Around her in the Frock Swap, an Orthodox clothing business celebrating its first anniversary, were women pushing the boundaries of modesty: an exposed elbow here, a bare collarbone there, a skirt that ended at just the wrong side of a pair of knees. Many were on the lookout for unique outfits for the coming High Holy Days. Some were engaged in angst-ridden mental calculations about whether an item was tznius — modest according to Jewish law — and if not, how it could be altered.
For some women, what other members of the community think is of little importance so long as their husbands, and perhaps their rabbis, approve. But they must also pay attention if they want their child to attend the right yeshiva. Chaya Chanin, a mother of two who co-founded the Frock Swap with her sister, Simi Polonsky, and lives in Crown Heights, said, “There are schools in the neighborhood who will only accept [students of] parents if they dress in a certain way.”
Polonsky, Chanin and a few helpers were dressed in snug black T-shirts emblazoned with the Frock Swap name on the front, and slogans on the back that ranged from the innocent “Dare To Be a Frock Star” to the more provocative “Like I Give a Frock.” At the front of the store, a speaker blasted out a range of music from Aretha Franklin to Eminem. By midday the store was alive with about a dozen women — some with strollers, others carrying babies under their arms. Even some girls from a local yeshiva stopped by in their uniforms to flick through the racks of clothing.
“It’s very personal for each woman,” Silverberg said of the mental calculations that went into a decision about what to wear. “I feel that what Halacha gives us is a gift of laws that can outline how to be self-dignified.” But she added, “There’s no law against looking beautiful.” Avigayil Waxman, 19, who looked striking in a baggy orange shirt and a black-and-white pencil skirt that ended above the knee, said it was a battle for every girl trying to be fashionable and tznius. “Everyone defines it differently,” she said.