Clothes are a very important symbol in Jewish tradition. They are a mark of modesty, dignity and identity. The garments you wear generally tell a great deal about who you are.
The rule is that no-one, especially a scholar, should wear shabby and dirty clothes. Nor should one go about in ostentatious clothing or wear garments identified with less respectable elements in society (in Talmudic times, indeed, certain colours were associated with promiscuity).
Clothes also express your Jewish identity. Shatnez (a mixture of wool and linen) is amongst the forbidden mixtures enumerated by the Torah. Tzitzit are a badge of Jewishness.
A person’s clothing should include headcovering for both men and married women to show humility in the presence of God. Garments should not be skimpy or suggestive. Shoes should be worn. All this is part of the halachic pattern of Judaism.
There is another level on which clothing speaks volumes. Chassidic teaching refers to the good deeds one does as garments of the soul.
The meditation said on putting on the tallit includes the prayer, “As I cover myself with the tallit in this world, so may my soul merit to be clothed with a beautiful spiritual robe in the world to come in the Garden of Eden”.
There are also ethical garments. Eshet Chayil, recited on Friday night and on other occasions when we pay tribute to the woman of worth, declares, “Strength and majesty are her clothing”.
In a poetic sense God, too, is clothed in garments: the psalm for Fridays (Psalm 93) describes Him as robed in majesty and strength.
A modern rabbi says, “We can defile ourselves by donning a garment of dishonesty and corruption. Every person can sink to the depths of moral depravity by becoming green with envy, red with rage, yellow with cowardice, or black-hearted with cruelty. Every one of us, therefore, has the potentiality of wearing a coat of many colours” (Emanuel Levy).
There are those who say, “Who cares what you wear?”. Judaism does. Your clothing is part of you and always has been, from the moment at the beginning of human history when Adam and Eve invented dress sense and sewed garments out of fig leaves!