After lunch, the hostess and I retired to the couch in order to talk away the afternoon, as has become our custom. She then reminded me of a tznius point that I had long forgotten, due to my current surroundings.
Next year her daughter is entering a modern high school out-of-town. Her daughter is thrilled that she can now wear shirts to the elbow and show her collar bone. I then recalled how, when I was returning to frumkeit after my time off the derech, I had a conversation with a fellow shul-goer who was "notorious" in the community; she was an FFB, had been raised ultra-chassidish, and became modern as a result. She would, in fact, turn up at shul in short sleeves, and despite the shul being full of fry yiddin (who everyone knew wore shorts the rest of the week- men and women alike), people went tsk-tsk.
In short, yesterday's conversation triggered my recall that she once gave me a beautiful short-sleeve shirt and told me that there are different definitions of tznius. I had worn the short-sleeve shirt on a few occasions (it had a very conservative line and fell halfway to the elbow), but sensing the community's disapproval, I stopped wearing the offensive item. My biggest concern at that period in my life was the concept of tznius that one should blend in with the rest of the community, i.e. the point of tznius is to not stick out, whatever your surroundings. That is actually the same reason why, while I initially worn hats post-Marriage #1, I started wearing a sheitel when attending a Chabad shul.
Anyhow, my new friend reminded me that the minimum standards of tznius are as follows:
- Armpits must be fully covered at all times
- The top of knees must be covered when sitting down
- Closed shoes can be worn without stockings/socks
- Open toe shoes should be worn with at least an ankle sock, if not more.
I gave a very hearty mental cheer, let me tell you. Especially given the current heat wave.
To be fair, I was wearing stockings over Shabbos, because I had expected to visit an ultra-Yeshivish friend of mine, and I wanted to respect her standards. In short, I am not advocating rocking the boat and wearing something deliberately to rebel and make others uncomfortable. I would not, for example, go stocking-less to a Yeshivish school or Yeshivish host/hostess. That would be disrespectful and, in turn, completely inappropriate behaviour.
But having been reminded of a minimum that I can live with, I do not see why I need to hold to a more stringent standard when I go about my business. Shopping, visiting modern/open-minded friends, lounging at home, etc.- under such circumstances, I should be allowed to wear the minimum.
To put it differently, I will respect your standards when I am in your home. Therefore, please respect my standards when you encounter me on the street/in my realm.
Now, who wants to go with my to Conway to check out their collection of killer graphic Ts?