How I Connect…to Dressing Modestly
If you asked me what modesty meant to me a year ago, it most likely would be different than what it means for me today. It continues to describe a relationship I work quite hard on, a relationship that’s ever-changing, yet one I always had even before I knew what it meant.
Growing up in a traditional Brazilian home, I was almost the black sheep of my family because I always was more covered up than my fellow Latinos, but I did so out of shame over my body rather than honor. I wanted to divert people’s eyes from the parts of me that society told me weren’t acceptable. So, at the age of twenty-two, having always covered my shoulders to hide my biggest insecurity (my arms) and never enjoying anything that cut off my circulation or stopped people from speaking to my face, taking on the halachic standards of modesty was almost intuitive.
“I WANTED TO DIVERT PEOPLE’S EYES FROM THE PARTS OF ME THAT SOCIETY TOLD ME WEREN’T ACCEPTABLE.”
I was in my senior year at Boston University, counting down the days until I would graduate and soon sojourn on a much-awaited year abroad to seminary in Israel. You see, I did the rebellious thing and became spiritually conscious whilst my peers were trying to find the meaning of life in their red Solo cups; my Thursday nights looked more like kneading challah rather than partying. My wardrobe shift wasn’t the first thing I took on, but it grew on me. I found myself slowly becoming more comfortable in my Shabbat attire that I would wear in my Rabbi’s community than in the jeans I wore to class every day. I remember deciding in January of 2017 that maybe I wouldn’t declare to “never wear pants again,” but I would try to stop buying new ones (I haven’t since).
The more time I spent in the frum community, the more osmosis happened, and I think the more I wanted to regard myself in the same light as the women in the community did. It all sort of just happened organically, and by the time I got to Israel, I just knew inside of me that if it was important enough to be written in the Torah, it would be something I would work my entire life to experience. And I truly mean that it is work; it is something I actively pursue and ask for assistance in doing on a daily basis.
I’ve always been into fashion and style and have always loved being able to express myself through my clothing. However, as I mentioned, I limited myself to dressing in what hid my body the most or averted people’s eyes from my own discomfort. Ironically, it was only when I started dressing tzanua, when the concealment did not come from a place of hatred but rather of love and depth, that I felt most seen.
“IRONICALLY, IT WAS ONLY WHEN I STARTED DRESSING TZANUA, WHEN THE CONCEALMENT DID NOT COME FROM A PLACE OF HATRED BUT RATHER OF LOVE AND DEPTH, THAT I FELT MOST SEEN.”
After I came back from my year in Israel and settled into the hustle and bustle that is life in your twenties in Manhattan, I felt a huge shift in my relationship with modesty. I had to really define it for myself, outside of a community doing the same thing. I started a marketing and sales position where I was among other Jewish individuals but was painstakingly the most observant one. “Don’t you get hot in long sleeves in the summer? I have religious friends who wear shorts; why don’t you try being like that?” people would ask. It seemed like everyone had an opinion or an out for me. But was I asking? I decided I needed an external outlet to keep me strong when living out this mitzvah.
I was always so inspired by modest fashion bloggers on Instagram; they showed me it was possible to fuse my creative self with my ever-evolving modest ways. I felt a pull to contribute to the space in a way that added chizuk about the work behind the mitzvah. I wanted to share that yes, it is hard, and I wanted to be transparent about that. That’s when I started my Instagram passion page, Bless Up Dress Up (now @sitwithsnit).
Bless Up Dress Up began in November 2018, after I decided that the Jewish world needed a place where Torah met fashion. The page became a community where likeminded women would come, see a unique take on style, and recharge with a dose of Torah. I’ve met so many incredible women from all walks of life through my account. I thought, if one woman can walk away feeling more connected to the mitzvah of tzniut, this was all worth it.
Despite my love for fashion, I constantly remind myself that these physical garments don’t define me. It’s the garments that clothe my soul that do. One’s middot (character traits), the spiritual cloak that we are dispositioned with at birth, can be enhanced, more clearly seen, fortified, and worked on in the right ways for us to show up in the world.
So, what is modesty to me nowadays? It’s all-encompassing and constantly changing. It’s something I bear in mind in my actions and speech as well. Leaning into this mitzvah and focusing on my relationship with Hashem has helped me connect to what I believe I am meant to do in this life, and knowing that is an inexplicable feeling. Ask me how I feel about this tomorrow, and well, I may just have to sit with it again.