Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Frum and Fabulous: The Stereotypical "Shell" Look

Most of the time, dressing tzniusly just looks like a woman who works in an office. Unless you want to go with the seminary look. (The seminary look for fall and spring adds a hoodie, preferably from Stern.)

But there is one look that just screams frum girl: when you're obviously wearing a shell.

A shell is a plain, usually fitted, shirt worn under other shirts to allow them to conform to the rules of tznius. Shells are usually obvious as shells. They come in many colors and sleeve lengths, and they are underutilized as "real" shirts. (If you want to wear a shell as your outermost shirt, make sure to layer a tank top or something underneath it because shells are often thin and somewhat see-though. They also like to hug every "curve" in an unflattering way, sometimes even when worn with an undershirt.) Shells are usually used in neutral colors, such as white, black, gray, and off-white. 

I suggest owning several black and white-ish shells because you will use them the most. I prefer 3/4 length shells because I hate having long sleeves feel "in the way." Similarly, I like my shells to be very fitted so that they don't bunch under the shirt or feel bulky. I have found shells, especially long-sleeve shells, at Nordstrom Rack pretty frequently on the clearance rack for under $10 each. However, I prefer Kosher Casual shells because they're the right fit for what I want.

This might be the frummiest outfit I own. Black pencil skirt from Nordstrom Rack, off-white shell from Kosher Casual, and blue untznius shirt from Nordstrom Rack. I thought my shirt was pretty secular-fashionable until I passed a mom wearing it in Brooklyn. While I was wearing mine too, of course. Awk-ward. 


Now that I live in New York City (but still feel like a country mouse), I like playing "Jew or Not Jew" when I see women walking towards me in skirts. It's the subtle hints: hats with "too much" hair under them for secular standards, tichels of course, hair that might be a sheitel, and particular kinds of clothing. An outfit like the above (or any other secularly-"normal" shirt with an obvious shell) is almost always someone who appears up close to be an orthodox Jewish woman. Personally, I know it's an easy (lazy?) go-to outfit. Neutral skirt, neutral shell, add whatever shirt you grab. Easy peasy, and still very presentable.

21 comments:

  1. I've fought the shell look but finally had to give in when I needed to look nice for our shuls annual dinner and all of my nice modest dresses were dirty. Had to make do with my old high school homecoming dress and a black shell. It felt weird to be so outwardly frum.

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  2. I am a shell-collecting fiend. I was going to add "several gray shells" to your list of recommend...but then I felt like also saying "and navy, and brown..." Shells work wonders under dresses, and they save the BT or convert LOADS of money when they first start dressing according to tznius. Slightly low-cut t-shirt? Sleevless, but long-skirted dress? No problem! I totally agree, the black pencil skirt as well as the jean skirt are a must have if you don't want to spend every morning tearing your hair out.

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  3. I get yelled at by my observant/MO friend for wearing shells. Se said it was too frummy looking. I got so self-conscious, I stopped wearing them. So instead, I invested in a few cardigans. It's fine, but I'm still a little bitter. I actually like the shell look.

    (Shira Chana Freedman)

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  4. Hahaha now that I'm aware of how frum women dress, I am constantly playing "Jew or Not Jew" when I see women out in about in my neighborhood (in Boston, with a sizable frum community located about five minutes up the road). Basically, if I see you out in a long skirt these days, I first shiver and then go "yup, she's Jewish!" Bonus points if I notice tights, a headband for her fall, and her kids with her (hardest to tell when all the kids are young/babies and girls - the boys obviously stand out with their yarmulkes and peyos).

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  5. I totally love this outfit -- but ESPECIALLY the glasses. Those are AMAZING glasses. I wish I was bold enough to buy something like that, I always stick with black or navy glasses :p

    -Katherine

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  6. Also great for when people send you non tznuis clothes. I wear shells so I can still wear some of my pre-tznuis clothes which does save money :)

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  7. I guess I've been wearing shells for years but never really considered them shells. I'm just cold.

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  8. funny thing--I have always worn "shells'. Of course I always just called them shirts. But I never was the type to like bulk winter clothing so I always layer my summer shirts with a long shirt underneath. It was like my "signature" style... until now. Now I just fit in. Go figure.

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  9. You can get colored shells now too! i'm branching out with hot pink and maroon.

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    1. Everything you said, I would have also said.

      I also would suggest The Tznius Handbook by Rabbi Falk, Shlita.

      I'm so glad that there are others who agree with me. Thank you, marnina.

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  11. The shell is actually very immodest when worn as is.

    http://modestjewishclothing.blogspot.com/2011/12/are-layering-shells-kosher.html

    You can get kosher shells here, http://modestanytime.com

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  12. Could you or someone please explain this shell look to me? I often see Jewish girls wearing a white shell under a fancy dress for special occasions. If the goal is modesty why not coordinate the shirt to the dress and make it blend in a little more? Or wear a matching bolero or something? Wearing a white shell with a teal and sequined dress looks strange and "obvious" to me. As if you're bragging about your "modesty" rather than simply being modest. Furthermore, why are the shells always so tight? They may cover the skin, but doesn't leave much to the imagination, so it's more of a nod to modesty than real modesty, I think. (Plus white highlights upper arm fat something awful) I'm really not judging, I'm just honestly very curious about the idea of tznius!

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    1. I can't really explain it. It just is, and I think a lot of it is laziness. White or black shells can go with anything. Sweaters are here and there (I like them), but not all that common. I can't explain it, but I think we're trending toward more "normal" pairings. I don't think it's bragging at all. I think it's just what people normally wear when they aren't thinking about it. I am very cognizant of matching, but I don't think most people are, so perhaps I shouldn't call it laziness.

      As for tightness, I blame the brand Kiki Riki more than anything. I call them sausage casings. But for some reason, most shells are made very tight, probably to prevent slipping around and bunching up. Except once you have some weight on you, that sausage casing will undoubtedly ride up. I like Old Navy, Nordstrom, and Kosher Casual for plain shirts/shells because they fit like normal shirts. Then I'm just layering, not really wearing a shell, and the shells can double as regular shirts, doubling the use! Again, I'm weird and self-conscious about my weight so you won't catch me in sausage casings, though I do own some Kiki Rikis.

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    2. Thank you for your reply. I've been hearing a lot about Yeshiva girls competing to be the most modest, which is maybe why I thought the bright white shell seemed to be purposefully calling attention to one's modesty. It certainly calling attention to the contrast between the colorful fancy dress and the bright white shell in any case. Maybe this is just such a common practice among Orthodox ladies nowadays that they don't consider this look normal and not "mismatching." Like I said, I'm not Jewish, but when I feel like a dress I planned to wear shows more skin than I thought, I will try to cover up with something that blends in with the dress color (black cami under a black dress I didn't realize was so low cut, for example) so as not to call attention to the lack of coverage provided by the main garment.
      Also I hope you weren't thinking I was calling your arms fat! I wasn't even looking at them (and I don't think they are)! I'm just sensitive about my own upper arms. I am 5'5" and 100lbs and those kind of tight stretchy shirts bunch up on me and make me look like a sausage.
      Thank you again for your thoughts.

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  13. Shells are not tznius in my opinion. The lycra material was designed for dancers to cling to their bodies.

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  14. Jew or Non-Jew, how horrible of a "game". I dont know if you are aware, but many orthodox people don't keep to the specific standards you do in dress!! Plenty of orthodox jewish women wear pants... Get real!
    Also most Jewish people don't dress like that at all and you may write them off as non-Jew... what horrible assumptions....

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  15. Shells are the ugliest thing I have ever seen, If you want to return a perfect good shirt or beautiful evening dress, put a shell under it. Invest a little more and get something that is already tsenoua and not layer it. It looks so frummy, not put together. Gd, just awful.

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  16. Love love love shells. I don't understand the negative comments. If you don't like the look that's fine. We sell them like crazy. I hope it's ok to post the link. http://www.KeepItModest.com/Layering-Tees

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  17. I lOVE SHELLS! I'm not Orthodox, I'm a Noahide, but I still love them. I dress tsnuit all the time! ♥

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