My mother and I are presently having an issue about tznius. I wear long skirts and when skirts are just past the knee or a little longer, I wear pants underneath. I also prefer to wear long sleeves rather than 3/4 sleeves, and I generally do not wear red. My mother thinks that all this is unnecessary, and won't let me out of the house in more than two layers during the summer, although I never get overheated. If I feel that dressing this way is essential to my Judiasm, do I have to listen to my mother?
The clash between two values, in this case modesty versus the honor due to a parent, is always complex. You ask an excellent question, and clearly care a great deal about both of the mitzvos involved here. There is general guidance for determining which halachik value takes precedence. Namely: the Gemara in Kiddushin states that when a parent asks a child to violate one of Hashem's commandments, that the child's primary loyalty is to the mitzvah and they should not accede to the parental request. However, the mitzvah to honor one's parents is taken with great seriousness, and Jewish law also goes to great lengths to maintain peace in the home and avoid hurt feelings in general and parental feelings especially.
The fact that the topic in question is tznius (modesty) makes things even a bit more complicated, as there are multiple aspects to this mitzvah. First, the mitzvah has both an objective as well as a subjective element to it. As an example of objective immodesty, the Gemara states (Berachos 24A) that a woman’s thigh is considered to be an area that must be covered. There is some debate as to whether this applies below the knee, and the Mishneh Berurah rules (Orach Chaim 75, note 2) that it is not necessary to cover below the knee. However, the Mishneh Berurah notes subjective tznius factors as well, including local custom. Thus there are parts of the body such as the upper thigh and chest that must be covered in public no matter where one lives and what the circumstances are, while others such as below the knee and sleeve length often depend on circumstance.
It is critical to note as well that modesty refers to a great deal more than length of fabric, as its fundamental focus is upon not making oneself an unnecessary center of attention. One should look at the style of the clothing - is it tight and flashy or more quiet and unassuming? Dress is only one dimension of modesty: tznius also very much applies to behavior and speech. Does one act and speak in a way that draws attention without cause?
One of the first steps that the great Poskim (halachik deciders) utilize in such conflicts of values is to consider whether there is a way to frame the situation that the values need not be in conflict in the first place. To wit, are you actually being asked by your mother to violate the mitzvah of tznius? Is she requiring you to wear shorts or tank tops during the summer? Many women who are meticulous about the mitzvah of modesty and live in warm climates wear lightweight fabrics that cover their bodies without being overly uncomfortable in hot weather and find that one or two layers is quite sufficient. Might there be solutions that would allow you to adhere to your values of dressing modestly while allaying your mother's apparent concern about your well-being? If you are able to have a conversation with her in which you let her know that you care about her concerns and would like to try and find a way to respect them, she may have ideas that are acceptable to you. By asking the question in a respectful way, you will also be demonstrating the idea that "the ways of [the Torah] are pleasant" and will be fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying Hashem’s name) at the same time that you fulfill the mitzvah of honoring your parent.
Assuming that you are new to the Orthodox life, I think your mother is correct; honoring her wishes is certainly one of the most important precepts—especially since she does not mind you dressing like a Modern Orthodox young woman. Your mother has every right to make this demand since you are already acting in accordance with Jewish tradition and law.
Modesty is really more about a state of mind than it is anything else. Being “modest,” is an important value in our tradition. Perhaps the most famous passage regarding modesty comes from the prophet Micah 6:8, which reads:
You have been told, O man, what is good,
and what the LORD requires of you:
Only to do right and to love goodness,
and to walk modestly with your God.
The traditions of tsiniut (modesty) really vary from community to community. What one community considers “modest,” is considered “immodest” by another. For example, a couple of years ago in Israel, there were some Haredi rabbis who complained about a dress shop’s display of naked mannequins! I can assure you there are no laws of tsniut governing mannequins!
I would be willing to bet you a cappuccino at Starbucks that you probably would not mind seeing your picture in a high school yearbook or in the local newspaper in honor of your accomplishments or charitable work with the indigent of your community, right? However, if you are a woman living in Jerusalem, the pious rabbis would consider your picture as a breach of tsniut! Even Secretary Hillary Clinton has recently blasted Israel for allowing the Haredi rabbis to discriminate against women in their country.
Here are some other examples to consider:
· In Sephardic countries, even young girls used to cover their hair because it was (and still is in many parts of the Muslim world), for young girls to appear “immodestly dressed.” Some ladies in Jerusalem have upset even the most pious of rabbis by wearing a burka, only exposing their eyes. However, as the great Sephardic scholar Ben Ish Chai explains, the custom of head coverings was rejected by the women of Europe.
· Some Halachic scholars argue that a little bit of exposed hair presents no Halachic problem. Many Modern Orthodox women will not cover their hair once they are married; those who do cover their hair, don’t mind letting large portions of their hair show underneath a hat. Now in other communities like in Me’ah Sha’arim in Jerusalem, that would be the height of immodesty.
· Another perennial question regarding tsniut is the matter whether or not women may sing in a public event; once again, there are ample precedents that permit women to sing—but others would regard this position as “immodest.”
· Women are routinely assaulted by the Haredim in Israel for not sitting at the “back of the bus,” and that their failure to do so is because of an alleged lack of tsniut.
The message becomes even more painfully clear to Jewish women all over the world. The Ultra-Orthodox do not want women to be seen or heard. Some communities insist that women walk on opposite sides of the street, or that they not attend a store whenever there are men inside shopping. As you can see, tsniut has become almost a national obsession for the Haredi, Hassidic, and Right-Wing Zionists.
As you can see, there is no limit how modest one wishes to be. Unfortunately, the issue today regarding tsniut has become more of a political issue than a halachic issue--and this self-righteous attitude is threatening to unravel Israeli society in a way that Israel's enemies could never hope to accomplish on their own.
The bottom line, look inwardly into your soul, and you will realize what true modesty really is. Modesty is never pretentious; a modest person is not interested in merely “looking” modest, but is truly modest—she’s the real deal and not an imitation. 
One last note, I have noticed that some young women do wear dresses over pants; I am told by some of the young teenage girls in my Shul, that this is considered fashionable.
 He writes further, “Look at the women of Europe, whose custom is not to hide themselves from strangers. Nonetheless, their clothes are orderly; they do not reveal their bodies except only their faces, necks, hands, and heads. It is true that their hair is uncovered and this custom of theirs is not possible according to our laws. But, they have one justification They say, “Yet still, this custom (of having their hair uncovered) was accepted by all their women – both Jewish and Gentile – to walk about with their hair uncovered is no different than revealing of their faces. It does not cause sexual thoughts in men when they see it with their eyes.” These are their words which they answer for this custom and we do not have an answer to reject this answer of theirs”( Ben Ish Chai, Rav Pealim helek 4 Kuntras Sod Yesharim #5).
 There is a fascinating psychological concept in Halacha known as מחזי כיוהרא (mechzei k'yuhara), i.e., public religious actions that give an appearance of excessive piety). For example, the Mishnah Berurah mentions the practice of one individual who used to publicly put on Rabbanu Tam’s Tefillon as a show of his excessive piety. Such behavior is considered ostentatious and inappropriate (O.H. 34 MB 16, cf. O.H. 652:6).
One of the Ten Commandments is generally translated, “Honor your father and mother”. The Hebrew root is KVD, is most often translated as “honor” Kavod has come to mean honor or honorable. But an alternative translation could be “give weight”, so as to give weight to the teachings of your parents. One neither should nor can honor parents who are dishonorable. But their teaching should always be weighed in light of one’s own feelings and opinions. Your mother has certain beliefs with which you might not agree. Obviously you have been influenced by those who demand a more traditional practice than that of your family. But KVD also has the meaning of “respect”. It is your responsibility to listen to all voices, but owe your parents the respect that they have earned. Your mother feels that your health and physical comfort are paramount. The multi layered clothing in the heat of the summer might give you psychic comfort, but does it truly afford you physical comfort? We are enjoined from afflicting our bodies. For whom and for what are you demanding the extra layers? The modesty is for those who see you to know your practice. The number of layers could be merely “gilding the lily”. Seek your true heart and note that extremes on either side can potentially become counter-productive.
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