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The Sisterhood of the Vanishing Pants

Friday, 9 September 2011

Jeans, Author & Photographer: Hendrike

It was not a decision made lightly. To stop wearing pants in public. I have always dressed a bit more on the modest side than most. But I have long wanted to experiment with dressing modestly with intention. So I just stopped. Last August. August 2010, I should say. And it was that simple.

Of course, nothing is EVER that simple. It takes a bit more forethought in order to ensure that I have skirts available for work, for play, for errands, etc. And the availability of skirts that hit below the knee are at the whim of the fashion industry.

Here’s the thing: I haven’t missed wearing pants. Not even once. Maybe it’s because I am so short-wasted — not too mention just-plain-short — that pants never fit quite right. Even with alterations.

But that’s not what prompted me to ditch my pants. It really was a conscious decision to do something with my attire that was connected with being a Jewess.

{jew-ess} — a Jewish woman or girl. The term, which is thought to date back to the 14th century, has become offensive in recent years, but I have loved it since I was a girl and first read Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Rebecca, the Jewess, was a dark–haired beauty and, to me, the perfect prototype of a romantic female lead. {{sigh…}} And because of this, I only associated positive feelings toward the word.

Traditionally-speaking, modesty in dress and speech is something that is valued in Judaism. It is not typically a value explored in the liberal communities and I think that is a mistake. Imagine how powerful it could be for modern Jewish girls and women to redefine the motivations for covering their bodies and barring others from objectifying them.

I want my outer appearance to better reflect my inner self. I want my outer appearance to be, as I have learned from some other modest women, attractive but not attracting. I want my outer appearance to reveal my devotion to the Holy One.

Plus — I really do feel so much cuter, sassier, empowered, etc. when wearing a skirt or dress.

I still have them, though. My pants. Dress slacks. Comfy jeans…or as comfy as they can be. (I’ve never found them to be all that comfortable). Cotton capris. Herringbone trousers. I am not yet ready to give them away. I am not yet ready to make what seems to be a final commitment. Yes, even after a year.

A year in which, by the way, the only person to notice that I stopped wearing pants was a classmate of mine who hadn’t seen me in over a decade.

It continues to amaze me how private our spiritual lives are even when we are living them out in a communal setting. Surely someone has noticed… And before you suggest that attire is the kind of thing about which others refrain from commenting, let me correct your innocent, but misguided, impression. After years in the rabbinate, I can assure you that I received plenty of comments about my hair, attire, shoes, jewelry. Even my eyewear has been the subject of public scrutiny.

But not my pants. Or the lack thereof.




Red Writing Hood is a writing meme. This week, we were asked to write about jeans. This is a post that has been written and rewritten in my mind for the past eleven months. I guess I was just waiting for the right prompt. As always, constructive criticism is appreciated.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. Friday, 9 September 2011 7:03 am

    Good for you. I still have my favorite jeans in my closet. I wear them inside the house when I have the need for that extra bit of warmth. It’s been almost 20 years since I gave up trousers, and I do miss them. But I love my skirts – I feel so much dressier, sassy as you said.

    It is a challenge to find cute skirts that are modest too – especially if like me you are long legged….but I love shopping so it’s all good.

    Which skirt is your favorite, Rebecca?

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 25 January 2012 8:06 pm

      I have a new favourite; a comfy maxi skirt from Target. It is just perfect in this cold weather. I was rather worried about what it would be like to go without pants in the winter now that we are in the East. But I have never once been cold. Even played in the snow in a skirt 😉

      What about you? Do you have a current favourite??

  2. Friday, 9 September 2011 8:09 am

    I would like to see a little more of the “jeans” part in your post. I love the topic though… living in south florida where the weather is no where near chilly there are too many people who dress inappropriately around here and it drives me insane.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 25 January 2012 8:06 pm

      I can only imagine!

  3. Dawn permalink
    Friday, 9 September 2011 8:32 am

    Although I have not given up pants, jeans, crops, capris, shorts, etc… I can relate to the comfort factor you speak of. A knee length skirt is much more comfortable, cooler, more feminine, and much more attractive than jeans. After all, the whole reason women wanted to start wearing pants was because the men could. They didn’t like being told that they couldn’t!

    Since this is your first winter in Pennsylvania, I will add this: buy some nice, thick tights.
    ((((Hugs)))), old friend.
    Dawn

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 25 January 2012 8:07 pm

      Since this is your first winter in Pennsylvania, I will add this: buy some nice, thick tights.

      This was very good advice 😉

  4. Friday, 9 September 2011 9:34 am

    For most of last year, I only wore skirts at job in Jewish communal life. I did wear short sleeves and because I’m 5’10” my knees were usually showing in the pencil skirts. Then one day when I stopped by the office on my day off in jeans, I think I blew everyone’s minds.

    I love skirts… but I wouldn’t only wear skirts, I realized that after spending about 6 months only wearing skirts. But, I’m young and staunchly Conservative (movement), so EVERYONE noticed. It was really hard.

    Thanks for your post 🙂 Maybe I WILL wear a skirt today.

  5. tsonoda148 permalink
    Friday, 9 September 2011 10:30 am

    Good for you for being comfortable with yourself and your faith, and going on your own journey. I enjoyed this post and found it informational as well as entertaining. Nice job.

  6. Friday, 9 September 2011 12:13 pm

    Hi…that part about being attractive but not attracting really resonated with me, I see women get hit on all the time because of what they’re wearing and they don’t really welcome the attention, they’re just wearing something that makes them feel attractive. I think that balance is one that women every where of every (modern) religion tries to find.

  7. Amitzah permalink
    Friday, 9 September 2011 12:17 pm

    I didn’t notice that you had stopped wearing pants completely, but I did notice that you were wearing a LOT of cute skirts to work. Somehow I never completely made the connection.

  8. Friday, 9 September 2011 12:36 pm

    At Visions last year, it was interesting to hear Mayim Bialik talk about dressing modestly (in her personal life – she doesn’t wear pants outside of the house) and how hard it has been with ensuring her work clothing (costumes) are also modest.

  9. Friday, 9 September 2011 1:27 pm

    I am not Jewish, but I have always thought that Jewess was a beautiful world, with beautiful implications.
    I think it’s wonderful that you were able to give up pants so easily! I tend to live in dresses due to the year-round heat in Miami…they’re cooler! I usually only wear pants during the cooler months (Jan-March).
    And this line? This was beautifully said: I want my outer appearance to better reflect my inner self.

  10. Friday, 9 September 2011 3:30 pm

    I rarely wear pants as I find a good kilt so much more freeing, especially when it is 198 degrees in the shade.

  11. Friday, 9 September 2011 11:14 pm

    So glad you feel comforable being who you are. the world would be ahppier place if all of us felt that way.

  12. Monday, 12 September 2011 1:50 am

    I’m glad you’re reclaiming the word Jewess, and the way you wove it into the ‘jeans’ prompt. Maxi skirts have been quite popular for the last season so I hope you’ve found some cute styles you like! I found your blog via Wrote On Edge and look forward to reading more!

  13. Monday, 12 September 2011 9:04 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us! So interesting that you’ve been doing it for a year now and that’s something you took on as an adult, AND as a Reform rabbi. I think you should write about this for the Reform magazine. Seriously!!!!

  14. Monday, 12 September 2011 12:02 pm

    I was about 12 when my parents gave up the last threads of orthodox lifestyle. I wear pants and I am empowered by my right to wear pants. Yes sometimes I wear skirts or dresses. But I will no way give up my right to wear pants. You can be modestly dressed in a pair of jeans. But try to take a hike. play outside with your kids or maybe just exercising. The freedom you get with pants is not the same as with a skirt. I think that if you want to wear a skirt for the rest of your life that is fine, but empowerment? A small example: Do you know how much fun it is to jump on a trampoline outside with your children? I have the freedom to do what I want and that is empowering.
    i just got back from my hometown of Bet Shemesh. See what is going on there and tell me empowerment. They do not want women or little girls to wear red anymore

  15. Saturday, 17 September 2011 8:44 pm

    I have not worn pants (other than sweat pants and pajama bottoms in my home) for over 15 years, and I hate it. I hate it. I agree with Ruth. In some situations, pants are more modest than skirts. I’ve tripped on long skirts on stairs, I’ve worried about showing my underwear, and I’ve never tried to ride a bike in one. And finding ones the right length has truly become impossible.

    I think the Hindus have it right– long tunics over pants. Comfortable and nothing showing. Perfectly modest.

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