Winter has been in full swing, even in Texas, for the past few weeks. The cold weather is a big reason why my shorts have been buried in the back of my dresser drawers. But this week, in the middle of January, I pulled out all my shorts and boxed them up for donation.
Over the past several months, I have been attempting to incorporate a more modest, Jewish way of dressing, tznius. Tznius, or modest dress, is largely observed in Orthodox communities, but some Conservative and Reform Jews choose to dress modestly. Dressing modestly according to Orthodox Jewish code is more than just not wearing short skirts or showing mid-drift. The concept of tznius varies from community to community, but in general, for a women, dressing modestly includes wearing skits that at least cover your knees, wearing close toed shoes, wearing shirts that cover your elbows and collar bone, and if you are married, covering your hair. Some colors or styles of clothing are more traditional for certain communities so if you are joining a particular community it is important to follow their understanding of tznius.
In my community, part of the Conservative movement, dressing modestly is a concern, but not in the traditional ways of understanding tznius. For this reason, and the fact that there aren’t many Jews were I live, I really stand out when I dress according to tznius, but I keep reminding myself that that is no reason to not dress according to the way I understand and value tznius. Dressing according to Jewish tradition is not something I should be ashamed of. All people dress according to what they value and for me that means being in solidarity with Jews around the world who follow Jewish tradition.
Each time I am afraid to look foolish as I put on a skirt and thick leggings (opposed to warm Jean pants) in the middle of Winter, I think of the courage it is taking many Jews around the world to dress differently. Women who are going through the same internal debate as they get dressed, and men who wear a kippah even though no one else around them does.
The action of taking every pair of shorts I own and getting rid of them seems rash, but honestly I have never really like wearing shorts anyway. I also packed up most of my pants for donation, but a couple pairs stayed in the drawer. I kept them for a few reasons. First, I can wear them with a dress over, if necessary, on a really cold day. Second, it is scary to totally let go of all my clothing, and since my community is okay with pants, if I do want to go back to wearing pants I can. Lastly, it is empowering to know that I have perfectly good jeans sitting in the drawer but I am choosing to wear a skirt.
Following Orthodox tznuis isn’t for everyone, and I certainly don’t follow it as strictly as someone else might, but I find it to be an important dimension of Judaism in my life, especially at this point of trying to enter the Jewish community. I wish everyone luck in finding what tradition has to offer them and ways to incorporate meaningful practices into their daily life. Clothing is just one way I am reminded in daily life of my relationship to Hashem and to other people in the world.