Tzniut Meme Revisited: Modesty for Jewish Women

Neshama commented on the Tzniut Meme I linked to recently, and explained why she switched from wigs to scarves. She also posted her reactions to a shiur by Rabbi Pinchas Winston on the same topic.

I am reprinting the questions here, and am happy to link to bloggers who didn’t have a chance to respond the first time.

  1. For married women, do you dress by the same standards as you did when you got married?
  2. Also for married women, do you and your husband conflict about this issue?
  3. Have your standards changed from when you were growing up, and why?
  4. Do you often feel uncomfortable when you are in the company of a group keeping higher or lower standards than you?
  5. If you have ever suddenly changed your standard of dress, did people treat you differently or make approving/disapproving remarks?
  6. How accepting is your community of women who “deviate” from the generally accepted mode of dress?
  7. If you have a daughter, has tzniut become an issue yet?
  8. Please add any comments you care to share on the topic.

I’m well aware that non-Orthodox and non-Jewish women (and men!) also have standards for how modestly they dress, and they are welcome to participate.

See here for more posts on Tzniut.


  1. My MIL is Modern Orthodox, but when the need arises, she will don a long skirt & head cover. We all prefer to support Jewish businesses. One day after a funeral, she went to one of those shops & she tells me that the way she was treated as compared to how she is treated when she dresses in her normal mode was like night & day. Which is actually sad to think about. Shopkeepers especially but people in general should treat all patrons equally, even if they are not “up to” their standards regarding dress.

  2. mominisrael says

    Hi Amy,
    That sounds quite unpleasant.

  3. Answers to the questions from a non-blogger:

    Standards similar but not same. I used to uncover hair at home, now I don’t, partly because of older kids and their friends, partly because I feel sort of undressed with hair uncovered.

    No conflict – my husband will learn and discuss with me and even has his own ideas but has never demanded or insisted, always left tzniut choices up to me

    Standards definitely different than growing up – we wore pants and even shorts and sleeveless to Jewish school and camp then; does anybody do that anymore?! But it wasn’t rebellious, it was acceptable then. I still wear pants, but less often than I choose skirts, my sleeves are longer and necklines higher than used to be although I do not abide by strict anatomical rules about collarbones or elbows showing.

    If I know I am going to a place where community standards are different than mine I try not to stand out. I feel more uncomfortable around those with stricter standards – my own hangups about being judged, not necessarily any reflection on their behavior – not at all around those with looser standards.

    Yes, people often remark if I change. I have many “hiloni” neighbors who are fascinated by religious standards of dress. If I wear a mitpachat instead of a beret, jeans or a long skirt, long sleeves in hot weather, I am sure to hear about it. Usually I welcome the opportunity to talk about Jewish ideas, sometimes the attention is burdensome.

    Our community is, on the whole, very, very tolerant!

    So far (she is 10-ish) our daughter prefers a frummer style of dress than we would dream of insisting on 🙂

    Thanks – this was fun!

  4. mominisrael says

    AR, thanks so much for your contribution. It does sound like an interesting neighborhood!

  5. Betzalel says

    Hi! I am a man and I keep tzniut for myself.
    I find acceptable for myself to dress for work (if it envolves a lot of motion and dirtiness) with shorts that cover the majority of the bottom part of the leg and a tee shirt. When I pray I always change to normal clothes – i.e. long-sleeve shirt and pants. After all when you pray you are going to meet the King of the Kings – when you pull your sleeves up you’re going to work. That’s why I refrain from wearing tee shirts (I total dislike short-sleeve shirts) if I know I can’t go home to change, unless I have a jacket. I’ve been told by few (with whom I discussed my level) that this is girlish. Men, and women alike, are obligated to tzniut! No one doubts that – whether they go on their way or are praying. Plus: the laws for men are more relaxed. I guess it counts the place where you were born, what is acceptable in your community, workplace, fashion. So, tzniut for women could be a nice guide – and I am not joking!
    I like myself and I think I am enough educated to only show parts of my body that others need to see. I only feel comfortable that way – and people don’t definitely need to see what they don’t want, right?
    I lived in a religious yishuv where tzniut is not so much enforced… that’s why in many things I detatch myself from the National Religious and I stick to stringencies (aka to some Orthodoxy and to others Chareidism).
    I dress black and white – for many reasons. During weekdays a whitish or patterned black and white shirt is ok.
    When I first arrived in Israel I stayed in a Telaviv hostel that has (had?) separate bedrooms for boys and girls. Once I was really far away from home and couldn’t go back so I decided to travel to Telaviv and spend the night there. So, I asked the ‘concierge’ if they still had separate rooms… he hesitated for a while and said “No, sorry. We don’t do that anymore.”, and he started to stare at me. Later I checked on their website and they still do – I didn’t bother to call to confirm.
    And I find that asking for directions in Telaviv while you are in black and white will make you buy a GPS! The same doesn’t happen if you are wearing a bright, yellow t-shirt! It is just me?

    **What do you think about my way, anyway?**

  6. mominisrael says

    Hi Betzalel,
    Do you mean that the hostel discouraged you from staying there because you looked too frum?
    I’ve already adjusted to the stereotyping, etc. Sad but true. I also avoid dressing over-casually, but it’s still much more casual than some.

  7. Betzalel says

    Yes. I looked too frum…! I had Shabbat clothes on because I spent Shabbat out of home and I thought I would return on Motzei Shabbat — that didn’t happen… I returned home Monday in the afternoon. After the message of “B&W Jews don’t get in” I felt, literally, lost and I only thought about Jerusalem. So, I went to a Jewish hostel in the Holy City. And I took a shower 🙂 But, as I said, I have the feeling people treat me differently when I don’t wear a white shirt. Just a detail: in both situations I had a baseball cap…

  8. Interesting questions and the answers are even more interesting. Its a bit difficult for me to answer each question separately since I am not married.
    I don’t cover my hair unless I go to a very frum shul wehre uncovered hair for someone my age would be frowned upon.
    I wear pants to go to work because I am comfortable in them but skirts int he summer, long ones. I never wear sleeveless tops bur might wear t-shirts.
    I feel awkward around women who are dressed extremely frum when their clothes are dreary pieces of material that make them look all the same. I don’t mind when they manage to keep a bit of feminity in the way they dress even if the standards are higher than mine.

  9. I remember this topic coming up before. I would answer the last question here because it just came up. As I mentioned in a post, my daughter just had a birthday. She turned 8. That was the age at which I directed my older daughters to start wearing sleeves past the elbow. This became an issue today because my second daughter likes to dress her younger sister in short sleeves. So even though she was dressed in the long sleeved uniform, she put a short sleeve short on her to go to the kids’ gym. Of course, once she was wearing it, my now eight-year-old did not want to change out. So I will now remove temptation (in the form of her short sleeve shirts) from her dresser while she is out.

  10. MII:

    “I’ve already adjusted to the stereotyping”

    i wanted to post once about my reactions to the show srugim, but never got to it. one thing that i noticed is how self-conscious some of the characters were of their religious identity vis-a-vis secular israel. i thought it was a sad statement on israeli society

    • mominisrael says

      LOZ, I try not to be self-conscious about it. And at least in the city, it’s not nearly as segregated as it is sometimes made out to be.

  11. MotherOf4 says

    comment to Ariella
    I don’t understand the problem of short sleeves over long sleeves. Lot of girls buy the “hultzat basis” to over the elbow, and regular short sleeved shirts on top. It gives them a lot more choice in what to wear.

  12. mominisrael says

    I hope you can look past the “dreary” clothing and get to know those women.
    Ariella, yes, you participated in the meme as I recall. Do you think your daughter will notice the missing shirts?
    MotherOf4,I can’t speak for Ariella’s daughter but I don’t enjoy a second layer in the summer.

  13. Betzalel says

    Hi! Just don’t get me wrong when I said (some comments before) that tzniut for women could be a nice guide for men. What I had in my mind was the importance of tzniut in its broader sense. Of course there are things that apply only to men and not women and vice-versa.

  14. I hope you can look past the “dreary” clothing and get to know those women.
    Not a problem on my side although, in Antwerp, I often had the feeling that it was them who couldn’t look past my “un-Orthodox” (but by no means undecent) clothing. There were even a shop and a restaurant where the people were very unpleasant to those who didn’t look like them.

  15. Clarification: What I wrote on my blog were MY thoughts after reading the full shiur of Rabbi Winston, “Why Cover Your Hair,” which it can be found at

    BTW Growing up not religious, we all dressed very very different. I find that the clothing one wears on the surface of the body is a reflection of the relationship one has with their own neshoma. As I progress thru the years, I grow in appreciation of what Hashem Blesses us with. I am tall and find that longer clothing is more graceful and feminine. My husband almost never says anything, unless I ask him. He complimented me very much one evening when I was going to a chassana, and this surprised me (but pleased me). I believe even though one expresses theirself thru external modes, the community you live within has a subtle or not so subtle effect on your choices. So balance is important.

  16. Mother in Israel, I meant that she put on a regular short sleeve t-shirt by itself — not on top of the long sleeve shirt. When she said she didn’t want to change, she said that it was hot, so she certainly would not wish to add layers. Only my middle daughter likes the look of short sleeve over long sleeves. Personally, I don’t care for it, but I wouldn’t forbid it.

  17. mominisrael says

    Ariella, Momof4 was suggesting that your daughter wear a second layer underneath, and I suspected she might not want to.
    S-R: Do you have trouble finding clothes for your daughter?
    Neshama, I’ll edit the post in the morning be”H.

  18. sylvia_rachel says

    I am not frum, not even a little, but I don’t dress so very differently from most of my Modern Orthodox friends. I don’t cover my hair except in the sense of wearing a hat to shul on the rare occasions when I actually go. I do wear pants — especially in the winter! — but don’t wear shorts; I wear short-sleeved t-shirts and blouses in the summer but not tank tops or sleeveless. My neckline comfort level includes collarbones sometimes, but not anything approaching cleavage.

    So I am quite a conservative dresser — at least in the summer — for a non-religious person. But I still managed to nurse in public an awful lot, back in the day 😀

    My daughter, who is almost seven, went through a period of dressing in a very frum fashion, but not for that reason — she just refused to wear pants at all, ever, for a couple of years, “because pants are for boys” (even if they’re pink? with flowers? really? 😉 ). Now she is back to wearing both pants and skirts. We had a slight difference of opinion in a clothing store recently about a sundress with a halter top and transparent spaghetti straps that she coveted and I refused to consider, but mostly it hasn’t been much of an issue.

  19. While we’re on the subject of tznius, I have found that schools and camps tend to forbid the wearing of pants under skirts for ostensible tznius reasons. One school said it is a look that is “too casual”, while my daughter said it’s because girls would wear skirts that are too short if they were allowed to wear pants or leggings underneath. (The schools and camps allow it for trips, as on tiyulim in Israel). Since my kids don’t have any skirts that are too short, I feel if anything, pants underneath make the outfit more tznius, not less. I also have a hard time seeing the difference between leggings and tights, which are allowed.

  20. sylvia_rachel says

    I don’t have too much trouble yet, because she’s still in the size 4-6 range; the clothes get more appalling in the 7-14 range. A lot of the skirts are shorter than I would wear myself, but she wears shorts or leggings underneath in that case. There are a lot of inappropriate clothes for little girls, but there are lots of perfectly OK ones as well. I wonder if in a colder climate, it’s maybe easier to find less revealing clothing, because everybody wears long sleeves and turtlenecks part of the year anyway? 😉

    I suspect my daughter and I will have more disagreements as she gets older and becomes more and more insistent on wearing whatever her friends are wearing. I still remember how appalled my mother was the day I went to the bnei mitzvah class wearing shorts …

  21. To Tesyaa:
    Don’t you think ‘that look’ of pants or leggins under skirts is too arabish?
    Even some of the Indian women wear leggins under their dresses; why would a young bas Yisroel want to look like non-Jewish girls/women?
    A long skirt is very tsnius and feminine, with no need to wear pants, just stockings of some type.

    Curious for your reply.

  22. Neshama, I think for a young girl or teenager who is physically active, pants add an extra level of tznius, actually. Not to mention needed warmth on the cold winter days we have in the Northeast US. Not a fashion reason to do it, but these are practical reasons.

  23. I guess you could counter argue that young girls should be taught to sit and walk in such a way that even without pants they will be totally tzanua. We know that’s not always going to happen. I am happy when kids are physically active, not just involved in sedentary activities.

  24. And yes, traditional Indian dress involves a salwar kemise, a tunic and pants outfit. I’m sure the members of the traditional Jewish communities that lived in India until the middle of the last century wore the salwar kemise, just as we wear Western skirts and blouses now. Neither is more traditionally Jewish (although I admit it would be odd and nonconformist for an observant Jewish woman to wear a salwar kemise today).

    I’m referring more to leggings or exercise pants under a skirt that is below knee length.

  25. mominisrael says

    Yemenite women wore pants under their skirts. I don’t know if the bottoms were visible or not.

  26. This is all very interesting; I guess the country/society one lives in dictates the fashion. But is this really how a Jewish girl/woman traditionally is supposed to dress? Since the American style of “doing your own thing” is so prevalent now, we are seeing a diminution in tznius in many countries. Dare one say that this reflects the political climate, or could we say that it influences the ‘male psyche’? Women do have this effect on men; as an inciter or soother. I wonder if women were to refrain from wearing clingy, tight or revealing attire, would we see a lessening of the ‘hot-headedness’ that typifies most (but not all) men? I throw this out for feedback.

  27. Jewish women pretty much dressed as their counterparts up to the modern era. One of the sources for headcovering in the gemara comes from a description of women with baskets on their heads in the marketplace, because that’s how all women walked around in public in those days, Jewish or not. In Ashekenaz, all married women wore some kind of headcovering also, which is why the headcovering was reserved for married women as opposed to Sepharad, where all girls from the age of 3 covered their heads. Much of “traditional Jewish dress” was dictated by general fashion mores, again, up until the modern era.

    I’m not sure what the rest of your post has to do with wearing pants under skirts for tzniut reasons. I deplore stereotypes about both men and women. I can’t say that most of the men I know are hotheaded, and if they lost their temper from time to time, i doubt it’s because of random women wearing clingy clothing.