Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wearing Jeans

A recent article in the YU Beacon about males wearing jeans caught my interest. The article interviews guys in Yeshiva College, some of whom wear jeans, some of whom do not, and asks each the reasoning behind their choice. It continues to interview Stern College students who for the most part express the fact that they would not date a guy who wears jeans. I found the article insightful and well-written, and underlying the article is the following question:

On the one hand, it is not the external clothes that a person wears that matters (as long as the person is Tznius and keeping Halacha), it is the internal, who a person is, that really matters. Yet, on the other hand, clothes clearly do signify some level of religious observance, as is clear by the fact that a Chassidish men and women do not dress the same as a non-Jewish men and women. Then there is all the nuance of dress in between, not just for women, but for men as well. A while ago I wrote about Kippot. Perhaps it shouldn’t matter what type of Kippah a guy wears, but the bottom line, as sad as it is, is that the social norms within Orthodox Judaism are that those who hold certain beliefs wear a certain type of Kippah, while those who hold other beliefs wear a different type. So if someone were to say, “I don’t want to date a guy who wears that type of yarmulke,” that person would really be saying that they don’t agree with the beliefs of a person who generally wears that Kippah.

The problem is when we start confusing clothing for beliefs. Because as much as we assume that the guy who isn’t wear a Kippah is not religious, the bottom line is that we don’t know if he keeps shabbos or kashrut or any other mitzvah simply based on appearance. Unfortunately, I, too, fall into this trap. If everything else sounded like the match was on target, I would not decline to date a guy simply because of the way he was dressed (either because he dressed in a way that signified he was less religious or in a way that signified that he is more religious than I am), but I admit that certain modes of dress would make me cautious. I would not date guys who dress in a certain way not based on the way of dress, but based on conflicting religious or other beliefs.

One thing that surprised me is that the article in the YU Beacon did not mention women wearing denim/jean skirts, as that is something I encountered personally. I wear denim skirts (*oh no! I might never find a shidduch!*) and one summer in college I was on a learning summer program which had had a program for high school girls as well. In terms of my religious observance, I was to the left of everyone in my program, (which I enjoyed since I had been in environments where I was the most religiously observant and it was nice to be on the other end of things!) but I was even more to the left of the high school program. While the college-age program had no dress code, the program for high schoolers had a specific dress code, one which forbade denim skirts.

One day I happened to be waiting in the hallway with two of the high schoolers and their madricha, who was around my age. One of the high schoolers looked me over and goes, "You're allowed to wear denim skirts??" I self-consciously replied that we could wear what we wanted. She then turned to the madricha and asked, “Why can she wear jean skirts?” to which the madricha said something like, "Well, (pause) she's not in high school." Her reply and the way and tone in which she said it bothered me, for two reasons. Firstly because her words were said as though it's only wrong for high schoolers to wear denim and when you grow up it's fine to wear anything, but also because she was implying that wearing denim is never OK, and she couldn't think of a reason that I was allowed to wear them.

Out of curiosity:

Do you wear jeans/jean skirts? If you do not, would you date someone who does? If you do, would you date someone who does not? Are there other types of clothing that would fall under the category of “I would not date someone if they wore that”? Do you think clothing is a valid reason to say no to a shidduch?



  1. Interesting topic.
    Wearing denim is a topic that sits very uncomfortably with me.
    I have never had a problem with denim, and I still don't. I still would date a guy who wears jeans, as long as everything else matches up -- hashkafah, observance-wise, etc.
    On the other hand, would men who have the hashkafah I'm looking for wear denim? Probably not.

    On the other hand, though, I wear denim skirts and see no problem with them.

    In any case, I think it's ridiculous to say no simply because of form of dress (not including tzniut, of course.) It's an discussion that I've had quite a few times with my yeshivish friend, who would automatically refuse any bachur who wears denim. I think that's a tad crazy.
    But anyway, she's engaged now. And not to a guy who wears denim :P

  2. The "Jeans Issue" is always one that has puzzled me. Granted, it's become something of a defining mark, along with watching movies, but it is a poorly chosen one that doesn't necessarily reflect anything of import. At your fiftieth wedding anniversary, I guarantee you that no one will suggest that your husband not wearing jeans was one of the crucial secrets to your marriage's success. Aren't there more important things to concern yourself with? Character? Personality? Anything that actually matters? Frankly, I'm not surprised that there is a shidduch crisis considering how picky and superficial the guys and girls are when it comes to accepting dates. I wear jeans (mainly because I ride a motorcycle, also not exactly approved of in the frum velt, and when I crash they hold up better than dress pants), and I wear a leather kippah (or, *Gasp* a baseball cap), but I'm still kovea itim on a daily basis and attend minyan three times a day. I know several people like myself, guys and girls, who don't buy into the meaningless externals, but perhaps the reason people have started judging and categorizing individuals based on a few select externals is that we, as a community, have stopped turning out individuals and the vast majority of people can in fact be categorized by these markers. That's a scary thought.

    Primum Non Nocere: The DOG Score

  3. I wear jean skirts..but not the same ones that i used to wear pre-sem :p ( i guess i did get a bit "brainwashed"), i'll wear short ones that are nice..i have one long one that i wear very infrequently..

    as for dating guys who wear denim..Sfardi Gal said it all..the guys who are on the level that i want, don't wear jeans. My brother does't, my father doesn't..

    and as for..the clothes don't mean anything and its ridiculous to judge anyone based on that..i used to think that also..but I have seen that the clothes really do make the man. The clothes you wear identify you with a certain group. When a person gets dressed, they are choosing it, and they know the how do you choose to portray yourself? thats what it boils down to i think..

  4. Denim is the most fabulous fabric (thank you, Levi Strauss!), and I happily wear denim skirts practically every day of the week. It's funny, though, that I do have a double standard. The thing is, it's not if a guy wears jeans he'll get the ax; it's just that chances are we are not alike in other areas as well. I don't think I was ever set up with someone in jeans (except for the guy who showed up at my house in khaki cargo shorts - on chol hamoed Pesach). But in general, my criteria for a date is very low. What's the worst he can do - take me to a lounge?

  5. It's always a bit funny to me that a Jew invented the material in the first place.

    I have also thought about this for some time. I'm one of the guys who stopped wearing jeans a while ago because I honestly didn't find them comfortable - they're constrictive and rough. I also don't really like the look - which is the same reason I don't wear khaki colored pants and instead stick to black, navy and sometimes grey.

    Anyway, I've begun to view blue jeans, to some degree, to be a similar sort of "dressed down" attire, related to sweat/gym pants. Jeans aren't really something you'd necessarily wear every day as part of your regular clothing for work, etc, but are a type of clothing you'd wear when you're supposed to relax, be out doors, or involved in some sort of project that you wouldn't wear nicer clothes for. I don't think anyone will argue that black slacks are dressier and more fomal than jeans, and I think this is part of the reason why they are looked down upon.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with wearing jeans, just as there is nothing wrong with wearing pants made of that swishy material (the name escapes me) when you're working out. But no one wears sweat pants out in public every single day - that'd be a little too much for most people to see. It seems to me that people have begun to lump jeans more closely with that sort of very-casual attire than with everyday clothing.

    What would you do if a date showed up in sweatpants? Granted, jeans aren't the same thing, but from what I've heard during numerous conversations on the subject, this is the sort of mindset that anti-jeans people have.

    Jeans are viewed as clothing that have specific situations where they can be worn, and someone who adopts them as their regular pants is seen displaying an attitude that they really don't care about dressing up in even minimally formal societal clothing. I think it would be one thing if a black hat guy had a pair of jeans he wore when he played baseball with his friends or helped his dad build the sukkah - but the stigma is already there and many won't even wear jeans in applicable scenarios.

    I do think there is a difference in the various kinds of jeans out there. Certainly, the more worn/beaten up ones (which may be the image that has negatively captivated the frum world) are not really acceptable as everyday attire. But there ARE very nice jeans that look good enough to be worn in a situation requiring dress up clothing - see for example a man from Texas who would wear nice jeans with a sports coat.

    Jean skirts also (in my find) fall into a different category than men's jean pants because they generally do not (at least from what I've seen) come in the style of ragged/beaten up/faded/hole-y that is popular in jean pants. For any girl I've known who has worn jean skirts, no real statement could be gleaned from the item of clothing, since they are usually solidly colored, undamaged, etc. To see jean pants, even those that don't have the "worn" look, evokes the image of those faded, beaten up, hole in the knees style that is sort of a signature "hip" look.

    On the other hand, black jeans seem to never get the bad wrap that their blue cousins do. Maybe someone who considers himself part of the more right wing world should indulge in a pair of black jeans, should he want to wear that type of material?

  6. I think that people find males who wear jeans more modern. But it's not just that. It is not just that they have different beliefs than you and therefore you wouldn't want to date them-- it's an issue, perchance, of Chukas HaGoyim. You could find yourslef well within the parameters of Halacha, nut not necessarily with the spirit of the Halacha. We want to identify ourselves as Jews and we want to be separate, distinguishable, from the other nations. I'm not, G-d forbid, putting down any guy who wears jeans. No way. I'm just saying, that people may view it this way. I personally like wearing denim skirts (the ones that cover the knee definitely have a refined it is NOT the same as guys wearing jeans!) and I feel that a Jewish girl can still be identified so even if she wears one. Of course, frum men wear kippas, identifying them as Jews. But take for example, a frum Jew who goes on a chol hamoed trip to Universal Studios. He is wearing a bright ble t-shirt screaming ABERCROMBIE on his chest, is wearing a pair of faded jeans, and nike sneakers. On his head, there is a kippa, but it is modestly covered with a Yankees cap. Sure, he is frum, but how obvious is it to the goyim roaming Univeral studios that day, or better yet, the frum Jews there? Being Jews should be something that we are proud of internally and we express outwardly, by means of the attire we choose to clothe ourselves in. And I think that is the bottom line.

  7. Interesting responses!

    Sefardi Gal and also @anonymous: I think you're right- wearing jeans is associated with a more "modern" crowd- and the more Yeshivish the circles are, the more likely he is to NOT wear jeans, and the more likely she is to refuse to date a guy who wear jeans. Jeans are indicative of the social circle a person falls into, the same way that Kippot are, the difference is that a yarmulke is a religious item while jeans are not. Where does one draw the line? Most of the clothes I wear were made by non-Jews and/or non-Jewish designers. Does that make them Chukah HaGoyim? Unclear.

    PNN- I completely agree with you, especially with, "Aren't there more important things to concern yourself with?" There was a time closer to when I started dating, closer to when I came back from seminary, that I would have been hesitant about a guy who wears jeans, but I do think there are more important things. For some though, who are more Yeshivish, this is a big deal because it is about which community you associate yourself with. There are certain communities where if you show up in jeans, they will stare you down as though you're not religious, the same way they would stare down a girl who was wearing pants, or short sleeves. For people who fit into those social circles, refusing to date a guy who wears jeans is equivalent to a guy refusing to date a girl who wears pants.

    And I agree with you: The extreme emphasis on externals, which is unfortunately only increasing, in the Orthodox world is quite scary. IMHO it breeds Sinat Chinam, the cause of the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash.

    AM Inspiration- "The clothes make the man"- yes, they do in theory, but most people are just conforming to their society to fit in (which is fine, I do that too) and are wearing clothes out of habit. Unless your style is unique compared to the people around you, clothes are more of a statement about where you fit in the world from a social perspective. If I was visiting somewhere for shabbos where women tend not to wear color, I might select certain clothes to wear that wouldn't make everyone stare at me. If a guy wears black and white, he isn't making a statement about himself as an individual, so much as to which group he is a part of.

    Bookworm and SoG- I agree that there is a distinction between guys wearing jeans and girls wearing jean skirts. I don't think it is a double standard. Plenty of girls who wear jean skirts fall into the same social group as guys who don't wear jeans, as you can see by reading the comments on this blog- I think all of the females do wear jean skirts, but don't want a guy who wears jeans. I must note that jean skirts, however, are in fact considered quite casual, as I would not wear a jean skirt in an office/professional working setting. Jean skirts are not professional, even if they are a step up from guys' jeans. One could easily make the argument (as I'm sure someone out there has) that jean skirts are not appropriate for a princess, and therefore not appropriate for a bas yisroel.

    The bottom line here, I think, is that things have reached a point that is so out of hand that we have to start analyzing jeans. And I include myself in this, because I also think it says something about a guy if he wears jeans vs. if he doesn't in terms of where he falls on the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism. This is only heading in the wrong direction: What article of clothing is next?

  8. This has not yet been stated:

    It makes a difference where one is wearing jeans. If, for example, one wears jeans in a yeshivish area, he stands out and is asking to be judged- not that it's a fair judgment; that's just the way the world goes. But if, for example, one wears jeans in a non-yeshivish area (typically out of town), he doesn't stand out because many people wear jeans. Does it mean anything that many are wearing jeans there? No! That's just what people wear in non-yeshivish areas. Does one change hashkofos when in these two different geographical areas with the same jeans? No; the people's hashkofos and prejudices change.

    As to denim skirts- a female who would not wear them is probably not rational enough for me to date, unless she doesn't wear them because in her area, if she did wear them, they'd drown her as a witch in the local river. However, no matter what skirt is worn, to me they have to cover the knees when seated. That is paramount, yet the typical contemporary "frum" females are more caught up on material than halacha.

    Oh, me? Do I wear jeans? I have never worn them, but only in order to not have rocks thrown at me by close-minded, jewish automatons. Yet, I'd definitely wear them depending on the area I'm in and my wife's fashion taste. They always struck me as very stylish; matching almost any sweater, shirt, or shoes. Look in any clothing circular and you'll see that jeans are modeled as casual style.

  9. I think it's really more of matter of voluntary group affiliation than of actually revealing something profound about the person's inner beliefs. As such, I don't think there's anything to be ashamed of, one way or the other.

    When a girl says she doesn't want to date someone who wears jeans, I think it makes sense to assume she doesn't want to date someone who identifies as part of the community that wears jeans. To some extent, this can function as rough indicator of actual beliefs, but purely as a matter of demonstrating where the person identifies, it holds up pretty well. Of course, it's possible that someone who wears jeans really self-identifies as a chossid, but that is (a) a tiny minority and (b) I would argue mitigates against that person actually being a chossid. I mean, it's also possible that someone who dresses as a Franciscan monk is actually an Orthodox Jew, but dressing like a Franciscan monk signals that he can't care that much about dressing like all other Orthodox Jews, which probably signals that he thinks differently than most other Orthodox Jews, especially in how he chooses to signals his affiliation. Ditto the jeans-wearing chossid.

  10. A jean skirt is my personal daily dress code. And I do not see a problem with it.

    While I used to wear quite long denim skirts, I soon outgrew them (the hems became dirty, and I was constantly tripping over them). As such, I now happily wear shorter denim skirts.

  11. I not only wear jeans, but skinny jeans! When I began wearing this type of jean, I was given looks and synide remarks regarding my religious observance. I am a religious guy (Modern Orthodox, not in America) and I would be shocked if a girl would not date me due to my jeans.

    I wrote a satirical blog regarding skinny jeans

  12. I love wearing skinny jeans their so comfortable and they fit perfectly when I have to wear boots. However, for my husband when it comes to mens jeans , I like them to fit him loosely and not too snug.


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