When I tell my daughter-in-law Devorah, who has only known me for five years, that I used to love to shop, she finds it hard to believe. I do, too. But my almost-nothing-new-in-it closet testifies that most of my clothes are hand-me-ups (inherited from my children) or vintage (ten years old or older). The good news is that my closet is full, so I have options. I do wonder though, why it took me so long to realize that just because it looks good on you doesn’t mean it’s going to look good on me. Please trust me that I’m not fishing for compliments from anyone who knows me personally. I’m just kvelling over my acceptance that looking nice (presentable, maybe?) is finally fine.
I’ve been all around the block with this issue of “style.” Sometimes I was even willing to pay retail–and I appreciated the benefit of clothes that actually matched and fit properly. But, then, the unthinkable would happen: The same clothes went on sale.
Becoming Torah observant added a new wrinkle to my fashion-forwardness. I had to follow the laws of tznius, generally translated to mean “modesty.” Summers were especially challenging from top to bottom: When the rest of the world’s women were baring their pedicured toes in adorable sandals, I was wearing the daylights out of the two pairs of summer shoes that looked decent with textured knee-highs.
In the scheme of real challenges in life, I know this is ridiculously minor, but I figure, it’s summertime. What could make for lighter reading than my “style” struggles? Actually, this struggle is quite serious, because dressing like a dignified Jewish woman yields tremendous spiritual benefits, both for the woman and the entire Jewish nation. And for me, tznius was challenging. I had to reconcile this mitzvah with one of the core values of my upbringing– great style–as I tried to figure out how I “truly” wanted to look and why. Classic clothing is the hallmark of tznius dress, but there is definitely room for individuality. “Look attractive, but not attracting” is the frequently discussed standard for tznius dress. It wasn’t just the temptation to buy clothing that revealed more than it should–usually I resisted those purchases, but not always, especially when SALE factored in–no, the hardest purchases to resist were the bold, exciting clothes that assured me I would be making a fashion statement.
It seems laughable to me now, but it took serious effort to break this perception of myself and the shopping habit it necessitated. Now I have the opposite problem–caring too little about what I wear. (The fact that I spend so much time at home writing nowadays doesn’t help; I have, however, recruited my children to let me know in a nice way if I need a wardrobe intervention.) I figure as long as my clothes fit and they’re not in poor condition, I should wear them–or just hold onto them in case I ever decide to. After all, when I bought these clothes–often paying more than I knew I should–the salespeople convinced me I would have them forever. (Sure, as long as my weight didn’t change, I barely wore them, and I didn’t care about being “in style.” Fortunately for me, they’ve been right so far.)
The aging process has also helped me with the mitzvah of tznius: wearing clothing in an attempt to look “bold” or “exciting” is an invitation to look pathetic. But tznius is as much about comportment as it is about clothing. It’s about wanting to carry myself in a way that makes a bold, exciting statement, albeit a spiritual one: here comes a woman who walks with G-d. This struggle is more subtle–and more difficult because it’s ongoing–yet it defines my journey of trying to become the best “me” possible.