This article was originally published on New York Post on March 16, 2017.
Two Orthodox sisters living in Brooklyn want to break the stigma associated with dressing modestly.
Australian transplants Simi Polonsky and Chaya Chanin are the creators of fashion label The Frock NYC, which adheres to the strict dress code required in the Orthodox Jewish community — but does so with a fashionable flair.
Orthodox and Hasidic women must cover their knees, shoulders, neckline and other areas of their bodies deemed “immodest.”
“To the average person, the stereotype of an Orthodox Jewish woman and many modest-dressing women is that they’re dowdy, unattractive and frumpy,” Polonsky told The Post.
As a teen, Polonsky struggled to adhere to the dress code, prompting her to work on creative ways to cover up without crimping her personal style and forming the basis for her eventual fashion line.
“It was so uncool to dress modest. I didn’t want to be uncool, so how can we coolify being modest,” the designer told The Post.
Shternie Mangami and Zelda Volkov count themselves as big fans of the brand and praise it for making shopping easier.
“It was always hard for me to find cute clothing because of our modest restrictions, and I find that that’s what attracts everyone to them — that they’re so fun and hip and exciting,” Volkov told The Post.
While The Frock’s designs are considered demure by many standards, critics of the label argue any push towards modernity is controversial and hurts the community.
“I can’t believe that this woman in this community or these women are wearing this and promoting this, and what’s gonna happen to our children. If our daughters see this, what’s the next thing?” Chanin said of the reaction she has received from some of her peers.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson explained, “It’s a real raw-nerve type of topic. It touches the buttons.”
Controversy aside, the label has cultivated a following. The owners, who founded the business in 2010, said they started out small by dressing women in their Jewish community but now have customers all over the globe.
The designers see no conflict between their traditional dress code and free expression.
“We live in America, the country that is governed by probably the most laws that you can, and we’re known as the land of the free. So to us, having guidelines and boundaries doesn’t take away our freedom,” Polonsky told The Post.
Jacobson said even though the fashion label is controversial, he believes it is ultimately positive for the Jewish community.
“I love the idea that people are attempting to bridge the two worlds. To show that traditional Judaism is very much with the times, can be very cool, can be very hip, can be very fashionable and beautiful,” Jacobson told The Post.