Ethnic Clothes: Jewish

Figure 1.--.

Hasidic Jews have maintained their identity in many countries, although they have been influenced by local clothing styles. One HBC reader mentions the Hasidic boys of Antwerp. Their clothes are dark/black. They are the only religious/ethnic group in Belgium/Holland whose boys stand out and are immediately recognizable by their clothes. Of course also by their 'peyes'. HBC has a fascinating early image of Hasidic boys in central Asia during the early 20th century.

Clothing Items

The following information is available on clothing. Very little of the clothing is associated with the Torah. Some of the styles are based on the nobility of 18th-century Poland and other places.

Head Covering

All religious male Jews (not just Hasidim) wear somekind of head covering to cover the head in respect for God. Jews believe that covering the head reminds us that there is a Creator, a Higher Power, above our own limited minds. There is no perscribed style that must be worn. Any head covering will do, but some people like a certain style of hat to identify their group. Others simply have their own personal preferences about hats.

Many Hasidic Jews wear the same style hat. This styles is based on the styles which were worn in the part of Eastern Europe where the particular group originated, or the style that their Rebbe wore in the Old Country. In some Hasidic groups, everyone wears the exact same style, usually manufactured by one or more hat makers within their group. In other communities, the choice is up to the individual. At Breslov gatherings, for example, one sees a fascinating variety of hats, because Breslov does not have a specific "uniform." At Lubovitcher gatherings, on the other hand, the majority of men wear black fedoras, becasue that is the type of hat their late Rebbe wore.

Many ask if Hasidim wear the yarmulke to bed?" Yes, many do. (If it falls off while you're asleep, no big deal. You just put it back on when you wake up.) And many Jews -- even non-Orthodox ones -- keep a yarmulke right next to the bed, and put it on immediately upon awakening, because Jewish law (halachah) forbids a man to walk four paces with his head uncovered.

Hat Styles

Those who wear a hat usually also wear a yarmulke (skullcap) under it. They are not all Hasidim. Non-Hasidic Orthodox wear hats also, as do some non-Orthodox Jews, too. The yarmulke is less formal that the hat. It was originally an indoor hat, and a regular hat was worn over the yarmulke outside the house. Many Jews today still wear both a yarmulke and a hat. It is also common for Hasidim to wear brimmed hats inside the house and even at the dinner table. This is not considered a breach of courtesy. In fact, if you come to a Hasidic table without a head covering, you will be asked to put one on.

In some Hasidic communities, a fur hat called a streimel (SHTRAY-ml or SHTRAI-ml) is also common (like the one worn by the little cartoon guy on my divider lines in this FAQ). The streimel is usually worn on holidays and other formal dress occasions. Diffferent groups have different styles of streimels, based on Breslover Hasidim do not have a "uniform," so you will see many styles of hats at a Breslov gathering, including various steimels.

The streimel, or fur-trimmed hat, is worn at the most important holiday and ceremonial celebrations, particularly by Jews from Galicia. The wearer's wealth could be measured by the number of sable or mink tails making up the rim. The late Lubovitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, wore a plain fedora, although his predecessor, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson, wore a fur streimel. According to Lubovitch sources that I asked about this, the change in style was due to the fact that it is a Lubovitch custom that only the Rebbe wears a streimel. The late Rebbe considered his predecessor to still be his own Rebbe even after his death in 1950, so, out of respect for him, he never took the streimel for himself.

Jews of all denominations wear yarmulkes (skullcaps). The colors and patterns do not have any special religious significance, although some styles are more common in specific groups. However, those cheap satin ones provided for visitors at the entrance to a synagogue or at weddings are not usually worn by Jews in everyday life. Wearing one of those in a Hasidic community would immediately mark you as a newbie who doesn't normally wear a skullcap!

Black coloring

Black clothing is often associated with Hasidic Jews. In fact, not all Hasidim wear black--the women and children are often dressed in bright colors! And not all Jewish "men in black" are Hasidim. Some Hasidic groups do have a uniform of sorts for the men, while others do not. Male Hasidic clothing does not have to be black, but is usually a dark, conservative color. The use of black clothing on Sabbaths and holy days traces back to a time when black dye was rare and expensive, so black was reserved for formal occasions (the same as tuxedos and "black tie" events in the secular world.) The Sabbath is a time for honoring God by dressing nicely (as you would in the presence of a king), so people wore their best black coats on the Sabbath.

Everyday clothing in past centuries was more likely to be shades of brown and gray. (The American Pilgrims, by the way, didn't wear black, either, even though they are commonly pictured that way. But pure black dyes did not exist back then. The Pilgrims wore shades of brown, gray, maroon, dark greens, etc.)

A specific Jewish clothing style is not biblically required, except to cover the body for modesty, that men and women should dress differently, and the idea that Jews should maintain a recognizable identity as a people. For some Jews, that includes specific styles of clothing, and different groups have different styles. Some Jews wear traditional garb every day, others only on Sabbaths and holy days. (But religious Jews always wear a head covering, and the men and boys wear a garment with fringes every day. And, of course, they always wear beards and hair!)


There were various badges and other signs that Jews were forced to wear at various points in history, but Hasidic garb was not one of them. Halachah (Jewish law) itself says that Jews should be identifiable by appearance, and this has been the case down through the centuries. There have been a few instances in non-Hasidic Jewish history where a badge of shame was turned into a sign of pride. The best-known example is the recent popularity of the Star of David. Until the 17th century, it was not really a Jewish symbol per se, and was used by Jews and non-Jews alike as a magical symbol. Later, the six-pointed star was adopted by some Jews for gravestones in the 1700's, and for the Zionist flag in the late 1800's. It was also used on the Soncino Press's imprint and by the Rothchilds on their coat of arms. But what probably clinched it forever as a Jewish symbol was Hitler's use of it as a badge of shame during the Holocaust. Jews today have turned that completely around, and now wear the Star with pride, as a way of saying that "Jewish is beautiful."

Hair Styles

The haircut are authentically Jewish and based on the Torah. The payos (sidecurls) and beard are worn in obedience to this commandment in the Torah (Bible): You shall not round the corners of your heads, nor mar the edges of your beards. (Leviticus 19:27) The "corners of the head" are the area above the ears. "Not rounding" them means not shaving the hair there, or cutting it very short. Together, both the curls and the untrimmed beard are a symbol of obedience to the laws of God. Many Hasidic men also cut the rest of the hair very short. This is not really required, but is more comfortable under a hat. Also, some Hasidim see the entire haircut -- very short hair with beard and payos -- as part of the "uniform" of their group.

The minimum length for payos (pronounced PAY-us) is long enough that you can grab a hair and bend it towards its own root -- which comes out to be just about to the middle of the ear. But there are other opinions also, and many Hasidim wear them longer. Some men curl them carefully and let them hang conspicuously in front of the ears, while others tuck them behind the ears or up under their yarmulke (skullcap.) Again, this is a matter of style and, in some cases, personal preference.

Lubovitcher Hasidim, however, do not wear payos, except for the young boys until the beard grows in. And some non-Hasidic Orthodox wear them also, including many Sephardic and Yemenite Jews. So you really cannot tell whether or not somebody is a Hasid just because he has payos or doesn't.

A Hasidic boy begins wearing payos at age three. Before that, his hair is not cut at all, and is allowed to grow long. On his third birthday, there is a special ceremony where the hair is cut short except for the sidecurls. At this time, he also receives his first set of tzitzit (a four-cornered garment with special tassels, see next Q below). He is now no longer a baby, but a child, which is a different category with more responsibility. The hair-cutting ceremony is usually followed by a happy celebration for his family and friends.



One HBC reader mentions the Hasidic boys of Antwerp. Their clothes are dark/black. They are the only religious/ethnic group in Belgium/Holland whose boys stand out and are immediately recognizable by their clothes. Of course also by their 'peyes'.


Hasidic Judaism was founded in Poland in te 18th centuryband became an important part of the Jewish community there. Until the NAZI invasion in September 1939, Jews were an important part of the life of Poland and other eastern European countries. Some Jews assisimalted into main-stream Polish siciety. Others Jews lived apart in the rural steltls. The chidren and adulys had their own destinctive clothing and haircit styles. That culture has been wondefully documented in Children of a Vanished World, a stunning record of moments, frozen in amber, of children in the European ghettos of the 1930's, before their culture and itimately their lives were so ruthlessly destroyed.



HBC has a fascinating early image of Hasidic boys in central Asia during the early 20th century.


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Created: May 19, 2001
Last updated: 11:29 PM 6/6/2010