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Usually, the color white is associated with purity (as indicated by the kittle). I don't know if the opposite color in the spectrum represents the opposite of purity (yes, I know it's not technically the opposite, but is perceived as such); but if the purpose is to dress in a modest way that does not attract attention, there are certainly better colors than black, which seems to be the most frequently worn color in the female Jewish world (based on my unscientific study of looking around every day). This is especially true at joyous functions like a wedding. Why wear a somber color at such occasions? Furthermore, black is generally seen in the fashion world as a slimming and elegant color, so assumedly it would actually attract more attention than say a nasty brown or gray, thus defeating the purpose of wearing it to be more tznius.

So I ask again, why do women overwhelming favor black clothing?

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Maybe because Jewish men wear black so often? (And for ordinary wear, as opposed to functions, white is a really impractical color for anybody who's taking care of a household. Particularly if there are kids.) Also, my experience differs, but I've no idea whose experience is the more typical. –  Monica Cellio Nov 2 '12 at 20:38
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I think you are mixing up modest and ugly. –  Double AA Nov 2 '12 at 21:24
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because it is slimming. answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081212061806AA6Te62 –  josh waxman Nov 16 '12 at 12:34
    
"Usually the color white is associated with purity...black is generally seen as a...elegant color..." There are pros and cons for every color... The best answer here would probably be a preponderance of Jewish women posting about why they wear black. –  WAF Jul 9 '13 at 15:53

7 Answers 7

Here the author says that “but the adoption of a particular fashion is generally viewed as a manifestation of group behaviour.”

This article “Got an Original Idea? Not Likely” – published in "Scientific American" ends like this:

“But there is also a hazard in connectivity. If everyone ends up knowing exactly the same thing, you have a world of like-minded people, and this homogeneous group ends up acting like a single explorer rather than a federation of ideas. People pile on the well-known bandwagon, even if it is a really bad idea. It happens in politics, in musical taste and, yes, in the world of fashion."

I removed the last sentence because I think it takes away the focus on the issue.

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An alternative approach:

Mishna Sotah perek 1 mishna 6 describes the procedure with the suspected adulteress. If she was wearing white clothes, then they change them to black clothes. Bartenuro says that if the black clothes look good on her, then we change her into horrible clothes. It seems from the first part that she is less likely to look attractive in black clothes and that is why her dress is changed.

Perhaps our womenfolk, in an attempt to be very modest, have decided to wear black.

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But doesn't this imply that they shouldn't have been wearing black clothes from the start? –  Adam Mosheh Nov 14 '13 at 0:47

The Shach on Shulchan Aruch 178:1 (s.k. 3) says

וצבע השחור הוא דרך צניעות והכנעה וכדאמרינן מי שיצרו מתגבר עליו ילבש שחורים ויתעטף שחורים

Not clear if he's talking about men or women or both. But he's commenting on the Rema saying not to wear red, which it's reasonable to suggest is probably at least aimed at women as well, I'm not sure how many men would even think about wearing red in the Rema's time.

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The source is Moed Koton 17a. ר׳ אילעאי אומר אם רואת אדם שיצרו מתגבר עליו ילך למקום שאין מכירין אותו וילבש שהורים ויתעטף שחורים ויעשח מח שלבו חפץ That seems to be men to me! –  Avrohom Yitzchok Nov 18 '12 at 11:30
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Hmmm, good mekor. But it could be the Shach isn't using the gemara as a source, just as a support. Once you've proved it's a colour of tznius and hachnaah, it's good even in other situations. For sure the gemara is not talking about the darchei emori, which is the topic of siman 178 –  limos Nov 18 '12 at 11:36
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@AvrohomYitzchok Couldn't it just be using the masculine form as the gender neutral form? –  Double AA Jan 13 '13 at 21:36
  1. It's slimming.
  2. It's not somber — that's a Christian concept, similar to wearing black at funerals.
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What??? Are you saying that the negative connotation of darkness is a Christian thing? Have you ever read Tanach? Not to mention Mishnayot that mention wearing black clothes as a sign of mourning, eg Middot 5:4. –  Double AA Jan 13 '13 at 20:15
    

Based on my observations (I am an anthropologist and fascinated by things like this) over the last 20 years, it is a recent custom for women to wear black, but it's spread very fast in the last decade. I can well remember my (and other people's) shock at attending a wedding in Jerusalem in the early 1990s at which the bride's female family members (right-wing Modern Orthodox, from New York) all wore black - this was completely new to all of us. In the 16 years I have been living in London, it seems that more and more women in the haredi sector are wearing black, down to small girls. I asked an acquaintance, who was a bit surprised and after some thought said she thought it was because 'black was always fashionable, so women don't have to keep buying new outfits for special occasions'. However, this wouldn't explain the everyday use of black. It seems to me that the custom has no specific, conscious source but that (a) women want to fit in with their community (b) the men in their communities wear black, so there is an element of identification with them (c) the need for distinctive dress signalling the wearer's identity as a member of a 'frum' community may be becoming more acute.

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Because all too often, women are being told this or that color is not tznius. It gets to the point where the only tznius colors are black, dark grey, dark dark blue, and brown.

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Are they never told that dark dark blue is not tzniyus? –  Double AA Jul 9 '13 at 14:42
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C'mon, tzenius is a noun, not an adjective! –  Adam Mosheh Nov 14 '13 at 0:48

My own understanding based on the shuir linked below


From a kabbalistic perspective colors are associated with different sephirot (aspects of how God relates to the world). Though this is not a literal association, meaning the sephira of Chochma is not white/silver there is an inyan of using physical manifestations to tap into or associate with a particular sephira. So, for example if a person needs to perform an act that is related to gevurah the Ramak advises you to wear the color associated with gevurah (see linked shiur above starting at around 40min).

With this understanding it would make sense that women would generally wear dark/opaque colors as they are associated with the sephira of Malchut which is seen as feminine.

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