Embracing Bais Yaakov Dress Standards – Differences Between Mother and Daughter

Bais Yaakov school dress standards often include duty length skirts (to the calf and not to the floor), loose fitting, legs fully covered with knee socks or stocking, past the elbow, staying away from fashion trends, etc..

Some FFBs and BTs did not embrace all these standards in their own dress, so they are faced with a contradiction between what they do and what they’re children are expected to do from their schools.

How have parents dealt with this issue?

Originally Published August, 2010.
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From the comments:

Belle says:

Tznius is a very hard mitzva for some girls to keep to. There is a lot of peer pressure to look cool, thin and pretty, and unfortunately many would say wearing an adorable mini skirt and tee shirt is more cool and pretty than a long pleated skirt and button down blouse. Having said that, then, when a parent herself “is not there yet” then the child will take that, consciously or unconsciously, as permission herself to be “not so strict.”

I think that a parent should choose which school best suits their family’s hashkafa and educational priorities. Then if the dress code is not in line with the parents’, it is incumbent on the parents to get it in line by the time the child is old enough to notice. Otherwise the child will detect hypocrisy (they are very very sensitive to that) and possibly reject the school’s teaching. The only exception I can think of is if the parent and child can honestly communicate about a single issue – let’s say wearing stockings – and the mother can say, “You know, I never grew up wearing stockings all the time and I still find it so hard to wear them in the summer. I wish I had the strength to do it because I think it is important, and I am going to try. But please know that I support that level of tznius and that is why I think that you need to wear them, you are still young and I want you to form good habits and have higher standards than I have.” If a child has maturity she will then see this not as hypocrisy but as a human struggle.

The real test, of course, like Judy Resnick says, is when the girl grows up and makes her own choices. Nothing that we do guarantees that someone else will choose to do mitzvos at the highest level, despite how they were raised. Sending them to a school with high standards is a good start, since that is what they get used to HOWEVER not if the school is too restrictive. Then it’s just a turn-off.

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From the comments:

Judy Resnick says:

At home, my husband and I were strict about Hilchos Tznius for me and my girls, and we sent our daughters to schools that were also strict in their dress codes. The girls were OK with this because it was accepted as the norm within their peer group and their friends and their community. Girls on the block where they grew up, even if they attended different schools, held by these standards. In addition, the girls in our shul and in other shuls in the community, and the girls they met at the playground or in summer camp, also held by these standards. Because they fit in comfortably and felt “normal” rather than “odd” or “weird” our daughters did not have a problem with Hilchos Tznius while growing up.

I did have a problem when the schools enforced rules that I thought went beyond Hilchos Tznius into some bizarre desire for ultra conformity. For example, the high school which my youngest daughter attended did not permit girls to wear their hair long and down over their shoulders: they had to tie up their long hair into a pony tail. They also did not permit dangling earrings: girls could only wear small stones in their ears. I also took issue with the ugly plaid skirts that were required for uniforms for high school girls. They were totally unattractive, making the girls look less mature, less smart and less thin all at the same time. However, I did not protest as I wanted my daughter to attend that school.

While I do my best to adhere to Hilchos Tznius in my own clothing, I do have personal issues with the limited color palette for frum women’s wear. If you go to an organization dinner, it looks Gd forbid just like a levaya, because all the women are wearing black. I’m not talking about looking garish or attracting attention, but why can’t we women wear some brighter colors sometimes, such as a tasteful dark red or a peach and aqua ensemble?

My four daughters are grown women now between the ages of 27 and 34. They are all wives and mothers and living independently. Three of them have chosen to continue observing Hilchos Tznius; the second girl has made choices and has decided not to do so, although she still keeps kosher, Shabbos and mikveh. I think you could describe this daughter as LWMO, not meaning anything negative toward LWMO or my daughter’s personal choice of her own observance level.

25 comments on “Embracing Bais Yaakov Dress Standards – Differences Between Mother and Daughter

  1. Just a comment about the earrings – MY niece’s MO school prohibited all but simple studs *in school*. My understanding was that it wasn’t about tznius but not getting caught and pulled out by accident. PE was a major example.

    As far as *uniform* skirts, like Raphael Kaufman said in comment #2 – and uniforms aren’t about style, but conformity. No more brand name envy, no shopping spree results to OOH over in school.

    *Dress code* (rules) addresses tznius, *uniform* addresses standardization. As a mom, I have no issues with fashion sense being relegated to out of school.

  2. Normally one’s own Rav sets the tone for one’s observance. When was this delegated by parents to schools?

  3. The Bais Yaakov schools feel that the daughters and the mothers should dress according to the Bais Yaakov Standards, which are long sleeves, high neck line, skirts three inches below the knee, no slits what so ever in skirts, and pantyhose at all times
    They want the mom to be a proper roll model for the daughter and if you don’t want to dress that way you can send your daughter elsewhere.

  4. Why should the mother have to conform to the school’s dress code any more than she would have to wear the school uniform? A mother with a child in the army can support her child without wearing army fatigues. However, in all cases, the mother should make sure that when the child is in a situation in which a uniform is required, that the child understands the reason and importance for the uniform and that the child fully and respectfully complies.

  5. Ben David #20: I was trying to say that women should deliver a positive message about Tznius to their daughters, not a negative message filled with “don’ts” and certainly not a “putdown” of other people’s standards. I would never support any kind of “elitism, insularity and/or dismissal of other Jews.”

    I have heard unfortunately even worse interference by schools in home life, mainly concerning TV and media. One school requires that all parents who have computers at home, even for parnoso only with child lockout, must purchase special “Internet buddy” software that monitors the whole family’s Internet usage.

  6. I would talk about how women who are smart, proud and accomplished choose to wear Tznius clothing so that others can concentrate on their speech and actions rather than on how their bodies are displayed.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    … and yet it’s been repeated throughout this thread that there is a considerable area of tzniusdik dressing that does not involve BY stringencies.

    So you are reinforcing the elitism, insularity, and dismissal of other Jews that is unfortunately often the subtext/message of these rules – and these schools.

    I think the notion that a school can dictate what a student wears out of school – and that adult mothers should fret about living up to school dress codes – represents an overstepping, and an inversion of the natural social order.

    Just another example of how the Humra Culture undercuts the individual’s personal responsibility and choice of derech.

  7. To Chana Leah #17: I would talk about how women who are smart, proud and accomplished choose to wear Tznius clothing so that others can concentrate on their speech and actions rather than on how their bodies are displayed.

    To Avraham Moishe #13: I found the school’s ban on long hair and dangling earrings “bizarre” because there are so many Tzniusdige women who wear long sheitels and chandelier earrings. If it is permitted for Orthodox Jewish women, why deem it wrong for teenage girls? Also, how would we define “attractive”? Do we define it as “being a magnet for the gazes of strange men” (not Tznius) or do we define it as “looking well groomed and put together” (yes Tznius)? This is not pilpul or dancing on the head of a pin. It’s not required by the halacha for an Orthodox Jewish woman to look ugly. If being attractive is “asur” then perhaps we simply say that women are still allowed to look “nice.”

  8. To those who read Rabbi Falk’s book: Please read Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin’s essays on tzniut. Rav Henkin cites instances where Rabbi Falk distorts the halachah.

  9. Sorry, one final comment, or rather question—does anyone here who accepts the BY code have good advice for how to speak to your daughter about frum girls/women who don’t keep the same standards? For example, if a relative is a frum female, but wears low necklines, short tight skirts, and other styles that are not halachic and banned by the BY school, how do you explain this to your daughter without sounding condescending, yet driving home the point that we don’t swerve on this issue?

  10. One more note: People refer to Rabbi Falk’s tznius book Oz V’Hadar Levusha as (overly) machmir, but I have found it very useful as a reference book and also philosophically. There have been some areas where I felt the ideas put forth could only contribute to the divisiveness among the klal and perhaps encouraging gaiva among some sectors; still, the psychology of tznius is complex, we are often challenged in this area by the yetzer, and I believe that taking a strong and machmir stance may be the only way to escape the pervasive bit by bit erosion of standards that can so easily lead to complete abandonment.

  11. Reinforcement through consistency in the home and neighborhood is very important–B”H my elementary daughter fully accepts and enjoys the Bais Yaakov dress code, and their rules feel natural to me…. however I notice a few things which turn her head: 1) When she spends time with girls from other schools with different standards, she will occasionally give a kvetch why can’t she also….., but fortunately the majority of her life is spent with girls and women dressed like she does, so for now, it is not too problematic, and 2) Within her circles, girls try to distinguish themselves with stylish variations in the non-uniform parts of their clothing, ie. socks, shoes, accessories, even glasses. This can end up causing peer pressure of a kind that we like to discourage, since later it can take inappropriate forms. As for the ponytails and short earrings, I agree, it’s expected and most girls don’t seem to have a problem with it. I have come to see the BY uniform in total as a very dignified appearance.

    It’s probably not necessary to point out that in order to really have success, it’s not enough to just print the dress code—the teachers, parents and community leaders must instill in the girls the reasons why they should be proud to follow the halachas of tznius.

  12. Bob Miller:

    Of course the mother need not apologize, but she is putting her daughter in a difficult situation when the school says something is important and proper (maybe not al pi din necessary) and the mother is doing the opposite. How is she supposed to respect both her mother and the school?

  13. Judy –
    Regarding “bizarre”- see http://www.eichlers.com/Product/Books/Halachah_-_Jewish_Law/Family_Purity/Modesty—An-Adornment-for-Life-%5BHardcover%5D-_f874-2.html – I think you will see it is straight halacha.

    Since when are girls supposed to be attractive? Are they going on shidduchim or are they already married?

    I think you are applying some pretty big assumptions regarding frum women. My wife’s wardrobe and she would say many of her friends [who are ultra-orthodox] have thos colors [save the peach maybe :0)].

  14. However, the mother’s level of tznius may be both:

    1. Halachically acceptable
    2. Not as strict as the school’s

    The mother need not apologize!

  15. Judy-there is absolutely no rule regarding women wearing only black. It is just the in-thing. I invite you to look at my wedding album-just a short 25 years ago. It took place in Boro Park and the participants were all Chareidi, Bais Yaakov, etc. My girls nearly passed out-the colors!!! Purple, hot pink with black polka dots, shiny green taffeta, you get the picture.

    Black is certainly more slenderizing, and I guess that is why it is so universally worn (I plead guilty – anything to hide the 40 pounds I gained in these past 25 years…) It’s a style choice that I guess began in Brooklyn, spread to Lakewood and from there to other Jewish communities, though there are plenty of out-of-town communities that have bucked the trend.

  16. Tznius is a very hard mitzva for some girls to keep to. There is a lot of peer pressure to look cool, thin and pretty, and unfortunately many would say wearing an adorable mini skirt and tee shirt is more cool and pretty than a long pleated skirt and button down blouse. Having said that, then, when a parent herself “is not there yet” then the child will take that, consciously or unconsciously, as permission herself to be “not so strict.”

    I think that a parent should choose which school best suits their family’s hashkafa and educational priorities. Then if the dress code is not in line with the parents’, it is incumbent on the parents to get it in line by the time the child is old enough to notice. Otherwise the child will detect hypocrisy (they are very very sensitive to that) and possibly reject the school’s teaching. The only exception I can think of is if the parent and child can honestly communicate about a single issue – let’s say wearing stockings – and the mother can say, “You know, I never grew up wearing stockings all the time and I still find it so hard to wear them in the summer. I wish I had the strength to do it because I think it is important, and I am going to try. But please know that I support that level of tznius and that is why I think that you need to wear them, you are still young and I want you to form good habits and have higher standards than I have.” If a child has maturity she will then see this not as hypocrisy but as a human struggle.

    The real test, of course, like Judy Resnick says, is when the girl grows up and makes her own choices. Nothing that we do guarantees that someone else will choose to do mitzvos at the highest level, despite how they were raised. Sending them to a school with high standards is a good start, since that is what they get used to HOWEVER not if the school is too restrictive. Then it’s just a turn-off.

    (btw to Judy Resnick: it is my understanding that wearing one’s hair in a ponytail is pretty universal in Bais Yaakov schools – dangling earrings unfortunately has become pretty common as well. )

    (btw also: I believe the phrase is “doodie” length skirts, not “duty,” reflecting the opinion of what the length looks like. If there is a teenage girl on this site: clarification please!)

  17. At home, my husband and I were strict about Hilchos Tznius for me and my girls, and we sent our daughters to schools that were also strict in their dress codes. The girls were OK with this because it was accepted as the norm within their peer group and their friends and their community. Girls on the block where they grew up, even if they attended different schools, held by these standards. In addition, the girls in our shul and in other shuls in the community, and the girls they met at the playground or in summer camp, also held by these standards. Because they fit in comfortably and felt “normal” rather than “odd” or “weird” our daughters did not have a problem with Hilchos Tznius while growing up.

    I did have a problem when the schools enforced rules that I thought went beyond Hilchos Tznius into some bizarre desire for ultra conformity. For example, the high school which my youngest daughter attended did not permit girls to wear their hair long and down over their shoulders: they had to tie up their long hair into a pony tail. They also did not permit dangling earrings: girls could only wear small stones in their ears. I also took issue with the ugly plaid skirts that were required for uniforms for high school girls. They were totally unattractive, making the girls look less mature, less smart and less thin all at the same time. However, I did not protest as I wanted my daughter to attend that school.

    While I do my best to adhere to Hilchos Tznius in my own clothing, I do have personal issues with the limited color palette for frum women’s wear. If you go to an organization dinner, it looks Gd forbid just like a levaya, because all the women are wearing black. I’m not talking about looking garish or attracting attention, but why can’t we women wear some brighter colors sometimes, such as a tasteful dark red or a peach and aqua ensemble?

    My four daughters are grown women now between the ages of 27 and 34. They are all wives and mothers and living independently. Three of them have chosen to continue observing Hilchos Tznius; the second girl has made choices and has decided not to do so, although she still keeps kosher, Shabbos and mikveh. I think you could describe this daughter as LWMO, not meaning anything negative toward LWMO or my daughter’s personal choice of her own observance level.

  18. I think that parents who send their daughters to such schools are aware of the rules and at least don’t actively undermine the same, even if their lack of knowledge of the halachic details and hashkafic rationale leads them to chafe at the details. Parents who actively undermine the same are simply inviting conflict and the strong possibility that their daughters will be conflicted as to whether to obey mom or the school. I think that many schools appecriate the fact that such students are enrolled in the schools even if their mothers are not on such a spiritual level.

  19. Intelligent girls, while obliged to follow the school’s standards, should respect all standards reflecting an authentic halachic view.

  20. One issue is the school states that the dress code applies out of school.

    Exactly where does that apply: on the street, in the malls, in the homes, on vacations?

    People may not necessarily be comfortable with such a far reaching rule, yet the school might be the best fit for their child.

    They might in fact want their daughter to achieve higher levels of Tznius, but the mother is not there yet.

    In addition, the goal is not just to have the girls follow a rule, but actually embrace those standards. Since the home is a major component of Chinuch, how can the girl embrace the standard if she sees her major role models not adhering to them?

  21. The parents are bound by the laws of tznius and by community expectations (if they care about the latter) but not by the school rules. The students must follow the school rules whenever these apply.

  22. Part of the problems is that the community has unspecified often varied standards, the home has a different set of standards and the school has a third set of standards.

    The school standards are often put down on paper with the implicit or explicit understanding that they will be followed in school and often even out of school.

    The community and home standards are often not as well defined.

    Let’s say the standards are clear and the school’s standards are the most stringent and expected to be adhered to in and out of school.

    Should the parent’s gradually move to the school’s standards?
    Should they encourage the daughter to adopt more stringent standards?
    Should they allow non-compliance of the school’s standards?

  23. If you decide to send your daughter to a school that requires a certain dress code, there is no excuse for not following those rules. If it is too difficult for you, feel free to choose a different school.

    Schools in areas where there is only one day school to choose from generally do not have restrictive dress codes and are open to most applicants. If, however you live in an area where there are several schools to choose from, do your homework before applying. If you can’t live up to their expectations, save yourself and your child a lot of future heartaches, and find a school where you can comfortably fit in. You need to fit in with the parent body-they don’t have to rework themselves to accomodate you.

  24. It seems to me a simple proposition. “If ya wanna be in the Army, ya gotta wear the uniform” As long as the basic requirements of tznius are observed, I see no difficulty for folks who are not in the “army”, or on “leave”, to wear “civilian” clothes

  25. If the school dress code reflects the everyday dress code of the Orthodox community that supports the school, that’s one thing. If it’s more restrictive, that’s another.

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