Monday, December 3, 2012

CLOSET CASE: A Convert's Struggle With Dressing Modestly

Kate Sample decided to become an Orthodox Jew in early 2010 and prepared for her first Pesach by watching a Passover-themed episode of Gossip Girl. She has been trying to successfully balance modern life with observance ever since, and considers it her mission to dispel the idea that belief in G-d is unfashionable. You can check out her blog at

"The transformation didn’t happen overnight, but I have slowly 
evolved into more of a person and less of a persona."

A Convert's Struggle With Dressing Modestly

“You don’t look Orthodox.” 

These are words I’ve heard often enough, from Jews and non-Jews alike. Although I had an Orthodox conversion, accept the Divine origins of the Written and Oral Torahs, and keep kosher and Shabbat, I have not yet mastered tzniut. It’s not for a lack of caring about or understanding this particular mitzvah. In fact, it has totally changed the way I look at clothes. For someone who’s been obsessed with fashion since childhood, that is no easy feat.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s part of my obstacle. As much as I love food, keeping kosher came easily to me, probably because I never attempted to define myself by cheeseburgers or shrimp cocktail. Cocktail attire, however, was another matter entirely. I never wanted to blend in; I always had to stand out. Green wasn’t really my color, unless my accessories were causing someone else to turn that shade. Looking back, it’s hard to believe these were my priorities. The term “slave for fashion” gets thrown around in the industry, and that’s exactly what it feels like. I can remember many a late night spent hunched over my laptop, determined to be the first to wear the next new thing and combing through shopping sites like a maniac in order to achieve it. When I read a Rabbi’s commentary on the modern forms of slavery to which we chain ourselves, these episodes popped into my mind. I didn’t want to be a slave for fashion anymore. I wanted to be known for something other than my shoes. 

The transformation didn’t happen overnight, but I have slowly evolved into more of a person and less of a persona. I have gotten so far from my former self that I don’t say the blessing over new clothes often enough to have it memorized and I always have to look it up. It is because Judaism has helped me get to this point that I trust I will be totally tzniut someday, even if I’m wearing pants as I type this. 

The hardest part, of course, is being accepted as a sincere Jew by my fellow Orthodox. I always dressed properly in the synagogue out of respect, and I was very open about my challenges with the people closest to me. So I never dreamed it would be a problem until I added some women from shul on facebook, where they could see photographic proof of my lack of modesty. To say there was a palpable shift in how I was treated would be an understatement, which is why I had to write this and push back a little bit. This isn’t Mean Girls; this is Judaism. I don’t want to be defined purely by what I wear, in any sense.

Finding Judaism is the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m grateful to have found a Rabbi who trusted that I would keep growing as a Jew and helped me to become one. My conversion wasn’t the end, it was just the beginning. Some mitzvot are more hidden and others are not. The challenge I’m currently working on happens to be really obvious, but it doesn’t mean I’m not trying. The bottom line is that I don’t want to perform the mitzvah of tzniut to be accepted or to prove I’m a good Jew. I want it to blossom in my soul and grow until it’s a part of me. 

“I love how you wear your spirituality on your sleeve.” One of my closest Orthodox friends once said this to me. Little by little, I improve, and that sleeve is now both literal and figurative. At first glance, I may not always look Orthodox. But if you get past that and have a conversation with me, I hope you’ll see my sincerity. My friend’s kind words speak to what I really love to show: my love of G-d.

10 LadyMama voices:

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Kate, thanks so much for sharing this. It's a tough transformation for those of us not raised Orthodox. I am a Jew raised in a Reform environment; but for more than 6 years now have been slowly adding more observance to my life. On top of it being tough as it is, there are many factors in my life that actually hinder and make it tougher. I feel it's an everyday struggle. Thank you thank you a million times for showing me I am not alone.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

What a well written post. Dressing modestly isn't something that is easy for many women. Many of us struggle with a "love of fashion". Stay true to yourself. Let the changes happen when you are ready. That is when they will be for the right reasons.

Kate said... [Reply to comment]


You are definitely not alone, and thank G-d for this blog to help us support one another. Props to you for taking on more observance despite the challenges. You have inspired me!

Kate said... [Reply to comment]


Thank you! Your encouragement and guidance mean a lot!!

Sara said... [Reply to comment]

oh ...thank you so much for your post. I often feel like this. Its like I have written that post. You gave me a totally new and refreshing view about tzniut. Thank you

Kate said... [Reply to comment]


Thank you, Sara! It really helps me to know I'm not the only one.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Love this and am subscribing to your blog! Hang in there, friend!

Fashion-isha said... [Reply to comment]

Hi Kate!
I know we've spoken before but now I've learned so much about you that I didn't before. Well you know all about my blog and my message but one thing I cannot ever stomache is for Jewish women to judge their sisters by what they are wearing. It's deplorable. No one truly knows where another is standing on the ladder of growth and we owe to each other to mutually respect, support and love one another. It is beautiful that you want to come to modesty through real feelings. I wish more people were like you!
Lots of love, from someone who shares the same struggles...

Kate said... [Reply to comment]

@Ruchi Koval

Thank you so much, Ruchi!

Kate said... [Reply to comment]


Thank you, Sharon!! That truly means a lot coming from you because your blog is such an inspiration for me. Thank you for proving that I don't have to sacrifice style for modesty. I have been making lots of mental notes on Divine and Refined Style for when that time comes. Much love to you for the encouragement. And if you have any advice, please share. :)