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As Mishna B'rura 2:1 notes, one can bathe in a river or go to a bathhouse dressed in whatever clothes are normal for doing so, even if that means no clothes at all, so long as one is clothed until he gets near the water (as near as feasible) — this, despite the general idea (Shulchan Aruch 2:2 there) that one should be dressed even when alone.

Besides 2:2, the only halacha-based reason for a woman to avoid exposure of any part of her body (besides oso makom) that I've heard of is so that men not see it. (But I'm far from being an expert.)

A girl I know went recently to a women-and-girls-only swim (where even the lifeguards were guaranteed to be women). She reports that a number of religious Jewish women and girls swam in garments that covered large portions of their bodies not normally covered by swimmers: specifically, most of each leg and most of each arm. Does anyone know why they might have done so? In particular, is there any halachic basis for doing so? Any musar-type basis?

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Maybe those were the only swim-clothes they owned. –  Charles Koppelman Aug 28 '13 at 13:12
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tznius for women only applies when men are around? –  Daniel Aug 28 '13 at 13:46
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There's the famous story on Yoma 47a of Kimchit, who credited having 7 sons grow up to be Kohen Gadol to her taking care never to uncover her hair even in private. This is by no means a perfect precedent, since hair and everything else may have different reasons and rules, and since the Gemara there seems ambivalent about whether this was indeed the source of merit she claimed. –  Isaac Moses Aug 28 '13 at 14:13
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I lack a source but I have heard from my sister, a post seminary kollel wife, and i have over heard people talking who mentioned this in a context of some sort, that tsnius for women is like Talmud Torah for men, the idea being that it is always important for a woman to focus on her external appearance being secondary to her inner beauty, just as it is important for men to keep our minds productive and occupied at all times- if not with work or school then with Torah- to prevent idleness which can lead readily to bad decisions. I'll try to find the source. –  user3114 Aug 28 '13 at 19:35

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I suggest what @daniel meant with his comment and @menachem with his quote (O Ch 2 (2)) is that our use of clothing is related to proper respect for HKB”H whose glory fills the whole world. This is the reason we cover ourselves (sometimes in clothing which is not designed for optimum comfort of the body).

It is additionally important not to clothe ourselves in a way that excites desire.

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According to this one would expect the males who go swimming even at all male events to also always wear more expansive clothing. –  Double AA Aug 28 '13 at 22:56
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Excite desire in others or in ourselves? –  Double AA Aug 28 '13 at 23:04
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About @Double AA’s first comment: see O.Ch. MB 301 (16) [62] at the end where he quotes O Ch 2 (2) that even on a weekday, midas tzenius means that one should not go barefoot. –  Avrohom Yitzchok Aug 29 '13 at 20:58

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