Myth: Tzniut demands that everyone look the same.
Truth: True tzniut demands that we express our individual selves.
By the time my readers see this, we will be well into Chanukah. Chanukah is one of the holidays with which most non-Jews are familiar, but ironically, it’s a celebration of our not being like all the other nations. Antiochus, the Yevanim and the Mityavnim wanted us to fit in and be like everyone else, but we insisted on our uniqueness. Today, we’re still here and we celebrate that uniqueness.
One of the things I love and appreciate about Torah Judaism is that not only are we different as a nation, but within the framework of Torah and mitzvot, we’re allowed to be different as individuals. That’s as true about clothing and style as it is about everything else.
From me, you get the truth.
I have always stressed the concept of personal style and I stand by it. Your appearance makes a statement about you and you need to make sure it’s the correct statement. What is that statement? It’s what you genuinely want other people to know about you.
I believe that the statement “I take good care of myself” is a given and a no-brainer. Even if your health is poor, that statement commands respect. And I hope that you are taking good care of yourself as best you can. But I’m also sure that it’s not the only statement you want made about yourself. When you’re at work, you want to make the statement of “I’m a competent professional who can do this job very well.” After all, you are a competent professional who can do the job very well, aren’t you? When you’re on a shidduch date, you want to make the statement of “I’m a mature woman who is ready for marriage and family.” You are a mature woman ready for marriage and family, right? When you’re going to a special event, you want to make the statement of “I’m so happy to be here celebrating with you.” You are happy to be celebrating, are you not?
Aside from context, there’s your personality. Maybe you want the statement of “I’m a creative type.” Maybe you want the statement of “I love sports” or “I’m athletic.” Maybe you like the statement of “I’m handy with tools and home and auto repair” (Yes, there are good ways to express that style). Most women I know like the statement of “I’m smart and classy but I don’t like shouting that to the world.” There is nothing wrong with any of these. Plus, none of them are mutually exclusive. It’s perfectly fine to want to make more than one statement at a time. For example, you can love sports but also love painting, and it’s fine if your appearance reflects both of those things.
What matters more than the statement you want to make is being aware of how your appearance is making that statement. As long as the statement is a positive one and reflects who you really are, then there’s nothing wrong with it. But you need to make sure that your appearance really does reflect that.
Fit and flattery always come first. I hear the idea that loving your body means not worrying about fit and flattery, but if your clothes don’t fit and flatter, then your appearance is not making the statement of “I feel great about my body and I’ll wear whatever I feel like wearing.” Rather, it’s making the statement of “I just don’t give a flying hoot.” The former statement is a good one (if it’s how you really feel) but it’s only made with clothes that fit and flatter.
Having said that, we also need to not obsess about what other people might think of us. There are those who choose their clothes based on what other people are wearing and are worried about looking different and sticking out like a sore thumb. That’s not good either. It’s okay to prefer a less conspicuous look, but it should still reflect the real you. It’s also okay to prefer a more unconventional look and wear it with your head held high. Not that you should never care what other people think, because in some situations that’s exactly the case, but you still need to show the real you in the best way possible.
In my experience, when a woman is careful about her appearance but also confident and unafraid of showing her personal style, it draws people in and commands respect. Who doesn’t want that?
As we celebrate Chanukah and our uniqueness as a nation, let’s remember to celebrate our individuality too.
Dedicated to my friend Beth Goldsammler a”h, an NCSY leader who reached out to me and others and treated people with respect and kindness.