During those first few weeks of this new lifestyle of semi-isolation, some folks were getting dressed for Shabbos just as if they were going to shul. I’m sure many people are still doing that so as to honor Shabbos properly, but how long can you saunter around your own home wearing a tie you selected for that precise occasion?
Personally, I have not looked at or touched a tie since this entire episode started over two months ago.
There is indeed something between a quandary and a conflict about how to dress appropriately for Shabbos or yom tov during a pandemic. Many rabbis have advised their congregants to conduct themselves as they usually do in this area of observance. That means dressing on Friday evening as if you are going out to shul, even though you don’t actually have anywhere to go.
So let’s try to analyze this. I’ve worn suit pants or dress pants and a white shirt on Shabbos and over Pesach, but sometimes while getting dressed I find myself wondering: Why am I doing this? Why not just throw on any shirt and a comfortable pair of pants and go to the part of your home or apartment where you usually daven and recite your prayers?
So far, for the most part, I have not surrendered to that idea, and I think it has been an important shift and even emotional transition from the weekday into Shabbos, though it is difficult to debate whether there is any substance to this idea.
Perhaps there might be something to the concept that “You are what you wear.” This loosely structured dress code is an important signal that the long — very long — week has drawn to a close and Shabbos is arriving.
Now let’s not be naïve; many people do not wear white shirts l’kavod Shabbos at all, and whether you do or do not may be an outgrowth of your upbringing at home or the hashkafah of the yeshiva or school you attended. As long as we are on the subject and we have all this time to ponder things that we do not usually have the presence of mind to consider, let’s look into the social implications of wearing white shirts while stuck at home.
If you are familiar with the system of how shidduchim in yeshivish circles have been working over these many years, then you know that whether a young man wears a white shirt all the time or he occasionally dons something in blue or with a faint but stylish pinstripe speaks volumes, for some reason, about the essence of the young man.
I don’t want to wander too far off topic, but over these last few years I’ve heard people whose kids are in shidduchim discuss the types of socks that some prospective male candidates for a shidduch are wearing. Apparently, socks, though perhaps on a lesser level, also seem to make a statement about a young man and his attitude and philosophies on life, if you can stretch yourself to grasp that. But that, I think, is an entirely different topic.
Related to these topics are two dry-cleaning stories that I personally observed and that made an impression on me to the point that I can recall them vividly all these years later. At least 10 or 15 years ago, I was in a dry-cleaning store on Central Avenue, waiting for my items to come off that cool conveyor belt that delivers our clothing to the front of the store where they are then handed to us.
While I was standing there, a man who was about 35 years old rushed in with one shirt over his arm. He quickly explained to the woman behind the counter that this was his Shabbos shirt, and as it was Thursday, he wanted to know if it would be possible for him to have it back the next day. The person behind the counter said that, yes, he could pick up the shirt the next day, which would be erev Shabbos. Of course, I did not say anything, as it was not my business, but I was curious about his concern because clearly this was not his only white shirt — he had entered the store wearing a white shirt.
Then it occurred to me that the young man may have had a collection of white shirts but that this one was his “Shabbos shirt.” Maybe it was a better-quality shirt, or perhaps his wife or his mother or his kids bought him that shirt especially for Shabbos. Anyway, I concluded that regardless of the details, this was the shirt that he set aside for Shabbos and he required that it be newly laundered in preparation for Shabbos.
Along those lines, years ago, when one of the dry cleaners in town ran some ads in this newspaper, I had the opportunity to speak with him about the intricacies of being a dry-cleaner in the heart of a flourishing Orthodox Jewish community here in the Five Towns.
His name was Al and he lived in Oceanside. One of the things he told me back then — I guess about ten or so years ago — was that among all his friends in the business on various parts of Long Island, he was the only one who regularly cleaned and pressed a significant number of suits, sports jackets, and dress pants. He said that, in his estimation, virtually no one dressed in suits or sports coats except for Orthodox Jews. I don’t know if that observation was accurate, but he said that people do not dress like they once did to go to work and so on.
So considering we’re stuck at home these days, especially over Shabbos, these thoughts from yesteryear are easily conjured. I mean, a man rushes into the cleaners with his white Shabbos shirt, worried that he’s late and will not have it back in time to honor Shabbos, so how can I respond to that by wearing a blue shirt or an orange T-shirt?
And Al of the cleaners from Lawrence expresses the idea that these days it is mostly religious Jews who are wearing suits and dress slacks. So what am I going to do — welcome the Shabbos queen in jogging pants? There’s no way I can do that.
Then there is the matter of the shoes that you wear at home on Shabbos. I mean, what difference does it make? After all, you are home and should have the prerogative to wear something simple and comfortable.
I’m reminded of the time long ago when I was standing with my father on the front porch of our home in Crown Heights. It was a pleasant Shabbos day, and we were enjoying the sunshine and perfect blue sky. I was a teenager at the time, about 15 or 16. At that stage you are really not a kid anymore but you are not an adult either. At the time, our family and all the families in the area, actually, wore black dress shoes on Shabbos.
I don’t know what came over me, but standing next to my dad, chitchatting about nothing in particular, I said to him, “Dad, I think I want to buy a pair of brown shoes for Shabbos.” He didn’t react and there was a brief silence, but then he just turned his head in my direction, looked at me, and didn’t say anything.
No, I wasn’t sartorially rebelling. I just plainly and simply thought that brown leather shoes would look nice with a midnight-blue Shabbos suit. Actually, his silence on the matter was brilliant. In the end, I did buy a pair of brown shoes on a Saturday night at Kings Plaza, but I never wore them on Shabbos.
So, you see, there is a great deal to consider when getting dressed for Shabbos even if it is during a pandemic and you have no place to go.
One more note related to this matter. Last week, I received an email from a woman who lives in Cedarhurst. She’s been working from home all these weeks and was not happy with the lack of social distancing on the part of her neighbors over Shabbos. She said that they had a block party of sorts, with couples fraternizing on their front lawns, bringing out food and wine, and having a virtual kiddush during this time when everyone is being urged to stay far apart from one another.
She concluded her note by saying: “I wish someone would tell my white-shirt neighbors that they should be wearing masks and not getting so close …”
I don’t know what exactly happened there, but I’m not letting anyone cast aspersions on my white shirt. I’m already thinking about this Shabbos and which shirt I’m going to wear to go nowhere. It will definitely be a white shirt — the whiter the better.
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