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? 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.”


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.