Clothing Makes The Man – Clothing Makes The Woman
Although it is often noted that traditional Jews dress differently than members of their surrounding culture (particularly members of the Chassidic communities), there is not much written in the Torah defining a specific dress code. Most of the traditional garb often reflected the clothes that were specific to the region in which the Jews resided, with additional details dictated by different communities.
The only Torah law that specifically states the way in which one should dress is the statute that prohibits men from wearing the clothing of women (beged isha) and women from wearing the clothing of men (beged ish). While there is no reason stated in the Torah for the prohibition of wearing the clothing of the opposite gender, there was much speculation, particularly the rationale that it was intended to prevent licentious behavior.
One might ask, who defines what clothing is a man’s and what is a woman’s garment? After all, styles of dress are different throughout the world. Did the sages specifically designate what is men’s clothing and in which ways a woman may dress? According to halacha (Jewish law) , male and female garments are defined by the society in which one lives. Thus it is that a Jewish native of Scotland (male) may wear a kilt (which resembles a skirt), but a Jew who is not Scottish may not.
In the modern age of fashion, this prohibition has lead to the question of garments that are non-gender specific. Such items might include t-shirts, sweatshirts, neutral color winter coats, etc. Because the general society defines them as unisex, they are generally permitted to both genders.
There are two other important points to note when talking about fashion in Jewish life. The first is that there is a Torah prohibition of wearing any mixture of wool and linen, a combination known in Jewish tradition as shatnez. The second is that Jews are expected to “walk modestly with your God” (Micah 6:8), which is a source for the traditional rules of modest dress.