On a recent Sunday, Nechama Silverberg slipped into a vintage skirt at a pop-up consignment store in Brooklyn, trying on clothes as any other hip 20-year-old might, but for one difference: She carefully measured whether the skirt revealed her knees.
Around her in the Frock Swap, an Orthodox clothing business celebrating its first anniversary, were other women pushing the boundaries of modesty: an exposed elbow here, a bare collarbone there, a skirt that ended at just the wrong side of a pair of knees. Many were on the lookout for unique outfits for the coming High Holy Days. Some were engaged in angst-ridden mental calculations about whether an item was "tznius" — modest according to Jewish law — and if not, how it could be altered.
Allison Josephs, founder of an outreach website, Jew in the City, said that the problem for women lay in defining the line between style and tznius. Always having taken care of how she looked, and raised in a Conservative Jewish household, Josephs, who is now more observant, said, “It was actually very important for me to see that I could express that part of myself and still feel good about myself while living a Torah-observant life.”
“Tznius sexy could go in two different directions,” added Josephs, who recently gave a talk, “Frum and Fabulous,” to a group of Modern Orthodox women in Cherry Hill, N.J. She said there are women who conform to tznius and look stylish, retaining a “mystique” that “leaves something to the imagination.” Then there are women who “follow the rules, but not the spirit of the law,” managing to cover all the right areas and yet still look “too sexualized.”
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