The word modesty or “tzniut” in Hebrew means many different things to many people.
Most people refer to modesty as discretion in dress.
Some say it means humble.
Some say modesty is just as important in behavior and speech as it is in dress codes.
I believe it is all of the above. I want to tell you the story of how I came to be more modest in all the above mentioned ways. A process which has took more than a decade, and which I am currently undertaking. As a student from the Fashion Institute of technology, I was taught to design fashion for women by accentuating all parts that are feminine. This being the very opposite of what I do today which is to shed light away from all feminine parts yet allow the fashion to remain feminine; not so easy. My personal journey towards modest dressing began when I was working as a chidrenswear designer in the famous 112 building west 34th street in New York City. On my lunch break I would go down to what was then Woolworths and look for ideas to make my appliqués and embroideries by viewing gift wrappings and greeting cards. On one such occasion, as I looked over the greeting card section, an elderly woman came over to me and said: “You look like a nice Jewish girl; can you help me pick out a Bat Mitzvah card.” I looked at what I was wearing and wondered how she figured I was Jewish. I was wearing a tight pair of jeans with not such a modest top and I had long hair that was permed. Most people took me for an Indian or Spanish girl. It had never bothered me that they did so either. But somehow that day what she said made me wonder, “Is this how a nice Jewish girl dresses?” I helped her pick out a card and she thanked me profusely. I should have thanked her profusely for here began my journey back to becoming a nice Jewish girl.
From that day on I went to the library at the Fashion Institute of technology and researched the dress codes worn by Jewish women throughout the centuries. Indeed it was most fascinating. I noticed that, throughout the centuries as fashion changed so did we. For most of the centuries, Jewish women and women in general dressed very refined, following the standards dictated to them by designers throughout time. For most of those centuries modesty was a non issue as the fashion of the time was relatively modest. However in middle of our last century, the 60′s and thereafter, “ready to wear” became most immodest. What has happened to the Jewish woman? Well she continued to follow the standards of her day however she was now at odds with whom she was and with her values as a Jew. I remember thinking,” well the only modest clothing is in Boro Park, NY.” That was not the look I was searching for. I began the painstaking task of shopping in popular dept. stores for pieces of fashion here and there and “modestifying” them by adding fabric to a short skirt or a sweater to the dress that revealed too much etc. It was not easy but definitely “doable.”
The concept of the hair covering for me was most natural, as a consequent t o wearing skirts. As a child, I always drew my “fashion models” with hats. I adore hats and hair coverings and as such it is a no brainer for me to wear one. My most difficult challenge when dressing modestly was with swimwear. I was an avid swimmer and giving that up was not an option. I went back to FIT (Fashion Institute of technology) and researched swimwear at the library. That marked the beginning of the most fascinating research I had done to this day. I could not believe my eyes. Right here in the U.S, in the beginning of the 20th century, women would go with wagons up to the shoreline, undress inside the wagons, down to their cotton petticoats and shirts, which they wore under their long dresses, then go into the water. They then took a swim or dip and came back into the wagons to head home. The drawings showed the women drooping in their petticoats, soaked with water, which I believe was most uncomfortable and certainly not pragmatic.
As time progressed, in the late1940′s early 50′s synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon hit the market. The swimwear industry was born. No longer did companies have to use cotton which was expensive and took too long to dry. Now they could use polyester and nylon. Swimwear soon became highly immodest for its day. It consisted of a top with an attached skirt, albeit mini. The women wore the most adorable swim caps made of rubber with it as well. As spandex hit the swimwear market, fashion continued to evolve and now swimwear became increasingly revealing. In the 60′s and 70′s swimwear became available in two separate pieces “the bikini was born”. Today we have the string bikini and frankly, I do not understand why anyone would spend so much money on such little material.
When I designed my line of Aqua Modesta Swimwear, I did it mainly, because” I needed one.” As time went by, I realized how necessary and essential the idea of modest swimwear was. Baruch Hashem, I have been truly blessed to meet so many wonderful women and girls due to the creation of this line. Jewish women today are seeking to grow religiously, spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. They are bright, fit, fashionable and have much “savoir-faire”( know how) I dedicate my line to all these women, who are constantly growing and working on improving themselves and their families. IYH”, through the observance of modesty and performance of kind acts we will bring the redemption speedily in our days amen!