Jews and Fashion – defining who we are by what we wear

Jews and Fashion – defining who we are by what we wear

By Leanne MITCHELL, Middlesex University Jewish Society.

Fashion is the essence of defining who you are. It enables you to express your individuality and create your own identity within this world.

In Orthodox Judaism, how people dress traditionally involves the concept of modesty. Different types of Jews – depending on their observance of Halacha – translate modesty in different ways, with lots of customs and traditions relating to the Talmud.

Are you viewed in the way in which you want people to view you?


There is a Jewish term –‘Tzniut’ – which is defined as modesty, dignity or privacy. This entails dressing in garments which do not show your physique and do not expose a certain percentage of your skin.

The teachings of Tzniut require Jewish women to cover their collar bones, knees and elbows as a sign of modesty and sexual privacy. Jewish women must also wear a head covering once they are married -another demonstration of sexual privacy as they are keeping their hair (considered to be erotic in Judaism) for their spouse.

Moreover, it also links to pride and dignity – a symbol of a spiritual contract of marriage and demonstrates to the community a woman’s marital status.  The concept of the head covering has been practiced for decades.

Many women wear Sheitels – or wigs. Sheitels are only a relatively recent thing however. Many women before this used to wear a Shpitzel or a Tichel – which are types of scarves. Many Jewish women still use scarves and wraps to cover their hair in favour of sheitels. Some women also wear hats.


Tzniut isn’t just for women. Men are also required to dress a certain way (not revealing too much skin) and to cover their heads as a sign of admiration to G-d. There are also many different types of clothes which Jewish men traditionally wear. The Bekishe, for example, is a long black coat worn on Jewish festivals, holidays and Shabbat. Many men also wear a Gartel –  a belt around their Bekishe.

Shtreimel – a fur hat. Credit: Dieter Philippi.

How do men cover their heads? Many men wear a Kippah, or skull cap. More religious men may also wear various hats on holy days. Some Chassidic men choose to wear a Shtreimel – a fur hat. are only worn on spiritual days such as Shabbat, festivals and special occasions.


Just because Orthodox Jews (especially women) are required to dress in this certain way, does it mean that they cannot be fashionable?

The answer is undoubtedly ‘no’. There are many Orthodox Jewish women who find colourful and unique ways to dress whilst remaining modest and, increasingly, Orthodox Jewish women all over the world are launching businesses and starting their own fashion houses!

If a Jewish woman does not dress according to tzniut, does this mean she is ‘immodest’?

Exactly how a Jewish woman chooses to dress has to do with her own individual sense of identity. For many, dressing religiously does not necessarily mean wearing a long sleeved top and a knee length skirt. Reform, Liberal, Orthodox, Masorti or Conservative Jews perceive modesty differently and, by their interpretations of Torah, these ways of dressing are fine.

For all Jews, regardless of denomination, there is an important concept of spiritual modesty involved. You have to act with modesty as well as looking modest in order to create the right perception. It is a frame of mind and, ultimately, about your personality and character.

For instance, you could be the most religious person in the world, but if you are not a nice or caring person, you are not emulating yourself in G-d’s footsteps, therefore you are not being a true and modest person. So for many non-Orthodox Jewish people, how one dresses is irrelevant to modesty, it is more important to act with dignity.

The way in which we define ourselves is the way in which we should want other people to see us. We should be proud of the way in which we look and try to strive to be like G-d by presenting ourselves in an effective and modest way. People should like you for who you are and your inner beauty, rather than your physical exterior. [divider]

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