Friday, February 22, 2008

Memories of a beginner modestynik

Some questions I received by email the other day:

"Making the transition to modest attire: how difficult was this for you, from a social perspective? How long before they got used to the idea? Did you lose any friends over this issue? What type of responses did you get from family and friends? Is it fairly simple to find modest attire in Israel? Any suggestions for making the transition for others? And do all observant Jewish women in Israel wear dresses/skirts only?"

I certainly got all sorts of reactions about my transition to modest attire. I can't say how long it actually took before people who knew me stopped giving me those weird looks, but I estimate it took at least a year. Also, the transition wasn't done all at once. For example one summer I stopped wearing sleeveless tops, and next summer I gave up on short sleeves as well and started wearing only skirts. Then I also started paying more attention to my neckline.

I can't say I actually lost friends because I started to dress differently. My true friends remain as close as before, despite our differences. However, there were people (both family and friends) who didn't hesitate to say all sorts of revolting things, for example, "what are you going to wear to N's birthday party? Some ugly shapeless rag again?". I must say I never, never expressed my opinion in the way of, "hey, look at me, I'm not wearing pants anymore because I think that's immodest! And that makes me better than you". No. I simply started dressing according to my current preferences. It was enough to attract negative reactions.

In Israel, it's relatively simple to find modest clothes, because a large part of the population are religious Jews. No, not all observant Jewish women wear skirts; some wear pants and some don't cover their hair. However, the market is large. Of course, it also depends on where you look. For example Tel Aviv might not be exactly what you'd call a modestynik's paradise. But in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak there's an abundance of shops with beautiful and modest clothes and hair coverings. I'm aware of the fact that there are areas where modest clothes are almost impossible to come by, in which cases you might want to turn to more creative options, such as browsing second-hand shops, ordering online, or custom-making your clothes.

As to suggestions for the beginner modestynik, I say: start with what you have and work with it. Most likely you will need a big shopping trip, but you can also make use of what you have in your closet. I still have some sleeveless tops and low-cut shirts from my pre-modesty era, which I successfully utilized by wearing layers (one shirt on top of the other). If you have a see-through skirt, you could wear it over another skirt for an extra hip look. If you have a dose of creativity in you, you could even try to make skirts out of pants. I haven't tried that, but I've heard smashing success stories!

Also, don't be too hard on yourself. It's alright not to do everything at once, and it's alright to take one small step at a time. For example, one month you may want to stop wearing shirts that don't cover your midriff, and next month you can decide that from now on you're also going to pay more attention to how tight your clothes are. As long as you remain focused on your final goal, nothing is out of reach!


Ways of Zion said...

Very nice post. Thankfully I had been brought up by a mother who encouraged us to be modest. Even though I did rebel for a while.

I find dressing modestly easier then you sometimes might think. Example: a few nice everyday skirts and a couple special ones (for Shabbat) is all you need. Then you can mix and match tops and cardigans. With kids I live in cardigans as you can change them when they get dirty and are easy to nurse with.

Here in the chilly north, I find it hard to find nice modest and well made clothing. So our sewing machine gets used! There are some very easy 2hr patterns for skirts.

A couple years ago the style was long and modest skirts so when that happens I stock p and get 2 or 3 new ones and usually they will last until the next time.

Headcoverings are hopeless to find here, Thankfully i got enough last year in Jerusalem that I'm not running low!

Catherine R. said...

This is very encouraging, Anna. I got inspired to dress more modestly then I started feeling discouraged and anxious because I could not afford to buy all new clothes and I don't have too much to work with. But you are right! It's the attitude and intention that will make the final goal reachable. You give good practical ideas hear. I wonder...what is your standard for skirt length? I really love just-below-the-knee skirts and I have a hard time imagining wearing only ankle length skirts.

Anonymous said...

I, too, became more gradually. I still remember meeting my husband-to-be's older sister wearing a sweater fringed with some kind of poofy feather and mentally cringe. LOL

Since we tend to only see family after we have been to worship on Sundays, I simply stopped bringing other clothes to change into. For a while I think family thought I "dressed up" to visit them, but in time they caught on. :)

My wardrobe is constantly changing. It doesn't have to be a stagnant thing by any means, just like you said. Baby steps, and listening to what your husband likes and what you are comfortable in.


Diamond to Be said...

The Lord has placed my family outside of Las Vegas. A truly modest dress or skirt can not be found anywhere, especially for teen girls. "The attire of an harlot" is the attire of every woman, whether she is truly a harlot or not. How we would love a shopping trip to Jerusalem, or any other place where modesty is part of the culture!

Lydia said...

Were people really that rude? I'm so sorry...I suppose I'm lucky, because I always preferred skirts to begin with. The most I got was my mother's suggestions that I keep a pair of jeans just in case, but I'm about to skirtify those as well. ;)

A wonderful post, as always!

Jaybird said...

Hello, Anna!

I really enjoy reading your blog. :) I wanted to take an opportunity to say, thank you, for taking the time to minister to so many women, and congratulations on your upcoming marriage to our beloved "chatan" :)

What a timely post! I myself have been "skirts-only" for about a year now -because I have to very young brothers, my mom jokes that I look like a homeschool mom. :) Unlike a a lot of skirts-only folks, though, I don't believe it's wrong to wear pants.

I wanted to ask what your position on that was. Not trying to start a debate here :), I just wanted to hear your perspective!

Thanks so much, Anna!

Mrs. R said...

You don't even wear short sleeves? Really? Does it not get hot in Israel?
I'm just asking because I live in Florida, and its over 90 degrees F for a good 6 to 8 months out of the year. I honestly wouldn't know what to wear if I didn't have modest tank tops and short sleeved shirts.
I am slowly weeding out my pants and going all skirts. I find they're actually cooler than pants anyway! I also do not wear shorts.
What do you do about shoes? Are they always completely covering toes, or do you ever wear flip flops or open toed sandals?
My usual uniform is: ankle length skirt. Sleeveless tank top. Barefoot or flip flops. If I go out of the house, I wear a light jacket to cover up the sleeveless tank.
The heat here is just unbearable sometimes!

Sarah R

Allison said...

It was interesting to read how you made your transition, Anna. Thank you for sharing!

Steve and Paula Runyan said...

Wow! I would love to be able to shop in a city where it is easy to find modest clothing. I make most of my skirts and dresses.
I am working towards starting my own sewing business right now.

The only time I do not wear a skirt, is during the summer when my husband and I are fishing in an area that requires waders. He is a fishing guide, so I go out with him on occasion.

I do not think anyone had a problem with my wearing dresses all the time, but the headcovering is another story LOL!
But oh well. They can say what they like. Conviction from and obeying the Lord is far more important.
in Alaska

Lauren Christine said...

I had to once also make the transition. Praise the Lord for showing me the grace to make the needed changes! It was hard at first. But people didn't really ask me about it until a few months in. Honestly still now, much later, I get funny comments like, "Hey, don't you ever wear pants?" But what a great oppurtunity to share what the Lord says about modesty! And as far as finding modest clothes go, I've found online stores to be the best- and some stores around town if your patient!

Bbowzwife said...

Also, eBay is a terrific site for finding modest clothes. They have a skirt finder function that lets you specify skirt length, style, size, and even color if you want. I managed to convert completely to skirts in two weeks and never paid more than $9 for a skirt! Just watch the shipping costs, those can sneak in at absurd levels if you aren't careful!

Emma said...

I think that it is wonderful that you suggest taking small steps in becoming more modest. It is so easy to become fanatical about making changes like these and it is refreshing to find someone who has already made the change be so understanding, encouraging, and positive!

Thank you.

Anna S said...

1. A skirt is acceptable as long as it covers my knees at all times, standing or sitting. *Without* having to adjust it all the tme. :) Mostly I wear ankle-length skirts though.

2. My elbows must be covered at all times too, so yes, I wear 3\4 sleeves during the summer. It's not THAT hot actually, and I get extra protection from sun. At home it's another matter though, and I do wear short sleeves.

3. I don't wear pants outside the home. I do believe skirts are generally more modest and feminine, but I certainly won't criticize anyone for wearing pants!

Maggie said...

I think I've mentioned this before, but I wear pants in the winter because it's too cold to be gallivanting out and about in a skirt. And, I don't have the luxury of a car, God gave me two legs so I put them to go use.

The summer is a different matter, I do wear skirts most days, all of them go at least to my knee, if not longer. Usually about calf length. I wear dresses too in the summer, again, knee or calf length. I own several light weight pants that I will wear to work or to Church with a nice 3/4 length top.

Tops are a bit of a different story. I do own tank tops, but they go to my waist, no midriff there showing. But they're spaghetti straps. I normally wear those at home, or if I am out and about, I will wear a 3/4 length dress shirt over them. I tend to layer, even in the summer.

I have a nice selection of t-shirts, in either solid colours, or strips with no writing on them that cover my shoulders. A couple of them have designs on them, but I tend to stick away from wording on my t-shirts. With the exception of one shirt I wear on Canada Day, which has 'Canada Day' on it,in the patriotic color: red

And i wear a hat day in and day out during the warmer months and rarely will I take it off, except while I am at work. If I am at the library, a restaurant, Church, the mall what have you, the hat stays on.

Anonymous said...

Usually department stores carry all the same style, so I love going to Salvation Army or Goodwill to get unique skirts. I stock up on the 'hippie' skirts whenever I see them. I've also found some great wool skirts there for the winter time. For fun I like to sew clothing, but usually it's cheaper to buy second hand--always at least under 5 dollars.

It's strange, no one really comments on me wearing skirts all the time. I get more compliments than anything!

Mrs. Brigham said...

Baby steps do make the transition to modest attire all the more easier, especially on the pocketbook. Skirt by skirt, and shirt by shirt will get you to end product and leave you far less exhausted and stressed than a BIG shopping spree at one time will do. I remember my first *big* shopping trip when I began the journey to modesty, and was going skirts & dresses only--simply overwhelming, especially as finding appropriate clothing took visits to many, many stores. :o(

I also wear ankle length skirts, and am now transitioning to all 3/4 length sleeves, and must agree with about the extra sun protection, Anna. As a super pale redhead, there really is not too much I can do to bring about less exposure to the sun! Sunscreen does serve a purpose, but cloth and hats are much more effective and convenient. And you do not have to reapply!! :P

Rebekah S. said...

I very highly encourage all the readers here to strive for complete modesty. It may be a really hard transition for some, people may think you're slightly weird or old-fashioned, but living and dressing in such a way that brings the Lord glory and that doesn't cause others(namely, men) to stumble, is so joyful and filled with peace! You will never ever regret your decision to be a modest woman.

We're to be lights for God in this dark world, and we can only be such if we dress, act, and live in a way that is completely different from the world. A way that is instead according to God's holy Word. It's only then that we will truly have the power and witness for the Lord that we desire to have.

I highly encourage you all to read the outstanding book, Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America by Mr. Jeff Pollard. It's available through (Anna, I think that you, as well, would really enjoy this book!)

Blessings to all,

Rebekah S. said...

Catherine R.,

The book I just mentioned points out from God's Word (using the original the Hebrew) that God requires our clothing to reach our knees. Anything higher than that is immodest in His eyes. I have a lot of just-below-the-knee skirts that I LOVE! They're fun to wear in the summer. I also have ankle length skirts that I adore as well.

I will be posting exerpts from the abover mentioned book on my blog soon. I'll post the ones dealing with clothing length. Be sure to be on the lookout for those if you're interested! :)

Diamond to be,

I highly encourage you to check out second hand shops. That's where I've found the majority of my modest skirts, dresses, etc. If you don't have many of those in your area, then I would suggest checking out some of the modest clothing websites. Also, learning how to sew is such a valuable thing to learn!! That way, you'll always be able to ensure that you have modest, feminine clothing to wear, no matter what the world's trends do.


I've actually discovered that skirts are actually warmer than pants in the winter! At the beginning of December, I was in a Pioneer era reinactment. It was so so cold in the mornings, but I discovered that I could actually bundle up far more under my long skirt than I ever could under pants. Thinking back to when I wore only pants(except for on Sundays), I've discovered that I was colder then during the winter than I am now. Even if I don't bundle up underneath all that much. I encourage you to try that! :) Also, wearing wool or chorderouy skirts helps as well.

Many blessings through Him,

Maggie said...


I suspect it depends where you live. Where I am, the winter months are long, usually hovering between -20 to -30C (without the windchill) and lots of snow. Skirts I find are just impractical in my opinion in the winter.

I do wear long johns under my pants (they're the thermal ones) as well as wool socks and thick boots. You want to stay warm but not be bogged down by lots of fabric and layers which will just get soaked in the snow.

That beings said, if I lived somewhere where the winter is milder, shorter and with less snow, than skirts would be more practical than pants.