Posted by Regine Tessone-founder of the Original Modest Swimwear line Aqua Modesta on 6th May 2015

The word modesty or “tzniut” in Hebrew means many things to many people.

Most people refer to humility as discretion in dress.

Some say it means humble.

Some say modesty is as important in behavior and speech as in dress codes.

I believe it is all of the above. I want to tell you how I became more modest in the abovementioned ways—a process that has taken more than a decade and which I am currently undertaking. As a Fashion Institute of Technology student, I was taught to design fashion for women by accentuating all feminine parts. This is the opposite of what I do today: to shed light away from all feminine aspects yet allow the fashion to remain feminine; not so easy. My journey towards modest dressing began when I was working as a childrenswear designer in the famous 112 building on West 34th Street in New York City. On my lunch break, I would go down to what was then Woolworths and look for ideas to make my appliqués and embroideries by viewing gift wrappings and greeting cards. On one such occasion, as I looked over the greeting card section, an elderly woman approached me and said: “You look like a nice Jewish girl; can you help me pick out a Bat Mitzvah card.” I looked at what I was wearing and wondered how she figured I was Jewish. I was wearing a tight pair of jeans with not such a modest top, and I had long hair that was permed. Most people took me for an Indian or Spanish girl. It had never bothered me that they did so, either. But that day, what she said made me wonder, “Is this how a nice Jewish girl dresses?” I helped her pick out a card, and she thanked me profusely. I should have thanked her profusely, for here began my journey back to becoming a nice Jewish girl.

From that day on, I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology library and researched the dress codes worn by Jewish women throughout the centuries. Indeed, it was most fascinating. I noticed that, throughout the centuries, as fashion changed, so did we. For most of the centuries, Jewish women and women in general dressed very elegantly, following the standards dictated to them by designers throughout time. For most of those centuries, modesty was a non-issue as the fashion of the time was relatively modest. However, in the middle of our last century, the 60s and there-after, “ready to wear” became most immodest. What has happened to the Jewish woman? Well, she continued to follow the standards of her day; however, she was now at odds with who she was and with her values as a Jew. I remember thinking,” Well, the only modest clothing is in Boro Park, NY.” That was not the look I was searching for. I began the painstaking task of shopping in a popular department. Stores for pieces of fashion here and there and modifying them by adding fabric to a short skirt or a sweater to a dress that revealed too much, etc. It was not easy, but doable.

For me, the concept of the hair covering was most natural, so I started wearing skirts. I always drew my “fashion models” with hats as a child. I adore hats and hair coverings, so it is a no-brainer for me to wear one. My most difficult challenge when dressing modestly was with swimwear. I was an avid swimmer, and giving that up was not an option. I returned to FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and researched swimwearat the library. That marked the beginning of the most fascinating research I have done today. I could not believe my eyes. Right here in the U.S., at the beginning of the 20th century, women would go with wagons up to the shoreline, undress inside the wagons, down to their cotton petticoats under their long dresses, and then enter the water. They then took a swim or dip and returned to the wagons to head home. The drawings showed the women drooping in their petticoats, soaked with water, which I believe was most uncomfortable and impractical.

As time progressed, in the late1940′s and early 50s, synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon hit the market. The swimwear industry was born. Companies no longer had to use cotton, which was expensive and took too long to dry. Now, they could use polyester and nylon. Swimwear soon became highly immodest for its day. It consisted of a top with an attached skirt, albeit mini. The women wore the most adorable swim caps made of rubber with them as well. As spandex hit the swimwear market, fashion continued to evolve, and swimwear became increasingly revealing. In the 60′s and 70′s, swimwear became available in two pieces: “The bikini was born.” Today, we have the string bikini, and frankly, I do not understand why anyone would spend so much money on such little material.

When I designed my line of Aqua Modesta Swimwear, I did it mainly because” I needed one.” As time went by, I realized how necessary the idea of modest swimwear was. Baruch Hashem, I have been truly blessed to meet so many incredible women and girls due to the creation of this line. Jewish women today are seeking to grow religiously, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. They are bright, fit, fashionable, and have much “savoir-faire”(know-how). I dedicate my line to all these women who are constantly growing and working on improving themselves and their families. IYH”, through observing modesty and performing kind acts, we will bring redemption speedily in our days, amen!