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The Girl in the Skirt

The Girl in the Skirt

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My heart was racing . . . I had never been so nervous to start a job before, but then again, this time was different. Unlike every other first day of work I had ever had, this time I was wearing a skirt.

It’s interesting how much of a difference a piece of clothing can make. In a world that blatantly judges you based on what you look like, and a society that makes it all but impossible to change first impressions, what you wear is a sure-fire way to make a statement. I had already accomplished that by wearing a skirt-suit to the interview. After all, what woman does that these days? Every girl who wants to go places in a field dominated by men knows well enough to dress like a powerhouse, and that means a pants suit that says, “I can hang with the big boys.” Maybe they just thought I was behind the times or thoroughly overdressed? In either case, skirt-suits to an interview are one thing . . . wearing a skirt to your first day of work at a manufacturing and assembly facility falls under an entirely new category.

Maybe they just thought I was behind the times or thoroughly overdressed?I scanned my ID and walked through the double-doors out onto the factory floor. I could feel the stares coming my way. A girl setting foot on the factory floor was a somewhat uncommon occurrence to begin with. Now add in the fact that I was wearing a black pencil skirt instead of the customary slacks or even more standard jeans, and the blue-collared workers nearest to the door seemed to be in downright shock. I could already tell that this was going to be an interesting day.

Telling myself to stop being so self-conscious, I walked into the office to greet my new boss. “Good morning, Mark! How are you?” I internally breathed a sigh of relief at not letting my nervousness come across in my greeting. “Living the dream!” was the answer. Another sigh of relief; a boss in such a great mood would make this day much, much easier. Yet even though Mark seemed to be impressed by my timeliness (eight minutes early), he joined the masses in giving my wardrobe choice a once-over.

“I’m glad you’ve decided to take our work here very seriously, but you can really come to work in more casual clothing,” he stated, pointing out his own slacks and polo. “Everyone here dresses a little more relaxed. Polos and slacks are fine, and since you’ll be on the manufacturing floor most of the time, I have no problem with you wearing jeans if you’d like.” This was the conversation I had been waiting for . . . How could I tell my boss that I don’t wear pants without sounding like a freak of nature? Without finding an easy way around it, I decided to go for the straight shot. “Umm, well, I don’t really wear pants, Mark. Just skirts really.” I sounded so awkward.

I had known that this conversation was coming, and I had asked my rabbi about it ahead of time. What should I say? I had just made the life-altering decision to throw out the last pair or two of my jeans—an action that is almost devastating to a 22-year-old from a secular background. I hadn’t worn those jeans in months, but they felt as much of a part of me as my hair did. And although I didn’t really want to wear jeans to work, at the moment it was tempting to revert back to old ways just to avoid the unseemly situation at hand. Even though I could bring a pair of pants to work with me, change when I got there and change back when I left (if it was absolutely needed for safety reasons), I had decided to stick to my guns and see what would happen—and here I was.

“You don’t really wear pants? Really meaning what? Meaning you like wearing skirts better or you really don’t wear pants?” This was getting more awkward by the second. “Umm . . . meaning I don’t own any pants. At all.” Mark cocked his head to the side and gave me a look that had “interesting . . . ” written all over it. A few seconds ticked by in silence.

“OK.”

OK? I was caught completely off-guard, but Mark seemed content to leave it at that, passing me on to my trainer and good friend, Haley. The morning continued with the standard first-day paperwork and the more in-depth tour of the facility. The requisite introductions to anyone and everyone that we happened to meet along the way ensured that as many people as possible saw my unusual outfit. Yet despite the staring, no one else said anything to me at all, and my day flew by, ending without any further incidents.

“You’re not in trouble, we just need to work out this dress code of yours.” FaaaaantasticThe next day, I decided to meet my boss somewhere in the middle, showing up in a polo shirt with a black long-sleeved shirt underneath and a knee-length jean skirt instead of the more dressy pencil skirt of the day before. “Good morning! Is this better?” I asked my boss, half-joking, as I walked into the office. “That’s closer,” he remarked with a smirk. “I’m glad you at least wore some kind of jean today, you’re going out on the factory floor. Ask Haley for details when she gets back. Have fun!” Out on the factory floor? Yeh, it would be fun alright.

A few minutes later, Haley walked in and led me back downstairs and into the repair area of our manufacturing facility. More introductions, more stares. She set me up with detailed instructions on gathering information for redoing some of our training paperwork, walked me through the first few steps, and then left me to my own devices. The morning passed by in a flash, and it was lunchtime before I knew it. I went upstairs to grab my lunch since the cafeteria was definitely not kosher, and as I was heading out the door to join Haley in the cafeteria, Mark stopped me.

“Have a minute?” he asked me. “Of course,” I answered. “What can I help you with?” “Before you go to lunch, I need you to come with me. We need to go see one of the managers downstairs.” Great. Already? I had only been here for a day; what could I have possibly messed up? “Don’t worry,” he added. “You’re not in trouble, we just need to work out this dress code of yours.”

Faaaaantastic.

We walked downstairs into the office of the manager for Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) for our plant. Mark pointed to the seat for me and then stood next to the chair in the corner with his arms crossed. This was going to be fun.

“Hi Rucheli, my name is Matt, I’m in charge of EHS here,” stated the man across the desk. “I just called you and Mark in here to discuss your dress here at work. You’re not in trouble at all,” he reassured me. Seemed to be a common theme, yet always followed by a clause. “But, we do need to figure out something different. We’d really rather have you wear pants to work for safety reasons. Your legs need to be covered completely so that you have some protection from any scrap metal that may go flying from the manufacturing machinery.” This was exactly what my rabbi and I had spoken about. Frustrating . . . I really didn’t want to have to wear pants again! I sat for a second thinking about an answer when an idea popped into my head.

“I’m not sure if Mark told you or not, but I don’t wear pants. I actually don’t even own any. It’s for religious reasons. I do have some long jean skirts though. Those would cover my legs completely if that’s what the main problem is. Would that work?” I got the same look of “interesting . . . ” that I had received from my boss the day before. And the same answer: “OK.”

The next day, I came in with yet another new wardrobe—long sleeves and a polo still, but this time with a floor-length jean skirt. In the state of Florida, as far as clothing is concerned, less is usually considered more, and this was anything but “less.” Yet despite all of the stares, the day as a whole was pretty uneventful until a friend of mine from school who worked in another department, Jake, came up to me while I was finishing up on the factory floor. He had a huge smile on his face, so I knew something was up.

“Hey you, how’s work so far?” he asked. Before I could even answer, he continued. “You’ve already got quite the reputation around here.” “What?!” Any reputation I could get after two days could not be a great one. “Yeh, even people who haven’t met you yet have heard about you. You’re the girl in the skirt,” he said with a mischievous grin. “Perfect, everyone thinks I’m a freak, huh?” “Nah, everyone’s just curious. You attract a lot of attention just by being here, but wearing a skirt on a manufacturing floor is definitely a first for these guys. I think it’s endearing,” he finished. “Alright, thanks Jake. I get the point. Good to know I have a nickname already.”

I thought that would be the end of the interesting events for the day, but I was wrong. As I was literally walking out of the door, I was once again stopped by my boss for the same reason as the day before. “Let’s go,” Mark said. “We’re taking another trip down to EHS." “Another one? I thought this worked,” I answered. “Yeh, so did I.”

I never thought I would have to defend my personal choice to dress more modestlyBack in the EHS manager’s office, I sat in the same chair, and Mark stood in the same corner, and we listened to the same speech. “OK, so the long skirt was a step in the right direction, but this morning I had some of the manufacturing supervisors come in to express their concerns over the long skirt. They think that the long skirts will get caught in machinery or snagged on a pallet, and I have to agree. I really think we need to have you wear jeans, Rucheli.”

Time for some quick thinking . . . I either needed an alternative, or it was time to give in. I never thought I would have to defend my personal choice to dress more modestly. I said the first thing that came to my mind. “Well, if I can’t wear long skirts but I need to cover my legs, what if I just wear those knee-length skirts with boots?” What was I thinking? It was 97°F outside, and I was asking to dress like it was the middle of winter.

“What about the skin between your boots and your skirt?” asked Matt, looking to cover all of his bases. “I have thick tights that I wear sometimes. They’re completely opaque. That would cover the four inches that are left. What do you think?” I was immediately regretting this statement, but Matt seemed to like the idea. “Try it out tomorrow and come see me when you get in. We’ll see if this might work as a solution; it sounds good to me,” he said, ending the conversation.

I left work that day wondering what I had just gotten myself into. Jean skirt + calf-high boots + thick opaque tights + long-sleeved T-shirt + polo shirt + summer weather = one very overheated Jewish woman. How had dressing modestly turned into such a huge ordeal?!

I showed up to work the next morning in full winter gear. It was 93°F outside. I walked into work hardly even noticing the stares and marched straight into Matt’s office to present my new regalia. “Perfect!” (Finally!). “I think that will work great. I’m glad we were able to find a solution that will keep everyone else happy with EHS and still allow you to express your religious beliefs.” Answering in thanks, I left the office and ran upstairs to start my day. I was already sweating.

Days passed by without any more trips to the EHS office, but every so often, someone new would build up the chutzpah to approach me and ask why I dressed the way I did. The first few times I responded nervously, but after a while, I built up confidence in defending my decisions and my dress code. I learned more about why I was doing what I was doing, and it made a huge difference.

“Hey girl, I don’t mean to offend, but I wanted to check what yo’ deal is. You a Christian or something?” Gotta love welders. “Nope, actually I’m an Orthodox Jew. Let me guess, my style made you ask?” "Yeah, I thought it was just some crazy new fashion thang, but then I saw you dress like ’dat every day. Figured I’d come see what up. That’s cool though, I dig that. I admire a girl who can stand her ground. Props to you, girl in the skirt.”

As time went by, more and more people came to respect my odd sense of fashion. Was it normal? Absolutely not. Had anyone ever worn a skirt in a factory? Not that I know of. But did it matter? Not a bit. If anything, I was able to make our workplace a more diverse and more accepting environment—one that was open-minded to new scenarios and different customs. It wasn’t easy—and it was almost never comfortable—but I found out the hard way that when you respect yourself, everyone else follows suit. Something I had been so nervous about on my first day of work has become my trademark. I’m the girl in the skirt. I’m the Jew. And I’m proud.

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Anonymous Ohio August 21, 2017

Had similar experience, ironically, in Israel when volunteering on an IDF base.

But, I didn't need to explain it to many folks. No one objected, just surprised, especially about my wearing long sleeves when it was hot in our warehouse. Reply

Samantha Leon August 25, 2015

Personally, I think Emma Watson said it best when she said "The less you reveal, the more people can wonder." Reply

Sam Leon October 31, 2014

We Bt's, we gotta stick together. Reply

Naomi Valley Village, CA August 22, 2014

you go, girl And I am proud of you and I love you like a daughter. Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your experience and to encourage us because for sure many of us are dealing with the same issue(s).

I hope your job continues to go well for you.

Reply

Michele June 3, 2014

Results Ms. Manville. What type of manufacturing plant do you work and have there been any safety issues that you have experienced since wearing the skirt. Reply

Jubilee Bell, Cali April 4, 2014

Wowsers. I'm 15 and i'm totally going to follow your example. People do look my way when I don't wear super tight things or overalls and stuff like that. Honestly, all I can think, is that I am honoring H-shem, with the way I dress. And I think my future Hubby will like the fact that i'm not showing off my bod to other dudes. Besides, skirts are SO much more comfortable to go around in.And their faces are quite amusing. THNX! Reply

Hannah Florida April 17, 2013

Never throw away your jeans! Find a great seamstress. You can turn them into skirts and usually for less than the price of a skirt. The skirt will be a bit of the old you and bit of the new you. Also, since you had the skirt made from your jeans, it will be one of a kind. Reply

Sarah Rivka :) Cincinnati, OH April 3, 2013

Inspiring, but... ...I often just wear pants under my skirt in situations where I formerly would have worn just pants. Not sure why the jeans had to be tossed. (Also I assume you don't literally mean you threw them out....I hope you gave them away or something....) Reply

ruth housman marshfield, ma March 31, 2013

Other religions G-d created all of us and all religions. It is arrogance to pretend otherwise, Motherwise is that realization snd drnigration of beautiful words written around the world by non Jews is living in a bubble. Any Messiah who comes along will preach universal love and tolerance, especially humility. We do nothave the only handle on mitzvot. Reply

Chanie Hoffer hillside March 31, 2013

skirts, gardening, mitzvahs and Ruth This message is for Ruth. This article ran almost 2 years ago, you still have trouble with the author's decision to adhere to Halacha. I garden and "unearth" many things about myself in a skirt, and wear pants underneath. Bringing in different justifications for wanting to wear pants when and where you decide is foolish. A person either follows Halacha or chooses not to. That is what free choice is. Yes, following Mitzvot make us better more humble, more accepting and more spiritual people, and the process is different for us all. Please don't bring in other religions, other regions, and decry what these people do or do not. It has nothing to do with the young woman's article of her changes.
When someone needs medical advice they go to a doctor, when you need legal advice you turn to an attorney. etc etc. When you need spiritual advice, check with a COMPETENT and well learned Rov before saying what is HOLY or not, and "who speaks for G-d?" Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma March 31, 2013

at the playground I took my granddaughter to the playground today by our Ventress Library in Scituate MA. A woman, a mom, was wearing a head covering that was fairly obvious, and it seemed a kind of religious covering but not Jewish. She was a lovely person, sharing treats with other children, and all round sweet. We need to stop judging others for their dress, headcovering, lack of covering, and see the heart within. That's the pulse of what matters. Reply

Natalie London March 28, 2013

Me too! i also recently have stopped wearing pants/jeans (haven't thrown them out yet, still too attached) so i really related to this! when i started going to university, only in skirts, i was too waiting for someone to bring it up. but my group of friends were cool about it and more open minded as a result :) Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma March 19, 2013

Gardening I wear pants, more than skirts, and I think it's skirting the issue to wear pants, feeling it's what G_d is asking. I learned humility. G_d taught me, through falling, through failing, and through asking, Why is this happening to me? We all learn lessons in life. The biggest lesson is about humility is that it is independent of what we wear. It's a quality of being. I am happy for pants, because they make it easier to dig in the dirt, to plant bullbs and the seeds that will flower in their time. And so it is for all digging in the dirt, because we unearth more often than we bargained for in thinking in depth, about issues of ethics and a morality of choice. Reply

Aleah USA March 19, 2013

I respect your choice. As an Apostolic Pentecostal Christian, I adhere to most of the same standards of modesty as Jews do. Pants shows the upper legs of a woman too much and outlines other areas too much. I have noticed even the loose pants do that. Thanks for your article! It's an encouraging read! Reply

Rachel D. Philadelphia September 1, 2012

not wearing pants -Christian practice ...It's funny you were asked if you were Christian, because I am (my bf is Jewish, and I may transition), and people used to ask me if I was Jewish!

I grew up in a strict Christian home (no christmas, no easter etc. And the females had to also dress with modest apparel, no pants! Nothing above the knee (just below the knee was even pushing it!) No tank tops, low-cut tops, sleeves at least covering the elbows...no piercings only had ears pierced as a baby..
So, I wore skirts/dresses every single day to school, public and private, and boy the curiosity, comments, & questions were abundant! In high school my classmates were a little more mature and understanding...But I was always asked, "why do you always wear skirts? Are you Jewish?"
But, compared to other girls in the church, it was more straining for them because head covering was a must at all times even if not married! And wearing thick tights, and no makeup..my mom&dad did not impose that, only when attending service though Reply

Anonymous London, UK April 19, 2012

Wow! Major respect to you. You are awesome and inspiring. Reply

Esther Morozow Melbourne, Australia March 18, 2012

WOW I really admire you. You went through so much just to wear skirts! Impressive. Reply

Anonymous February 15, 2012

Pants Um... sorry to say this, but you should just have worn pants under your skirt. And pants are an awful lot more modest than a pencil skirt. Reply

Laura Swift December 30, 2011

RE: Sarah Masha, W Bloomfield, Mi/USA I totally agree with you.
I am a liberal/secular Jew and I don't wear skirts, only when I go to synagogue.
I have experienced a lot of dislike from orthodox Jews who see me as 'less-Jewish' because I don't keep kosher (too costly), I don't keep Shabbat (i have been brought up in a secular way) and i am not shomer negiah but I feel that I am just as Jewish as they are, no more or no less.
I have a Jewish mother, therefore I am Jewish. My soul belongs to G-d, my soul is Jewish. Whether I practice or not is a different matter.
I am proud to be Jewish so no matter what I wear, say, do or eat, I am still Jewish. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma April 17, 2011

mitzvahs I don't think it's a mitzvah to wear pants or not wear pants. Since G_d has provided for us all, a great diversity and beauty of clothing, I think this was intended for us to enjoy.

I don't believe that dress, meaning skirts of pants, has anything at all to do with being more holy than another, and that it has anything to do with following a love of G_d. Sadly women who are forced to wear burkahs, in Islamic countries, well, they are being forced because it is deemed holy not to expose anything, so they view the world from imposed or self imposed "imprisonment".

Many deplore this.

The big question is, when all is said and done: Who Speaks for G_d?

What is inside the human and humane heart is known very well, by G_d and a personal relationship from person to person, surely does differ. Do not judge one another as to HOLY. Do what you do, but don't think it's more of a mitzvah than someone who does not. Reply

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