wide or large allover prints tend to be louder than those with smaller prints.

Different cultures adopt different color schemes and a color that’s considered ‘normal’ in one’s culture is ‘outlawed’ in another.  For example, the color red which symbolizes luck in one culture connotes lust and sin in another.  In tznius, the color red is not an acceptable color for clothing.  Other questionable prints include animal skin prints, and large chevron prints.

Color blocking is another attention-seeking fashion statement, especially paired with bold opposite colors on the complementary color scheme.  Some of the style lines that use color blocking are simply asymmetric, while others project an hourglass figure similar to a Princess or Paneled bodice line.  Asymmetric designs tend to catch the eye and clothing styles that enhance the figure of the woman wearer are not within the spirit of tznius.

Style

A garment may be just way off the modesty mark — revealing neckline, too form-fitting at provocative areas, too short, etc.  Some women apply a layering solution, for example wearing a dickey under an immodest neckline, or wearing an outer-garment such as a jacket over a tight-fitted area of a garment or wearing a garment extender under a short garment.  However, these band-aid solutions are not ideal.  It probably costs a lot more to maintain a wardrobe with layering necessities.

Some garments are styled to promote a certain area of the body.  For example, the pencil skirt is designed to promote the natural curves of the lower torso.  The pencil skirt was a favorite among Hollywood celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe.  In the absence of spandex and the like, bust darts and waist darts are mostly found in form-fitting clothing to accentuate the chest area relative to the waistline. In other words, the bust and waist darts assist in making the silhouette of the woman more prominent and conspicuous in the upper torso.  You will find bust darts (sometimes disguised as Princess lines) in many form-fitting garments marketed for proms, weddings and evening wear. Bust and waist darts are generally not required in looser fitting garments.  Bust darts are only sometimes required to alter a dartless pattern if the garment will ride up on a more endowed woman producing an uneven hemline, which is shorter at the front than the back.

Asymmetric styling on a garment often attracts attention due to its visual imbalance.  The high-low hemline and the asymmetric garment opening and necklines are some examples.

Tight skirts which are impractical for wearing are often designed with “walking” slits. In tznius, any slit in a skirt is considered immodest, even if it is below the knee.

The A-line skirt at an appropriate length is most practical and comfortable to wear and is modest by many standards.  A cousin of the A-line skirt, called the Circle Skirt, was popular in the 1950’s.  Sometimes called the Poodle Skirt, it was often worn with layers of thick petticoat underneath.   Today the Circle Skirt is marketed as the Skater skirt, with a tendency to float up like a parachute, not a good idea for modesty.

Conclusion

A woman is created to be modest.  A modest woman is not required to subject herself to immodest fashions.  Modest women can still choose to wear appropriate looser fitted garments for all occasions.  If she cannot find an appropriate modest garment in the stores, she has the option of having a modest garment tailored for her, for the sake of modesty.  In addition, she can empower herself by sewing her own wardrobe, supported by a thriving arts and crafts market, community and sewing guilds.

A woman of valor, who can find? For her price is far above rubies — Mishlei 31:10

She makes for herself coverlets; her clothing is fine linen and purple. — Mishlei 31:22

Strength and dignity are her clothing. — Mishlei 31:25

Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman who fears G-d, she shall be praised. — Mishlei 31:30


[1] Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeshev 6

[2] Bereishis Rabbah 18:3

Mrs. Moriya Chesler

Mrs. Moriya Chesler

Mrs. Chesler is passionate about the mitzvah of tznius and offers modest and kosher sewing patterns for the general public.
Mrs. Moriya Chesler

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