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Why Must Jewish Women Wear So Much Black and Gray?

Not honoring your own voice begins to erode who you are and what you have to offer in this world.


Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90

So you and your husband get stranded on a deserted island. Your clothes are tattered. Everything besides what you’re wearing is lost at sea. You need to go shopping. No one is going to see you, but of course you’re going to need to dress tzniusdik and even in the spirit of the law regarding tznius.

In the distance you see a structure. As you come closer, you see that it is a building. You walk in and lo and behold it is an abandoned women’s clothing store. Not only that, but as you look through the clothing you realize that everything there is absolutely tznius and in style. WOW! This is like Gan Eden and it’s all free.

Be totally honest, which section of the store would you go to? Would the black and white with a few shades of grey section immediately catch your eye? Would you almost not be able to contain yourself with the mere thought of the fun of matching so many different shades of black?

How surprised would you be to find yourself more attracted to the section with a diverse selection of colors? Would you start getting creative with matching different colors and trying on all sorts of different combinations or would you stick to black and white and feel like that is perfect and a true reflection of yourself and your taste?

My hunch is that the majority of women would choose to look at all the different colors and try on numerous creative outfits until they find what they feel really suits them and fits their personality. I do also think that some women would go to the black and white and some shades of gray section. Not because they feel like they have to go there, but because they really like it. That is more than perfectly fine. But again, for most women I believe they would go to the colorful section.

So now I ask you; what section do you go to in the store when you go clothing shopping? Don’t answer that, but do ask yourself which sections you pass up that you really want to go to. So why are you going to the black and white with a few shades of gray section?

My wife tells me that black makes people look slimmer. Is that the reason? I can hear it, but I don’t think that’s the prevalent reason. Is it because of a tznius issue? I don’t think so. Unfortunately, my hypothesis is that you go to that section because everyone else is going to that section. If you were to go to the colorful section, you would stick out and not be part of the system any more. It has gotten to a point where many women have been doing this for so long that they can no longer even get in touch with the part of themselves that wants to wear something colorful.

Hashem created such a beautiful world. The Gemara says there is no artist like Hashem. Look at the way Hashem chose to express Himself in the world. It is so vibrant and full of color. Look at the trees, the animals and the birds. There is nothing more exotic, diverse and stunning. Even when creating people, Hashem was so colorful and creative. Every single person was created different with different tastes and personalities. Women were created with a sense for beauty and aesthetics. Men only get as far as feebly attempting to match a tie to their suit.

When you buy flowers for Shabbos, do you buy black and white flowers with some grey ferns? How would you sensitively tell your husband that the next time he buys you black and white flowers, he’s doing all the cooking for Shabbos? What colors do you choose for bar mitzvahs or weddings? How about furniture and carpets? How did you dress your daughter before she began dressing in black?

What made you switch from pinks and purples to dressing her in black on black with black shoes? Do you connect more to the joy of dressing her at a young age or to the way you have to dress her in 6th grade? It is truly amazing that wherever you turn, you’re choosing all different types of colors, but when it comes to clothing, your taste suddenly changes to black and white with a few shades of gray. Does this bother you?

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82 Responses to “Why Must Jewish Women Wear So Much Black and Gray?”

  1. Chava Canales says:

    Wonderful article from a woman who wears mostly all colors. Thank you!

  2. Sandra Swerdlov says:

    that's why I won't wear like this ;-)

  3. I agree that we all must wear nice colors as it was HaShem's that created the Rainbow with all the colors … so why use only two??

  4. Didn't read the article yet, but I happen to be seeing more color lately. Hopefully the trend will be getting more colorful :)

  5. Bill Kushner says:

    what concerns me most is that i believe that most of the ladies wearing only black and grey are just doing it because everyone else is doing it. In other words there really is no philosophy to it whatsoever. The herd mentality is dangerous to our spiritual health. at least thats my opinion

  6. It’s really none of your business what they choose to wear.

  7. Aviva Fort says:

    I'm a metalhead and I like frikkin' black – and anyway, men shouldn't really be talking about other women's clothes :Pppp

  8. Aviva Fort says:

    Yochana Chava Sandler fine ok 100% but this stuff is for a woman to write about – not a dude….anyway many frum women around here dress like colorful hippies

  9. Yochana Chava Sandler says:

    around where? are you in Nachlaot? or Tzfat? I was in Brooklyn walking down the street with 3 friends (ok you might call them hippy-ish) and some frum girl came over to us and said- are you from Israel? we were like huh? why? she said bcs you are wearing colors! made me sad.

  10. Yasa Leah Borensztejn says:

    Colorful hippie, yup that's me!

  11. There was a Rav who said that the reason we have techeilet in tzitzit is that color provokes passions and feelings, and so we're supposed to feel passionate about mitzvot. I believe it's the same with tzniut. If you love black and gray and they reflect who you really are, then that's fine, but if you're just wearing those because it's the "uniform," then you are violating the spirit of tzniut. I love black, but I also love colors (I hate gray), and I love that I'm not wearing a "uniform."

  12. Yosef Zamler says:

    They do it to dress modestly

  13. Josh Becker says:

    "Every single person was created different with different tastes and personalities. Women were created with a sense for beauty and aesthetics. Men only get as far as feebly attempting to match a tie to their suit."
    Wow. thanks for letting us know the "different personalties" of genders in a nice little nutshell of a generalization.
    "You will be followed if you do. Your children will find shidduchim and people will respect you." Wow.
    While I (obviosuly) agree with the point of this article, it's really something that this point even HAD to be made. This article has amused me. Thanks for that.

  14. Sarah Thien says:

    Is black supposed to be more modest than other colors? I thought it was about fit and amount of skin showing

  15. Aliza Feinstein says:

    Black is beautiful

  16. Shira Chana Fichtenbaum says:

    It is said black is a color of humility ….being humble ….

  17. Yael Tesler says:

    supposedly attracts less attention than bright colors

  18. Josh Becker there are way too many things wrong with this article

  19. Arnie, you're awesome. I'm missing Ester Nechama. I can almost picture what her reaction would be to this article and your words.

  20. Robin Hirsch says:

    I think its all coordination. The men wear black and white only. Also everything matches black and white. But seriously the ultra frum do it to not draw attention but young women wear all different colors especially at chassunahs

  21. Rachel Margolin says:

    imagine what could be accomplished in the world if just a fraction of the energy spent obsessing about what women wear was spent on something important

  22. NewAge Hasid says:

    Once you go black you never go back…

  23. I wear colors, but I respect that others don’t. if its their choice to do so, why be devisive and cause it. your own voice begins to erode? Some women who are so modest, are very very creative in other ways. did you really need to write about something? Think of something else more useful.

  24. Black is also the most slimming color, the most versatile color, the easiest color, etc. And it's the best backdrop for great jewelry. But if you're going to wear it, do it because you love it for any of the above reasons, not just because it's the "uniform."

  25. Leta Lenik says:

    I am a former fashion coordinator for fashion shows and I have a lot to say about this. Women wear black because they think it makes them look thinner. That's really it. Of all colors, traditionally, black was viewed as a wealthy person's color. It took a lot of expensive dye to get clothing black and only the wealthy could afford it.
    Black only absorbs light. It has no reflective qualities and does absolutely nothing for your complexion. It also has a very flat look in pictures and can actually make you look wider. Wearing a color, which complements your skin, at least next to your face, makes you look better. We all know which colors we feel and look better in. In fashion, wearing a flattering color is the difference between someone saying "You look great!" as opposed to "I love your outfit."

  26. I love wearing black. And gray. But I also love various shades of blue, green, purple, darker pinks… I enjoy most colors. I have no use for International Orange, however.

  27. Aliza Feinstein says:

    Did you ever see Casablanca? Remember that scene in the shuk where she wears that stunning black and white ensemble with a hat? I liked it.

  28. Aliza Feinstein says:

    Not to be sexist, but I think the article was written by a man. I don't know about any other women, but when I look in the mirror, I don't think, "does this make a statement?" I think, " do I look decent? good, I gotta go, wait-is that a stain on my dress? Oh good I'm wearing black, nothing shows up on black."

  29. Rachel Lamb says:

    Black does not truly make us look thinner. Black is cheap and easy alternative for designers to produce for the masses. Your wife Rivka Malka Perlman mentioned mentioned Carol Tuttle of Dressing Your Truth. She also mentioned that even though she never took the course that she us a Type 3 "Rich,dynamic,textured" I suggest everyone got to http://www.dressingyourtruth.com and find out more and look into the free assessment

  30. Yonina Hofman says:

    Unfortunately the herd mentality that you speak of is extremely prevalent in the charedi community where the all black and dark colored wardrobe is being worn. So it is essentially a vicious cycle. The all black phenomenon is not something you see in the modern orthodox world. You see lots and lots of color.

  31. Yisrael Edward Cohen says:

    Nice article, but I do take issue with one thing…. I take my appearance seriously as well. As do many of my male friends. We match shirts, ties, pants, shoes, etc. Just like woman women are told colors are bad, so too men in that society must wear a white shirt and black suit, along with a hat. I used to dress like that. I eventually got sick of the monotony. I like colors, I like trying different combinations, and so do many other guys I know

  32. Libbat Shaham says:

    Why must Jewish men wear so much black and white?

  33. Lisa Kamins says:

    I also asked a rebbiten, who is also a widow from a tzaddik, she told me that the black is all about mourning the destruction of the Beit Hamigdash. now, many years ago the Gadoley HaDor saw that the women wearing just black was a problem, men are visual and it is important to keep one's husband interested, and keep him from wandering, so they gave a p'sak that women should dress in colors. I am all for dressing in colors, and colors can be perfectly tznuah. thanks for the article.

  34. Jodi Sugar says:

    I'm an artist, black makes me look sick and I almost never wear it. I own one black skirt. One time I was in downtown Chicago and a bunch of Bais yakov looking girls were all wearing black and NOT smiling while they were riding one of those four people bikes. They looked like they were coming or going to a funeral! And I think that's a chillul Hashem. We are supposed to be the LIGHT unto the nations. Maybe if it was still WW2 we could all wear black. But we should be past that. And if you have your colors done when people wear all black to make themselves look thinner it makes them look fatter.

  35. Esther Cohen says:

    right on sugarpie!

  36. Ettah Bienenstock says:

    I wear colors

  37. Lisa Rosendorn says:

    Colors r the new "in" here. Finally!!! Even in Lakewood, i heard.

  38. Shifra Bader says:

    I am totally with you, even though not an artist, but a lover of color!

  39. Hana Bashe says:

    LOVE colors. I always feel so self-conscious when I wear black and grey.

  40. What do you say about all the OTD people?

  41. Mark Trencher says:

    Short version: of article: Their individuality has been squashed.

  42. Fern Sanders says:

    Bottom line is that these women think that it is slimming. Nothing at all to do with being tzniusdik. Black is not a Jewish colour of mourning-we have no colours of mourning. This trend seems to have originated in the U.S. Hareidi women who originated in Israel wear colours.

  43. Aliza Feinstein Of course it was black and white. Casablanca was a black and white film. That doesn't say anything about black and white clothing vs. color.

  44. Is wearing a uniform different from wearing what's trendy?

  45. My daughter and I are out-of-towners . . I mean W-A-A-Y out-of-towners. When we went shopping in Brooklyn, we found the limited palette you describe: a little khaki, pink, and pastel blue for summer; everything else black, gray, and navy. Our yeshivishe brothers and sisters explained that it is immodest for women [or men] to call attention to themselves. Red calls the loudest, and is absolutely verboten. OK: when in Boro Park, we abide by Boro Park norms. But JEWISH CHIAROSCURO DOES SEEM TO BE A RECENT INNOVATION. Photos of the gedolei ha'dor of the 40s, 50s, and 60s show them in green suits, brown suits, blue suits; and patterned sweaters; and photos of mid-century testimonial dinners show women in purple, yellow, and rose. WHAT CHANGED? WHY?

  46. Perhaps when your family has a history of persecution, you don't want to stand out like a sore thumb? Maybe you are humble and don't want to look like a loud, but colorful peacock? I'm not saying they shouldn't wear color, but it's their choice. In America, we have millions of peacocks. We even have pastors prancing around on stage in pastel suits and snake-skin shoes squawking like a peacock desperate to find a mate. Some people consider fashion an art, but it's a shallow art. There are better, more concise ways to express yourself without being a peacock. Not that a little color isn't alright. And besides, if I was living in Israel or any other place with a lot of sun, I'd avoid black. I'd probably wear a lot of khaki. I believe clothing serves more of a function than fashion though. Jewish people are humble, and seeing as how humility is a rare thing today in America, I welcome humility as a form of self-expression, and I wish more Americans, especially ones like Kanye West, would practice that form of self-expression. He could be draped in a rainbow flag and I wouldn't care…it's the loud squawking that comes from colorful people that bothers me.

  47. Lais Sa Barretto Pfitzenreiter says:

    Black is my favorite color! Maybe the 25 years in N Y made it happen!,,,,

  48. Myriam Obadia says:

    I love colors. I feel like I'm thanking him when I chose which color/colors to wear each day. I don't think I offend tsniut, because the clothes I wear are always modestly cut, so I freely celebrate the beauty of the world G-d made by wearing colorful outfits and hats. Actually, the lower I feel, the brighter the outfit: it lifts my spirit and reminds me what a blessing it is that I finally get to live in Israel. BTW, no one, in my rather religious neighborhood has ever made me an unkind comment about the way I dress.

  49. Yeremiahu Rueben Yonteff says:

    Its no more complicated than a tnius issue. Men wear these colors for the same reason and many communities arent so machmir in regards to color. However i must say i have never never found anyone lacking in beauty do to tnius dress. Quite the reverse, as they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder so if someone finds themselves judging others this way it is a reflection of themselves and a sign that their midos may need a make over rather than the subject of their vision.

  50. Myriam Obadia says:

    *wear the same styles

  51. Pearl Fisch says:

    Wearing black or grey does not make you more religious its what's in the heart that counts.

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