Everyone has an individual style, way of dressing, and sense of fashion. From preppy to punk, from girly to glam, and from sporty to sweet, there are so many different styles to choose from. Great style can’t always be expressed because of school dress codes and tzniut.

The halachot of tzniut prohibit certain types of clothing and place restrictions on others. They’re the laws of dressing modestly. In today’s culture though, the word modest has a very different connotation than it did in the time of the Torah.

Today’s interpretation of tzniut laws requires skirts that cover the knees and shirts that cover the collarbone and elbow. It prohibits exposing the midriff and wearing excessively tight or sheer clothes.

These laws can be hard to abide by in today’s society because fashion magazines, television shows, and newspaper ads all promote the type of dress that is forbidden. Jewish teens today want to look acculturated, not differentiated, and because of some of the laws it’s not that easy.

This season the miniskirt and off-the-shoulder shirt are both in style and tempting. Adjustments can be made to “illegal” garments and “legal” garments can be dressed up or played down. A whole look or one single item can be transformed from OK to awesome.

Here are some tips:
To dress up a plain jean skirt, try a pair of heels and a sleek, plain top. The lift from the heels instantly adds height and makes the body look slimmer and leaner while the fitted top makes the whole outfit look sleek.

To elongate your legs without adding too much height, try kitten heels. Just like higher heels, they pitch your body forward and make your legs look longer, but without the pain.
A belt can change the whole feel of an outfit. A punky, studded belt will make a black-on-black outfit look edgy, a girly ribbon belt will look sweet, a tweed wrap belt will appear intellectual, and a wide leather belt will look hip and downtown.

Be creative with belts. Anything can work. Try a strand of huge fake pearls, a belt from a trench coat, braided ribbons, or a silk scarf. To make a ribbon belt cut a length of 1 inch or wider ribbon a few inches longer than your hip measurement. (To figure this out, wrap a tape measure loosely around the widest point of your hips.)

Hem the cut edges in a similar or contrasting color thread so that they don’t fray. To wear the belt, slip through belt loops or wear on top of a skirt waistband. The belt can be tied in a knot on the side of the hips or in a bow in the middle.

Instead of tying a sweater around your waist fold the neckline over and throw it around your shoulders. It draws the eyes upwards to the narrow shoulder area instead of downwards to the wider hip area.

Wear a bright color or busy print on the area that you want to highlight. A printed skirt will draw the eye downward highlighting the hips and legs while a bright colored blouse or t-shirt will bring the eye up toward the waist and chest.

Sweatshirts can be comfortable and a typical choice for school attire. Make yours stand out by decorating it with fabric paint, ribbons, patches, and rhinestones. Or create a “jacket” by cutting off the fitted bottom panel and cutting straight through the center.

Snip off the elasticized sleeves to a three-quarter length to balance out the cropped waist. Add a zipper, snaps, or safety pin as a front closure. Since the sweatshirt is made of fleece, it will not fray, but the edges will curl up. The edges can be left like that, ribbon can be folded over the edge and sewn on as a border or contrasting thread can be used to hem the sleeves. Instead of making a custom sweatshirt, buying one is always an option. Look for a funky color, interesting logo, or cute picture.

Lacoste and Le Tigre polos are all the rage right now. Instead of spending close to $100 on a polo, look in the kids’ uniform department for a plain polo (most come up to size 20). Buy a small, iron-on patch and iron it onto the top left corner. Animals, fruits, and flowers look the best.

Those long, slinky black skirts aren’t so great after they shrink a few inches. Take them to the tailor and have them hemmed to knee length. The look can be dressed up with a pair of kitten-heeled boots, a stretch turtleneck, and metallic belt or dressed down with bright pumas, contrasting t-shirt and zip-up sweatshirt.

Take a cue from C & C California and try the double layer look for yourself. But instead of layering short and long sleeves, try adding a ribbed tank in an eye-popping color over a crisp, white button down shirt. Paired with a denim skirt, this look is casual, but can be dressed up with heels and a bright necklace.

To add flair to a plain T-shirt, add pearls. Double a long strand around your neck or sew a cluster in the top corner or attach a few strands directly to the shirt to look like a multi-tiered necklace or add a pearl and ribbon belt.

Converse sneakers will add a punk touch to any outfit. Try folded down high tops or tightly laced low tops with eccentric shoelaces. Use ribbons, braided twine or strips of fabric. Beads or charms strung onto the laces add to the uniqueness.

Try a pair of patterned or textured stockings with a plain outfit. They add easy style to a simple skirt. Flat pointy shoes work best with this look. To dress up the look, try slouchy suede boots or sleek lizard pumps.

To make a pair of arm or leg warmers cut the toes off of a pair of knee socks. For arm warmers, safety pin the top to the edge of a short sleeve shirt. For leg warmers, scrunch over pointy heels, round toe flats, or Pumas.

Sometimes the cutest denim skirt will have a front slit that’s too high. Instead of forgoing the skirt try sewing a panel of fabric into the slit. For winter, try a rich faux suede in burgundy, chocolate or olive, black lace, or a punchy colored velvet. A long strip of extra fabric can work as a hair band or as a belt with the knot tied on the hip.

To make a miniskirt into a longer skirt, attach fabric to the bottom. Gauzy or flowing fabric works the best. Buy double the amount of fabric than the circumference of the hem of the skirt and scrunch the fabric as you sew it to the skirt.

Once the whole skirt is completed sew a seam down the back. Make sure to sew the fabric to the skirt with the same color thread as the skirt and the seam in the same color as the additional fabric. Also, remember to hem the bottom of the fabric before sewing it to the skirt.

Cover a stain on a shirt with patches. Add a few coordinating patches down the side, letters across the front, or small patches along the neckline.

Use a bleach pen to your advantage. The Clorox bleach pen is great and it works just like white out. Squeeze the pen and apply the bleach in a design onto denim or any dark fabric. A single giant paisley will look great drawn vertically on the side of a long denim skirt.

Try shopping in stores that are off the beaten path. Flea markets, street fairs, thrift shops, and artist’s showcases are great places to find original accessories and clothes. Try wholesale shops for inexpensive accessories. Also order basic accessories (hair rubber bands, bobby pins, etc.) in bulk and split the cost with a friend. Think outside the box: for ethnic accessories, try a new neighborhood and for handmade accessories, try street vendors in Soho.

It’s not always easy to follow strict laws on how to dress. Fashion magazines show styles that don’t always fit in with halachic requirements, but with a little creative brainpower and a basic knowledge of fashion and fabric, almost anything can evolve into a halachically approved and stylish article of clothing.

Yeshivah of Flatbush
Brooklyn.