September 28, 2023
September 28, 2023

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

How Did You Come Up with Modest Swim Wear?

“The actual idea is from God,” I explain. Night after night, for several consecutive nights, I saw myself wearing one in the ocean. I saw the actual style and color down to the finest detail. I am sure it may sound unreal, but it was very real in my dream. I dismissed the dream. “I have no time for this,” I thought. At the time I was working as a freelance designer for a company creating curtains and bedding for home fashions. My children were still quite young. I recounted the dream to my husband Moshe. He swiftly encouraged me to go ahead and make it. He said, “Do not take such dreams lightly.”

Many years ago, before my father passed on, he said to me, “One day you will create a design that will be very successful and it will be very useful to many people.” I dismissed it at the time as I thought all fathers think so highly of their daughters.

My personal journey towards modesty began ten years ago when I was working as a children’s wear designer in the famous 112 West 34th Street building in New York City. On my lunch break, I would go down to what was then Woolworth’s and look for ideas to make my appliques and embroideries by viewing gift wrapping and greeting cards. As I looked over the greeting card section, an elderly woman came over to me and said: “You look like a nice Jewish girl; can you help me pick out a nice bat mitzvah card?” I looked at what I was wearing and wondered how she figured I was Jewish. I was wearing a tight pair of jeans with a not so modest top and I had long hair that was permed. Most people took me for an Indian or Spanish girl. It had not bothered me that they did so either. Somehow on that day, what she said made me wonder, “Is this how a nice Jewish girl dresses?” I helped her pick out a card and she thanked me profusely. I should have thanked her profusely, for here began my journey back to becoming a nice Jewish girl.

For some time after I pondered, what defines modesty? The word modesty or tzniut in Hebrew means many different things to many people. Most people refer to modesty as discretion in dress. Some say it means to be humble. Others say, modesty is just as important in speech and behavior as it is in dress codes. I believe it is all of the above.

I did some basic research at the library of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). I looked into what women wore in the days when modesty did matter to the vast majority of women in society. I particularly researched what the dress codes were for the Jewish women throughout the centuries. It was most fascinating.

For most of the centuries, Jewish women and women in general dressed in a very refined manner, following the standards dictated to them by then-current designers. Modesty was a non-issue as contemporary fashion was relatively modest. However, in the 1960s and thereafter, “ready-to-wear” became most immodest. What happened to the Jewish woman? Well, she continued to follow the standards of her day; however, she was now at odds with who she was and with her values as a Jew.

I remember thinking, “Well, the only modest clothing that exists today is in Boro Park, New York.” But that was not the look I was searching for. I began the painstaking task of shopping in popular department stores for pieces of fashion here and there. I then proceeded to “modest-ify” them by adding fabric to a short skirt or a sweater to a dress that revealed too much. It was not easy but definitely “doable.”

The concept of the hair covering for me was most natural as a complement to wearing skirts and dresses. As a youngster, I was accustomed to drawing my fashion models with hats and hair coverings and, as such, it was a no-brainer for me to wear one.

My most difficult challenge when dressing modestly was with swimwear. I was an avid swimmer, and giving that up was not an option. As a graduate of FIT, I was always immersed in the field of design. I was growing in the observance of mitzvoth and yet could not imagine giving up swimming as I loved the water so much! Because I needed an appropriate bathing suit and there was no modest swimwear in the market I was drawn to a search for a garment that could be worn in water, and look modest and yet fashionable. Above all, the long cotton T-shirts worn for swimming did not perform well in water; they were nothing short of big sponges.

I went back to FIT and researched swimwear at the library. That marked the beginning of the most fascinating research I had done thus far. I could not believe my eyes. The research showed that in the early 1900s women wore their petticoats into the water. The men would ride the wagon all the way up to the shorefront, the women would then undress inside the wagon down to their petticoats and shirts, which they wore underneath their long dresses, then enter the water. They would take a swim or a dip then go back into their wagons and head home. The drawings showed the women drooping in their petticoats, soaking wet with water, which, I believe, was most uncomfortable and certainly not pragmatic.

Among the first swimsuits designed back then, wool was incorporated as fabric of choice. I could not believe what I was reading. As time progressed, in the late 1940s and 1950s synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon hit the market. Swimwear soon became highly immodest for its day. It consisted of a top with an attached skirt, albeit mini. The women wore the most adorable swim caps made of rubber on their heads. As spandex hit the swimwear market, fashion continued to evolve and now swimwear became increasingly revealing. I could not believe that with the advent of swimwear fabrics, modesty was disappearing from ladies’ swimwear fashions.

I now knew I had a genuine mission to fill: to bring back modest swimwear fashion to women who truly needed it. I now realized that modest swimwear can only work if it incorporates the correct fabrics with the correct cut and fashion. (To view some of our research, do visit our showroom in Brooklyn, NY.)

Finally, I decided to go ahead and design one for myself. As an FIT student I was taught to design fashion for women by accentuating all parts that are feminine. How ironic that today I do the very opposite, which is to shed light away from all feminine parts yet allow the fashion to remain most feminine. Not so easy! I went to the fabric stores in NYC and purchased some swimwear fabric yardages. I took it to a local pattern maker along with my sketches and showed her what designs to produce, based on the original dream that I’d had.

The first time I wore my own creation was at the Belle Harbor Beach in Queens, New York. Several women came up to me and asked from where I had purchased the swim dress. I then told them, “I recently started designing and selling them.” I gave them my phone number as I did not even have a business card or a website or a production line. Upon taking orders from them and from various stores In the New York area, I began to produce them at a factory. The rest is history. As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of all invention.” With God as my partner, I knew I was bound for success!

When I first designed my line of Aqua Modesta swimwear, I did it mainly because I needed one. As time went by, I realized how necessary modest swimwear was. Jewish women today are seeking to grow religiously, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. They are bright, fit, fashionable, and have much savoir faire (know-how). Baruch Hashem, I have been truly blessed to meet so many wonderful women and girls because of the creation of this line.

Regine Tessone is the founder and head designer of Aqua Modesta® Swimwear.

By Regine Tessone

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