I Thought Tznius Was Boring…Until I Painted My Clothes

Art by author

It started with a jacket; a denim jacket that I found at a thrift store. I needed something to layer over my dresses and shirts that didn’t cover my elbows. I hadn’t yet resorted to buying clothes from frum retailers. I was uninformed and thought that they all only carried frumpy, shapeless, ugly things.

Up until that point, I was wearing a lot of unflattering clothing in the name of modesty. It was not because I thought being modest meant being frumpy. It was because I simply didn’t know how to dress. I wore a lot of dark colors which washed out my pale skin, maxi skirts that didn’t look good (think—seminary skirt), and sweatshirts. Someone close to me had a little intervention about what I was wearing and how I had to do better. It was a hit to my ego, but I am now grateful.

Ok, so back to this jacket. When I took it home and saw it in better lighting, I thought, “Wow, this is UGLY!” It had these cowboy leather stitches on the pocket which I hadn’t noticed in the store, as well as a stain on the back. There was no way I was going to wear it.

I had recently bought some unstretched canvas to practice my oil paintings on. When I felt the weight and texture of the jacket, I realized that it felt very similar to the canvas. What’s more, the back of the jacket could work as a big canvas! So I put down some newspaper and got to work. I started with gesso (canvas primer). I then played around with different ideas. What I ended up with was a portrait in purple and yellow hues. Now no one would notice those cowboy stitches or stains on the back! This is what got me started on my clothes-painting kick.

After this jacket, I painted more jackets. Then I painted some shirts, skirts, and dresses. I used many different techniques, often imitating art from different cultures and the ways they paint their clothing. I made jewelry and accessories, too. I didn’t even care about wearing them; I just wanted to get my creativity out. I wanted to see my artwork come to life in a new way.

My parents told me that I should try to get my creations out into the world more. I thought, “They’re my parents—of course they’ll think my work is good.” But I gave it a go anyway. I put some of my work out on social media, and people were interested in the creation process. I was honored to be a part of other people’s mitzvos and to be able to give them new ideas to make tznius more creative. 

I now continue to enjoy experimenting with tznius, although I do also sometimes buy from tznius retailers (SURPRISE!). Owning a creative business has made me realize the importance of supporting other women’s visions. I feel a part of the modest fashion community and couldn’t be happier. I love gaining inspiration from both Jewish and non-Jewish artists and fashion designers. AND I didn’t have to throw out my short sleeves.

What I learned from all this is that Hashem may give us challenges to lead us to something greater. A mitzvah may be hard, but maybe we need to make it our own (while still falling within the parameters of halacha). Tznius was difficult for me because I saw it as taking away my sense of self-expression, my individuality. I also thought it made me frumpy, and I didn’t feel confident. Because making art is at the core of who I am, I only needed to find a way to combine my mitzvah-observance with my creativity.

I no longer feel frumpy or outdated. More importantly, I don’t feel like I’m putting on someone else’s clothes. And, most importantly? Every day, I get to step out of the house as a proud, confident, beautiful Jewish woman. I don’t think that what we wear defines us, but I do think that when we look good, we feel good. And that is why I now love this mitzvah.

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Cassandra Clark is a teacher, artist and friend. She enjoys painting, cooking, writing and anything creative. Her friend and roommate once described her as a “fierce, wacky woman”. She takes that as the biggest compliment ever. Cassandra loves connecting to Hashem, and she seeks ways to make every day meaningful.


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