The saying, “clothes make the man”, is not as straightforward as it looks. It suggests that only when you are dressed do you look like a real person. From this week’s sidra we see that there are various types of “real person”, and any given individual can oscillate between them.
Ex. 39:22 uses the phrase me’il ha-ephod, “robe of the ephod”, which denoted a long flowing robe. It was a formal garment made of pure blue, with the hem decorated with alternating bells and blue “pomegranates”. Blue was always regarded as a rich, important colour.
Men engaged in menial work needed a more practical garment such as a short tunic, presumably with at least one pocket to house their working tools. Some kind of under-garment could have been worn under the tunic. Garments of all kinds were a mark of identity and rank and in later times there were rabbinical robes which indicated one’s dignity. The sages even said that a talmid chacham with a spot on his clothes deserves to die.
These days rabbinical robes for synagogue wear have largely disappeared but the casual clothing that some modern rabbis adopt can go too far in the direction of informality.