A Frum Fashion History of Denim Skirts

imageIn Tablet Magazine, Dvora Meyers takes readers on a tour of her wardrobe over the years, and how in retrospect, her skirt choices paralleled her journey away from Orthodox Judaism.

In this passage, Meyers describes her ambivalence about wearing pants in public for the first time:

Even with all of my arguments lined up, the final leap to jeans was surprisingly difficult for reasons that had little to do with Jewish law. The problem was that in jeans, I blended in too well. Walking down the main campus thoroughfare or a crowded New York City street, I was invisible to the other Orthodox Jews. I no longer received brief, knowing glances from other frum women on the subway who understood that my skirt wasn’t merely an item of clothing but proof that I was a religious person. But why, after I had frequently sought to distinguish myself from other Orthodox Jews with offbeat fashion and hair color choices and irreverent statements, did I want to so badly to be officially accepted by my co-practitioners? I knew that I was still observant. That should’ve been enough. I suppose a small, deeply buried part of me recognized the adoption of jeans for what it really was—an irreversible step toward secular life. My desire to be seen by other Jews was rooted in the hope that if they still viewed me as religious then maybe their perception would fix my identity and keep me from attempting any further changes.

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  1. I went to college with Dvora. I find that sometimes she is really sensational. I still remember when I was a sophmore and she was a freshman she would camp out in my dorm room in horror when her roomate had her boyfriend spend the night. She’s drifted very far from that tmimut.

    • I found the slide show a bit self-indulgent and naval-gazey. She obviously has a lot of personal issues with religion, (not surprising given her family background). Dunno, not sure how much this piece really had to say.

  2. I grew up going to a school that required girls to wear skirts and jean skirts were the skirts of choice. I am a very active person and need to be comfortable. I dress accordingly. There is no way in my mind to be active and comfortable in a skirt. If it is straight – you just can’t walk (unless it is short and then you can’t sit modestly). If the skirt is wide, it gets caught on things (bicylce wheels, twigs, rocks) – unless it is short and then the wind blows it up and your underwear shows.
    The bottom line is I have a HORROR of jean skirts. One of my pet peeves when we hike in Israel seeing orthodox women battle the trails in skirts. Either their skirts are straight and they can’t get up rocks, or they are wide and getting caught on the same rocks. When there are ladders, you can see straight up.
    There is no way to convince me that skirts are more modest than loose pants.

  3. Funny, this post wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Anyway…

    When I was becoming frum, most of my role models didn’t wear jean skirts, for whatever reason (I never asked, I just assumed that jean skirts were a no-no). However, as I settled into my own observance, I found myself strangely ambivalent toward them. I didn’t own one, but I would, but I just never got around to buying one. Then, when I was pregnant with my second child, I borrowed a friend’s denim maternity skirt, and I was in love. So when my waistline returned, I went out and bought one. 🙂 Strangely, though, it does remind me of my pre-frum days, and there is a certain blending-iness, even when it’s a skirt (as opposed to actual jeans).

    And that’s my jean skirt history

  4. Dvora’s blog was really fascinating to read.

    It just reaffirms for me that these ‘laws’ for women’s attire were made by men to control women. They are long ingrained now and have a sense of religious authority, but I don’t buy it. And I’m all for modesty, board shorts at the beach over bikini bottoms, but who is to say I can’t wear pants!

  5. rickismom says

    I dunno, I walk daily in medium long skirts (not too long or it can get caught.,… and several times have been on hikes (and climbing in the rockies) with them as well, with no problem.

  6. Obviously, being male, I don’t wear skirts; however, I admire women who are modest in their dress, but accept that some factors–hot, hazy and humid days come to mind–may require some wardrobe adjustments. I admire Dvora Meyers for sharing her own personal account of how at times our life choices may run counter to the norm. Along this path we call life there are some tough choices to make for sure, but hopefully the learning one gleans makes it all worthwhile in the end.

  7. This post reminded me of a remark on the topic of jean skirts made by Nathan Englander, an American Jewish writer of fiction who was raised Modern Orthodox but went “OTD” (secularized) as a young man. The remark appears in an interview at BookBrowse. When the interviewer asks Englander whether there is anything from his old (i.e., “religious”) life that he really misses, the author quips, “I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the ankle-length denim skirt.”
    I read this as a derisive comment, essentially saying that the “hipness” of the denim is cancelled out by the length of the skirt.

  8. Personally today’s fashions do not speak to me. There is not much that is truly tsnius. I like when fashion was true fashion. When women wore material clothing that layered, flowed and had a language of its own. The skin tight pieces put together to cover some women seems like anti-fashion, and a degradation of ‘women’ in general. [Websters: —Synonyms: humiliation, disgrace, dishonor, debasement.]

    A woman has a natural born elegance in her (divinely) created body. Draping her femininity in beautiful material, whether satin, silk, cotton, wool, synthetics, tafeta, expresses what she possesses in personality, character, and makes a statement to the world.

    I think there should be classes created in all the schools to teach young girls the merit of clothing, and why exposing 90% skin is debasing, and overstimulation for young boys, struggling to go through puberty. And why the mystique of more clothing, rather than less, is captivating to the male psyche, and promotes respect. Respect is so very much lacking in the world in this generation.

    Why is it that women in most of the rest of the world still drape their bodies with flowing material. Why in the “developed countries” women scarcely wear anything, and when they do, it clings to every beautymark and curve. That’s not clothing, it’s colored saran wrap!

    And the answer is not the Burqa. I feel there is a total lack of true sensitivity, first in external appearances, and then from the inward out toward one another. The dichotomy between the Burqa and the Saran Wrap generation is perturbing. Heaven help us.

  9. Is a change in dress style (in the direction of secular/universal fashion) necessarily a step toward abandoning religious observance? (The skirt issue would be related to the hair-covering issue, in this regard.)
    I knew a woman who lived in a yishuv in Gush Katif for many years, who told me she had stopped covering her hair because she felt that it identified her with a more “radical” element in her yishuv, one that she didn’t feel comfortable with. However, she appeared to be sincerely “frum” and I could believe that giving up the head covering hadn’t been accompanied by any changes in her level of observance.
    OTOH, most of the women I know (admittedly my experience is limited) who gave up head covering or changed their style of dress in a more secular direction, did indeed end up non-religious, whether it took a few months or a few years.
    I’m wondering what other people’s experience is.

  10. Nurse Yachne says

    Again, I guess I feel a need for both comfort and change. In the winter I got some shorter skirts to wear with sharwallim and heel-less tights, for spring I just got some 7/8 shorts that would be too form-fitting to wear alone, but which don’t add bulk under the skirts. I wear the longer sharwallim with a hip-length tunic on top. These have the comfort and ease of wear that the long skirts have, but look less tent-like.

    My daughters’ elementary school did not allow pants under a skirt, and we insisted tey respect that rule on campus, although none of the explanations made any sense to me. Now they’ve all finished 6th grade and I’ve started co-ordinating slacks with skirts, the old rule makes even less sense. You’re always “covered”, no matter how or where you sit, and it’s convenient for hiking.

    The one real possible problem might be the loss, or failure to develop, the skill of moving in a skrt alone. I grew up in the 60s and 70s and well I remember my ladylike Southern friends “learning the drill” of sitting getting out of a car, or otherwise moving in their miniskirts. “Ankles together, knees locked and…pivot!” I feel truly sorry for all those contemporary starlets whose every move shows more than a lady intends.

    • Nurse Yachne: The problem with girls learning to be ladylike is that they also are restricted, and limited in the activities and exercise they can enjoy. I just heard about a school principal that refuses to allow even young girls to wear “taaytz” (leggings).

  11. I want my daughters to have respect for their bodies because it ties into their sense of worth, well-being and feelings about themselves and not because I care about the “overstimulation of young boys”.

  12. Well said, Baila. It’s more than fair for females to feel good about themselves in their manner of dress–certainly more so than being somehow held accountable for the actions of someone else (males). Why should females be uncomfortable because some males project their own distorted views onto how she’s dressed?!