Modest Garb

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Vayechi 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


How marvelous is the modesty of the Jewish woman! What nobility and glory, purity and holiness it demonstrates! What great honor is shown to the soul when we conceal our bodies. That is the essence of man. What great gentleness and humility it demonstrates! (Maharal, Netivot Olam, Netiv HaTzeniyut). What a great blessing it holds! What great spirituality! “All the glory of the king’s daughter is internal. Her raiment is of checkered work, wrought with gold” (Tehilim 45:14). How modest and holy were our mothers down through the generations, in every time and place.

Principles of Modesty

1. Clothing must cover the body. 2. It mustn’t be transparent. 3. It mustn’t be snug. 4. It must be sedate and restrained.

Transparency is measured against the sun or against a bright light, and not inside a house.

Non-snug clothing means clothing that conceals the shape of the body and does not accentuate any body part even briefly. For example, some examine skirt width by lifting a leg up onto a chair. Some weaves are problematic: thick or thin knits, lycra and tricot.

Color: One must avoid the following colors: 1) red 2) skin color 3) bold shades of orange, yellow or green 4) gold, silver or shiny fabric.

One may expose one’s throat but not one’s torso. Therefore, one must cover 1) the sides of the neck, up to the point where the slant of the body ends; 2) the back of the neck, up to the first vertebrae; 3) the front of the neck up to where the bones protrude. Certainly one must close one’s top button in one’s shirt, and all the better to wear a turtleneck.

Sleeves must reach below the elbow under all circumstances. They mustn’t be too wide. Raising the arms or other movements cause the upper arms to be revealed unless the sleeves are snug and close fitting. The best is to wear sleeves to the end of the arm.

Dresses and Skirts. Dresses have to fall ten centimeters below the knee. Some insist on opaque stockings as well, or that the skirt or dress should come all the way down. With opaque stockings, the skirt, as noted, has to be ten centimeters below the knee (the thickness of stockings should be 40 denier, but due to a change in production more is required).

Obviously, the skirt should not be snug or tight. Rather, it should be ten centimeters wider than the body’s circumference at its widest part, and in the area of the knee, 50 centimeters more than the circumference there. Slits below the knee are forbidden as well, because they draw attention. Slits must therefore be closed up using fabric of the same color as the skirt, or otherwise not standing out. One should not wear a skirt closed with buttons, due to various problems (buttons falling off or opening, or exposure through the openings). Rather, skirts should close with a zipper. With shirts, as well, one should be careful regarding spaces between buttons being too large.

Shoes. 1) Shoes should not be in bold or uncommon colors. 2) One should not wear narrow high heels that affect the way one walks. 3) The design should be gentle, and 4) not loud. (see Yeshayahu’s vision about the Daughters of Zion, who “walk with mincing gait, making a tinkling with their feet” -- Yeshayahu 3:16).

Hairdos for Unmarried Women: Some authorities insist on hair being kept bound in a pony tail and shorter than shoulder length, while others say it needn’t be bound that way, but that it still should not be left wild and unkempt. Braids are a fine choice.

Hair Coverings: Some authorities forbid married women to wear a wig, and some permit it, albeit insisting that the wig should be modest and restrained, and not attention-getting.

Some insist on covering all the hair, while some allow revealing a handbreadth, i.e., 4 centimeters, the width of two fingers.

Educating Girls to Be Modest: Some say that such training begins at age three, while others say it begins at about age six (five to seven). (Sources: Sefer Gan Na’ul by the author).

How fortunate we are that the spiritual longing for modesty is on the rise.