The Real Rules of Tzniut


Now that we know what tzniut really is (see “The Truth about Tzniut”), we can apply it to how we dress. Yes, it’s true that tzniut is about so much more than our appearance, but our appearance does count, as it’s one more way to express who we are and how we feel about ourselves.

In order to dress with true tzniut, I teach four basic rules:

1.    You have to cover yourself within the dress codes, as prescribed by your minhagim and halachic authorities and sources.

2.    You have to wear clothes and accessories that fit and flatter your unique body and face.

3.    You have to wear clothes and accessories that are appropriate for the specific context in which you’re wearing them.

4.    You have to wear clothes and accessories that express your personal style.

Unfortunately, one of the prevalent myths about Jewish law is that tzniut demands that we women look frumpy or unattractive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since true tzniut is about who we really are, then we need to show that in how we dress. And NO woman is innately a schlump. I don’t care what age or size you are, or if you don’t have conventional features. You’re NOT ugly. Therefore, you should dress like the healthy, active, attractive person you really are.

Dressing appropriately for context may seem like it’s more about others than about you, but it’s about being respectful. When you go to work dressed like a professional who can do the job, you’re showing them who you are. After all, you ARE a professional who can do the job. When you go to a formal event, and you dress up in formal clothes, you’re showing that you respect the event and the hosts, and you’re happy to be there.

Then there’s dressing for your personal style. That one is very much about who you are. But it may mean thinking a bit outside the box, and not everyone does this. I remember going to my son’s preschool graduation, and I had correctly predicted what most of the young moms would wear. The funny thing was that I didn’t know most of the moms, so my prediction was based purely on the “young mom” demographic, not on individual style. I could count on my fingers the number of moms (myself included) who were not wearing the “young mom uniform.”

However, there are women who are not afraid to wear their own personal style. I know two women whose personal style I admire (even if I don’t share that style). One has a style of “updated classic”. Her looks are timeless, but she also keeps up with what’s going on right now. Another has a style of “classic, with a twist.” She too wears classic clothes, but she adds an artistic twist here and there and never looks boring. I myself do not go classic—it makes me look stodgy and boring—but I like clean lines, with color, print, and touches of Bohemian whimsy.

Yes, we have to live according to halacha. But within that realm, we have so many options and so many opportunities to express our real selves. When it comes to dressing with true tzniut, we need to take full advantage of every option.