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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.

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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?

We have contact with many non-Jews. They consistently say “Yes, we know that you have a black dress code”. That’s what we are putting out there. What does this say about representing Hashem is this world? What message do we want to put out to the world? Is it a message that one should always look like they are either on the way to, or on the way back from a funeral? Or maybe we want to put out a nicer message? Is the way we are dressing putting out to the world the much needed message of joy and happiness?

So assuming that you like colorful clothing, how does it affect you when you silence your inner voice and desire to wear colorful clothing? What messages are you giving yourself when you ignore your own voice? In what other areas of life does the silencing of your voice affect you? Really think about it and let yourself feel it. Once you feel it, begin by asking yourself “What would it be like to listen to my own voice and express myself accordingly?” Would I feel freer or have more self-respect? How would it affect my children or those around me? What would the ripple effects be?

Every single one of us have revealed and latent leadership qualities. It may be leading as parents, or having friends that count on us for advice and guidance. Certainly we are leaders of ourselves. That leadership needs to come out in this area just like it comes out in so many other areas.

You know inside what is tznius and what is not. You are allowed to listen to that voice. That’s why Hashem gave it to you. The payoff for not listening to your own voice is not worth it in the long run. Even if for the time being, not listening to your own voice may have certain benefits like the feeling of belonging, in the long run it is not worth it.

In the long run, not honoring your own voice begins to erode who you are and what you have to offer in this world. That is the ultimate opposite of what Hashem wants from us. The underlying message that all women need to wear black is that we all need to be the same. It says that there is no room for diversity. I just can’t imagine that that is what we want to show the world and that that is what Hashem wants us to be like.

So I make my plea to all the women and girls to please take a deep look into what drives you to dress a certain way. Please really analyze it. You are leaders and are very very strong and powerful. If something doesn’t sit right, please consider addressing it. Things will be alright if you make some small changes. You will be followed if you do. Your children will find shidduchim and people will respect you.

Bezalel Perlman

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