On the other side of the classroom, the students had their heads together in solemn discussion. A teacher had quoted another teacher who had quoted a lecturer who had said,
“I have to wear bulletproof stockings so that my children will wear any stockings at all.”
This was profoundly world-altering. This put a new spin on an old struggle.
Stockings are uncomfortable—basically, you’re wrapping your legs tightly in plastic. There’s also a too-snug waistband digging into your stomach. (And it’s your third waistband too, after your underwear and skirt, and once you tuck in your shirt it’s getting a bit tight, and you might decide against the belt.)
Tights tear all the time. They require constant replacement. The thickest ones are too cold in the winter, the thinnest are too hot in the summer. And too thin is too untzinus, which means that for the summer you need to find thick tights that don’t look too frumpy and beige, but also don’t look too nude and immodest.
Don’t get me wrong. There are people who love wearing them. I had a roomie in seminary who wore control top nude tights even with long skirts, because it made her feel thinner and more attractive. But then again, she had self-image issues. Just to give you an idea: every night after climbing into bed she’d arrange her hair in a handheld mirror.
Anyway, we all knew, sort of vaguely, that covering the lower leg is a requirement of basic tznius. Yes, there was always someone who would claim that the Mishna Berura says knee-down coverage is not required. But we all “knew” that it’s still minhag hamakom and this is the minhag in our community*. That’s why, although tights wouldn’t be acceptable over any other part of our body, it was the ideal way to modestize our lower legs.
Tights were always a very personal, individual struggle. Is this skirt short enough to require tights? Are these tights too sheer, too nude, too thick, too dark, too light, too ugly? Were you okay presenting yourself like this in public for all the world to see? What would the Rebbetzin say if you met her on the street?
There were many things you thought about when putting on your stockings, but until now, they were mostly about yourself. This quote from the lecturer changed that. Now, one’s choice of tights were a far more grave affair. Now they were about our responsibilities to the next generation of klal Yisroel.
Did I want to wear bulletproof stockings in the summer? No, not really.
But did I want my children to be tznius? Heck yes!
I mean, Yes, of course.
It made sense. We all knew about yeridas hadoros. Every generation was just a little bit less committed than the one before. We had to set an extreme example for our children, so that when they relaxed our standards, they wound up somewhere in the middle.
There was only one problem I had with this idea:
There is zero historical evidence for it.
And certainly none of us illustrated it in the slightest.
*Arguably, minhag hamakom only applies in areas where the entire Jewish community has a single minhag, eg: Kiryas Yoel. Brooklyn does not, by definition, have a minhag hamakom. Nor can it, unless you want to consider the minhag of Jews in Brooklyn over a century ago. Minhag-ancestors is not a halachic concept.