Jewish Thought

High Fashion, Higher Standards

Low-cost and free modest attire makes tzeniut an attainable goal

Tamar Zinnar of New York’s Five Towns knows all too well just how difficult it can be for those who are embracing their religious roots to make the enormous leap toward dressing modestly.

Having been involved with several kiruv organizations while growing up in North Woodmere, New York, including NCSY, Zinnar made the life-changing switch from George W. Hewlett High School to Hebrew Academy of Nassau County in eleventh grade. Embracing a world of Torah and mitzvot, she began observing Shabbat and kashrut with the change to what she describes as “halachic modesty” the last area she tackled.

“Once I did it, it was the most freeing thing,” Zinnar said. “I had been able to put myself into a community with an identity, but this was special. This was holy.”

Zinnar realized that there was nothing she wanted more than to share what she was feeling with others, but also understood that committing to an entirely new look could be a daunting task. Simply finding clothing that meets tzeniut standards can be an overwhelming prospect for young women taking this step on their own, and many find themselves with little or no financial or emotional support. Zinnar couldn’t help but jump in to offer a helping hand to a younger friend who was having a difficult time preparing for a year in seminary. 

“She was struggling to find clothes that worked for her that didn’t cost a trillion dollars,” recalled Zinnar. “She didn’t feel confident in any of the outfits, so I checked my closet and realized that I had a ton of things that could work for her.”

That was how the Bat Melech Boutique was born. Reasoning that if she had plenty of unworn clothing that she would be happy to share, then others likely did as well, Zinnar reached out to her friends and sent messages out on various chats explaining that she would be running an event offering free and low-cost modest attire to those who were taking on the mitzvah of tzeniut, asking people to donate whatever they could. After doing some serious networking, Zinnar texted two stores as well—Modernly Modest and Japparel. Much to her surprise, both were eager to donate to the cause.

“I felt like I was such a burden—who was I to ask for anything?—but thank G-d I didn’t listen to that inner voice,” said Zinnar. “They gave me beautiful things and all I could think was ‘this is new; this stuff even has tags!’ which gave me more motivation.”

By the time Zinnar ran her first annual Bat Melech clothing drive in her aunt’s backyard in the Five Towns in August 2022, she had accumulated a nice collection of gently used and new clothing. Around eighty young women came to the Five Towns boutique, with most astonished to find that everything was stylish, modest and above all, free.

Bat Melech’s first boutique generated a huge response, and Zinnar heard from people who needed clothing as well as those who wanted to offer their help. She estimated that between collecting clothing, arranging logistics and finding volunteers, she spent months planning Bat Melech’s most recent event, held in April 2024 at a shul in the Five Towns. Zinnar reached even farther beyond her comfort zone, making face-to-face donation requests.  

“It was petrifying to go into the first store,” recalled Zinnar of her foray into Eshet Chayil Boutique on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, New York. “I told the man behind the cash register my story and that there was no pressure, but he told me to go to the sale rack and take whatever I wanted. He even gave me a card and told me to tell people to use the code ‘Tamar’ to get ten percent off their purchases.”

Close to 200 people came to Bat Melech’s most recent drive. 

“You never know who’s walking in,” said Zinnar, who is twenty-one years old. “We try to help everyone.” 

Zinnar has been touched by the stories of many of the young women who have come to her boutique. There was Malky,* who had lost her father, fell into a deep depression and gained a significant amount of weight. Not being able to buy new clothing that fit was taking a toll on Malky’s self-esteem, and she walked out of Bat Melech with a spring in her step.

“She left so happy, and her smile left an imprint on our hearts,” said Zinner.

As someone who was paying for her own seminary year, Adina was overjoyed to hear about Bat Melech, because asking her parents to pay for the clothing she needed just wasn’t an option. 

“I didn’t have any clothing I felt good in, and I got a lot of the basics—a black long-sleeved shell, some cute skirts and sweaters,” she says. “Everything I got I took to Israel with me, and I got such good use out of it all.”

Personal experience has shown Zinnar how clothing can play an important role in a young woman’s spiritual journey. She spent summers in Camp Nageela, a kiruv camp run by JEP, where at the end of the season, counselors gave their own clothing to their campers to ensure that they would have modest items in their wardrobes.

“I would wear those skirts and it made me feel like a part of real true community,” explained Zinnar. “I felt like I had a piece of my counselors in me and that gave me permission to act like them.”

That sentiment is at the very heart of Bat Melech, where Zinnar is a counselor, big sister and role model, all bundled up into one, providing the guidance she wished she had had just a few years earlier. 

“I want to tell these girls, let me be your big sister just for this one day,” said Zinnar. “I have a big closet and I want to give you these clothes, not for style or fashion, but to help you be part of something, become the ultimate you, and connect you to a community where being in touch with other women is the most empowering thing.”

*Not her real name

Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous web sites, newspapers, magazines and private clients.

More in this Section

Rethinking Tzeniut by Bracha Poliakoff

Modesty: An Educator’s Perspective by Shifra Rabenstein, as told to Barbara Bensoussan

My Tzeniut Journey by Josepha Becker

A New Approach for Teens by Dr. Zipora Schorr

Tzenius: The Key to an Inner Life by Rabbi Reuven Brand

Can Social Media and Modesty Coexist? by Alexandra Fleksher

Public and Private in the Age of Instagram by Rabbi Yisrael Motzen

To Post or Not to Post by Gila Ross

Walking a Tightrope by Rebbetzin Ruchi Koval, as told to Barbara Bensoussan

This article was featured in the Summer 2024 issue of Jewish Action.
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