I’m wearing a tank top right now. It’s a beautiful summer day and I’m wearing a pink, candy stripe, sleeveless shirt with small white buttons on the shoulder with a knee length pink skirt. Accessories: minimal. An orange necklace I just got from my great aunt and purple Birkenstocks. Hair: down and not brushed.
Hey Femipoodles, it’s time to talk about Tznius.
Tznius (snee- us) or Tzniut (snee- oot) means modesty in Hebrew and is usually used in terms of women’s dress though it also applies to men and can refer to modesty in character. In orthodox communities you will often hear people discussing whether or not something or someone is tznius. The proper term for the adjective “modest” is tznu’ah (snoo- ah), but at least in America, tznius means both “modesty” and “modest”. This Jewish concept is really cool because it allows for one to be attractive without being attracting. It never says that a woman can’t look beautiful (and in fact, many people in the Torah are described as beautiful), you just need to realize that you are not solely a body and dress accordingly. The body houses the soul and should be decorated and covered with appropriate dignity. In traditional circles, this means that the collar bone is covered as well as the shoulders (sometimes elbows) and knees (or occasionally calves).
As a Jewish feminist I’ve jumped around the spectrum of dress, though have never dressed in anything incredibly revealing. The occasional tank top and scoop neck has been worn, along with skirts that are above the knee and tight pants. Recently, I stopped wearing pants (hee), and now I wear skirts whenever possible. It’s probably a comfort issue at the root, as I have never been a jeans girl, but there was some religious motivation. While I believe that pants are Halachically permitted, skirts do feel nicer to me and I like to dress up for life.
My philosophy on Tzniut is flexible and practical. Every piece of clothing has its place and time. The laws of modesty dictate that you dress appropriately according to the situation (my interpretation). To me, this means that you can wear jeans if you’re working outside or going to be out in the cold or feel that pants are more conducive to your daily activities. You can wear a bathing suit at a pool party because that is what’s appropriate to wear when swimming. You can wear slightly shorter or tighter items, just pair them with something loose.
I have approximately a million more things to discuss regarding tznius but I want to end this with one last thought. Being modest and dressing creatively and beautifully are not mutually exclusive. I have an enormous issue with people who don’t wear colorful clothing because of tzniut. While bright colors and bold patterns may be eye catching, Jewish women are allowed to be beautiful, and wearing nice clothing is a way to enhance the mitzvah of covering. So I’m sticking with my magenta lipstick and pink tank top.
I would like to end with a moving anthem about tolerance: