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How can a teenage girl, who recently started practicing the laws of tzniut as well as feasible, balance those laws with the prohibition against embarrassing her family members, who are embarrassed to be seen with her dressed so oddly?

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Sherilyn, welcome to Mi Yodeya and thank you for bringing your important question here. Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. – Monica Cellio May 28 '12 at 21:43
I'll second Monica Cellio's welcome, and add a caution that answers on this site should be treated as general ideas and not as specific advice for your situation; for the latter, you should be in personal contact with someone who knows you and your situation. I will edit the question to be less specific to you, more generally applicable, in light of the site policy "Questions that appear to be requests for personal practical advice will be either edited to more general wording or closed". See also mi.yodeya.com/q/9146. – msh210 May 29 '12 at 5:28
Thank you to those who provided great insight! I really appreciate it! :) -- Sherilyn – Sherri Berry Jul 23 '12 at 1:25
You are encouraged to check mark the answer you found most useful beneath the voting arrows. Also, if you would like to merge your old account into your new registered one, just say the word. – WAF Jul 23 '12 at 1:32

You are to be commended for taking on a socially-challenging mitzvah. It's not always easy to be Jewish and be seen as different, whether it's through dress, food, or how you spend your Friday nights and Saturdays.

With any observance that sets you apart from others, take care in how you talk about it. It's about you, not about them, especially for your secular friends. Make it clear that you're doing this for your own reasons; you need to steer clear of anything that will be perceived as a superiority attitude, because people don't like to be around people they think are judging them. Since that is not your attitude, this just means listening to how you talk and imagining how it will be perceived. One simple, truthful explanation you can offer is "I find these clothes more comfortable".

(Some of your friends are probably Jews who you might wish were also keeping tziniut, so perhaps there is some subconscious judgement there. Don't ignore them, but you need to get comfortable yourself before you can be effective at drawing others in. Being a role model will likely work better than trying to persuade them.)

Another thing you can do is to spend time with your female friends (without any guys around); in those settings the rules are more relaxed, so a swimming suit, for example, is not a problem. That won't work on beaches and at public pools, but it could work at a spa, for example.

Finally, if you act like this is (1) unremarkable and (2) not open for debate, eventually people will lose interest in arguing with you. If you don't make a big deal about it then, in time, they won't either.

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Tznuit does not have to be "funny" looking clothes. When I was a teenager, I went through a modest dressing phase and actually eventually discovered a personally quirky style in it! While I'm not currently observing complete tznuit in dress...

1) Check out styles that might easily be modified for modesty. If you're more of an artsy, flowy type, you could try some of the neo-hippy type maxi dresses and sweaters, or funky long sleeved tees!

2) Another style that lends itself well to modest dressing is vintage. Skirt lengths are longer, often you can find lovely tops with flattering decoration that is more at the neckline or the wrists instead of plastered across the chest.

3) My personal fave (and the one I still exhibit when I can be bothered to "dress up") is a more preppy style. Oxford shirts, cardigans, plaid skirts (they do come in lengths other than "short" although you may have to look around a little).

And remember that while your personal sense of tznuit may mean "don't dress flashily" it doesn't have to mean "dress frumpily." You can and should feel comfortable in your clothes, and wear clothes that are generally flattering (which doesn't have to mean skimpy, or alluring).

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Welcome to Mi Yodeya, Rowan Cota, and thanks for your post. I hope you stick around and enjoy the site. – msh210 May 30 '12 at 3:05
Thank you for the welcome! I am learning so much already, and excited to have found another good resource on the 'net for information and society! – Rowan Cota May 30 '12 at 15:16

If we discuss tznius as a trait, as opposed to a minimum standard which must be met to avoid violating an issur, then I think your asking a good question to be successful. Part of the trait of tznius is trying not to make oneself conspicuous. Of course this isn't an absolute and cannot always be achieved, (head/hair coverings, traditional styles, hot days, etc.) but is still a good goal. Ideally (unless your part of a community with specific standards of dress that should be honored) your manner of dress should only be conspicuous when observed over a period of time.

I think that the following would be helpful in analyzing an outfit:

Make certain what needs to be covered is covered as needed during normal daily activities.

Select individual garments that wouldn't seem out of place.

Put them together in a way that wouldn't seem out of place on a moderate fall or early spring day.

Err on the side of less casual dress when practical. Part of the art of tznius is balancing taking care of your appearance without trying to attract others.

I understand that layering is pretty popular right now, and helps "kasher" otherwise unwearable garments, I suspect that you will have more success in "fitting in"/"not appearing odd" if you rely more on garments that are acceptable as designed.

Finding acceptable clothes can be a challenge, but I'm incline to believe that you can still find acceptable clothing that you can put into conventional outfits that would not stand out to a by-passer. Your friends and family will notice your habits but I suspect that they will have a much easier time accepting them.

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Congratulations on your willingness to take on a challenging mitzvah at a young age.

There is an actual halachic question here which I think people have missed. You want to know how to balance tznius laws with the laws about respecting parents, etc., when your family is embarrassed by how you dress. Although I have seen some sources suggest that Rabbinical laws should be set aside in order to comply with the Biblical mitzvah of kibud av va'eim, at least some others suggest all Jewish laws, including Rabbinical, should be kept even against your parents' preference.

After this, there is the question of whether the laws of tznius are considered Biblical or rabbinical mitzvot. (Most likely, they are considered either rabbinical mitzvot or minhagim, but I could imagine certain very basic tznius laws' falling under the Biblical prohibition of lifnei iver. A brief discussion may be found here.) In any case, I would truly suggest consulting your personal rav about this matter, since it seems to be a complicated one halachically, and may depend on your personal situation.

If you get the go-ahead to keep hilchos tznius, you might find the following advice helpful:

  • Unlike other answerers, I don't think you should try to dress formally or even too "nicely." Just aim to be physically and emotionally comfortable in what you're wearing, and to fit in (with your family and your environment) as much as possible--respect for minhag hamakom within the halacha, is, after all, a tenet of tznius.

    For casual events or school days, you could wear a jean skirt with a hoodie and leggings, flats or sneakers, plus a scarf/earrings.

    For the weekend, you could do a maxi skirt or jean skirt+boots, a shell, a soft cardigan, and some statement jewelry.

    For sports, you can wear a T-shirt over a shell or a long-sleeved performance top, leggings or running crops, and a short pull-on skirt that allows you to move.

    For swimming and hanging out at the beach, you might want to get an oversized T-shirt to wear over your swimsuit. But please don't wear this if you are swimming in deep water or wading out into the ocean. If you need to do those activities, just wear a regular bathing suit for it; your safety is far more important than any issue of tznius. (That applies to adults as well as teenagers, by the way.)

    One of the more challenging situations will be nights out/formals. For these, you might feel most comfortable wearing a knee length or longer dress in any style you like (cap sleeve, strapless, halter, etc.) with a skin-colored shell top underneath. Google "dressy tznius shell" for thin, pretty, sparkly ones that are designed to be worn in this way. Then you can have some fun with jewelry, makeup, and (especially) shoes, all the while keeping in mind that the goal is to look and feel attractive, classy, confident, dignified, and discreet.

  • Some general tips for tzniusdik fashion:

    -It is possible to project pretty much any look you want within the framework of tznius. I have seen tzniusdik girls who are sophisticated, emo, glam, preppy, bombshell, girl-next-door, punk, hippie, and tomboy--as well as a good few who don't fit into any of these boxes, but have unique and amazing style nonetheless. You can and should be who you are through your tznius dress. That said, it is most tzniusdik to tailor your individuality as needed to the time and place you are in, so observe community standards and attempt to mesh with them in basic ways such as skirt lengths, sleeve lengths, collar heights, colors, and stockings.

    -If you see someone wearing something that looks nice, don't hesitate to ask her where she got it--she'll probably be flattered, and you can discover new stores that way.

    -Vintage shopping lends itself very well to a tznius wardrobe--you can often get very cool long skirts and dresses from thrift and consignment shops for not much money.

    -High boots look really good with skirts in a contrasting color

    -If you have to be in a situation in which everyone is dressed immodestly (such as a music festival or school dance) and you want to fit in, repeat after me: colors, shoes, and nail polish. Making the most of these three dimensions of your look will allow you to express your style without lowering your standards.

    -In general, in situations where you feel uncomfortable about dressing modestly, think layering. Layer regular tops and dresses over tznius shells. Layer belts over jackets over tanks over tops. In winter, you can even wear jeans if you have a knee-length coat on (and a dress underneath for when you take it off). Lots of girls do this. It can look good!

    -Have fun with tights and knee socks. The frum minhag these days is to always wear tights/stockings of some sort (though many Modern Orthodox people don't). If you do, you can make it fun. There are a lot of options and ways to express yourself in terms of style, pattern, and color in this domain.

    -You're absolutely allowed to have fun with jewelry, belts, bags, sunglasses, nail polish, and other accessories. Use them as a chance to express your style so you can keep the halachos of tznius in your clothes as strictly as possible. (The one exception would be if you're an environment in which no one else is wearing such accessories, such as in a very conservative community, or in shul on Yom Kippur. In these cases, the norms of tznius dictate that you do what you can to adopt the communal standard and avoid sticking out.)

    -Don't shop online; go where you can try things on. Be prepared to buy different sizes of clothes than your usual for tznius looks. Sometimes clothing such as skirts will need to be in a bigger size in order to be tznius. Sometimes, too, you will need to go smaller--such as for tops that layer over dresses or under other tops. That's why it's really important to try things on in person and look at things carefully in the mirror.

    -Alterations (professional or DIY) can work magic on your clothes if you have the time/money/energy to do them. If you're really skilled, you can even transform your favorite non-tzniusdik clothes into tznius stuff.

    -If you find a clothing item that rocks and makes you feel great--especially a staple such as the perfect skirt, the perfect three-quarter-sleeve top, etc., spend the money and get it in every color. But only buy what totally rocks, not the "just OK" stuff. Remember that most of the stuff you try is going to be "just OK."

    -If you don't love clothes and just want to simplify your life, find a "uniform" you feel good in and wear it every day with different items.

    -If you don't feel attractive in your tzniusdik clothes, first of all, give it time. Give yourself a chance to master the look and settle into what works for you. You will get better at dressing tznius. I promise that, once you do, you will feel every bit as attractive (if not more attractive) in tzniusdik clothes as you would otherwise. In the meantime, focus on making your hair, skin, and jewelry as pretty as possible.

    -Remember that as you get older (20's and beyond), dressing tznius full-time will become less and less noticeable to others, since plenty other women will be wearing the exact type of thing you're wearing on a daily basis. Until then, "be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven" (Pirkei Avos 5:23) -- and remember, plenty of adults as well as peers will look on you with complete respect as a result of what you're doing.

    -Appreciate the joys and benefits of tznius. You feel feminine and put-together every day. It's less expensive to look good when you dress with tznius. And it eventually becomes simple and very freeing. Plus, you'll get more attention from high-quality guys (true), and everyone around you will treat you with more respect.

    You'll probably also treat yourself with more respect. Adopting a daily uniform such as tznius gives you a built-in reminder to act well and to be your best in every way, both to yourself and to others.

    Finally, and most importantly, the fact that you are changing such a big aspect of your life merely to serve G-d is an incredible, beautiful thing. You should have only success and be always proud, never ashamed. Rest assured that you are not bringing shame to ANYONE by dressing tznius.

~ ~ ~

Here are some pictures of comfy and pretty tznius fashion, as inspiration (you can find more on tznius fashion blogs and websites such as rabbiswife.com/, alamodesty.com/, jewishworkinggirl.blogspot.com, fashion-isha.com, fabologie.com, Refinery29, and the amazing tzniuscomeback.wordpress.com/):

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To be tzanua in appearance leads one to look refined, with tidy hairstyle, upright posture, clean and proper attire that covers what needs to be covered according to halacha. Being well-dressed and well-mannered is also part of tzniut. How can that be referred as dressing oddly or be a source of embarassment? On the contrary, it will project to others that you should be taken seriously.

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user2296, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for this answer! Citing sources will improve the quality of your answer. – user2110 Jan 18 '13 at 15:01
"How can that be referred to as dressing oddly?" Simple: if that's not the way most other similar people dress, it will be viewed as odd no matter how much you think it is the best way to go. Of particular note is your requirement that "what needs to be covered by halacha" be covered, which may vary greatly from accepted social standards. – Double AA Jan 18 '13 at 15:22
Welcome! Please consider editing your user profile to give yourself a name. – Isaac Moses Jan 18 '13 at 15:35

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