We had a VERY restful Shabbos and by restful, I mean that most of our family spent it sleeping with a nasty flu that set in toward the end of the week last week. We would wake to daven and do kiddush and such, then sleep. At one point, only my husband still had his voice and had to bench for all of us. It was that kind of Shabbos and even though the Shabbat RV is rolling again, electrical issues solved, we opted to stay home and warm and dry.
On the very bright side, Iggy the cat must have more of his 9 lives left because he seems to have made a miraculous recovery! He’s even well enough to be very grumpy when we have to give him antibiotics and is back to his old self, glaring at Sam the dog and getting into things. We’re happy not to have to worry about the end of his life just yet, but it is a good reminder to discuss how to handle that with our Rabbi. Things like euthanasia and sterilization of pets are sticky halakhic topics that often require creative solutions so that we don’t violate Jewish laws.
We’re still recovering from the flu, but I needed to be back at work today. Often, when I’m not feeling well, I actually dress up more for work. I find that feeling more pulled together as far as what I’m wearing can sometimes help me feel more pulled together in other ways, too. To that end, lately, I’m also working on polishing up my wardrobe a bit. Living in Alaska can tend to push a person more towards ultra-casual or even some strange outfits. People regularly wear the same clothes they’d wear fishing around town and it’s not unusual to see people just wear their snow boots in shul. (Ok, I’ve done it, too!) With all our more stylish visitors from the lower 48 this summer, I was realizing that it probably would be a good idea for me to learn how to dress myself a little bit better, while still fitting tznius (modesty) standards. It’s really easy to settle into a kind of tznius way of dressing that’s pretty frumpy, particularly when you’re on the short and stocky side like me.
So, I joined a capsule wardrobe group on Facebook. The idea of a capsule wardrobe is that you have a much smaller number of total wardrobe pieces, but that they all mix and match well so you can make a wide variety of outfits. For my capsule wardrobe, I’m going to use one of the guides found on the Classy Yet Trendy website, but substitute in the appropriate length skirts for the pants and add in layering shells as needed.
In most Orthodox Jewish communities, skirts need to be below the knees so that when you sit, your knees are not showing. However, some communities don’t really wear really long skirts, either. Often, you can tell what community a woman is from by how she dresses, similar to how you can sometimes tell what community a man is from by his kippah (yarmulke) or other dress. For me, skirts below the knees, opaque tights, shirts below the elbows, collarbones covered, and shoes that cover my toes are all kind of a given. In some communities, some colors or all bright colors are avoided, too. As a conversion candidate, the more you blend in with everyone else around you, the easier it is to feel comfortable.
In Alaska, we have the challenge that what is considered appropriate for converts or those in the process of conversion is a lot different than what the general community considers appropriate. In other communities I’ve been in, I’ve seen less of a gap between the two, but up here, with as casual as life is, there is a much larger gap, so sometimes dressing to please your Rabbi in some communities may leave you feeling frumpy or the odd one out. It could be an extra incentive to move to a larger, more observant community!
For a woman looking to dress modestly, there are actually a lot of wonderful resources out there now. There are whole online stores with modest fashions and Facebook groups you can join that even post sale items that are modest or can easily be made modest. For me, the challenge has been more finding a personal style within the confines of what’s considered modest that still feels like “me” and fits my personality and lifestyle. It’s easy to throw on a long skirt and a baggy shirt and layering shell and call it a day, but a little harder to look pulled together and cute, but also my age and in style, all with those constraints. There are some women, though, that make it all look so effortless and manage to be stylish, attractive, and modest all at the same time!
So, as I focus on the goals I want to accomplish in this coming New Year, I’m also looking to polish up my wardrobe so I can better fit in with a bigger, less fishing-oriented community as well as polishing up my mitzvos.