Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

We see here and here questions about wearing a black hat. However, why is the hat black? Is there some sort of kedushah to wearing a black Stetson or Borsalino which is lost in other colours? Or is there some other reason for people having specifically black hats?

share|improve this question
    
'Cause it's classy (or used to be)? –  Shokhet Jul 20 at 21:35

2 Answers 2

See Rabbi Wein's blog

The tradition of Jews is to dress modestly. Over the ages and in different communities, this has had varied expressions in the type of clothing worn but in all instances the common denominator of Jewish clothing was that it enhanced modesty of appearance. 

Even though Jews in the early Middle Ages wore maroon and brown clothing, by the late Middle Ages, black clothing for men was de rigueur. In sixteenth and seventeenth century Holland, the Jews dressed as did the Dutch, in black clothing, knickers, wide white starched collars and sweeping hats.

In the yeshiva world of today, the wearing of dark pants, white shirts and a jacket and hat is fairly universal. Great emphasis is placed on dress in today's religious society so that deviating from the norm in dress is often taken as a sign of rejection of basic Torah principles, even though in fact this need not be the case at all. Yet, in all cases, modest dress remains a Jewish virtue and a hallmark of religious Jewish society

But hats were not always black. See, for example, this picture of Yeshiva bochars (boys) of Maytchet and this picture of the inauguration of the Yeshiva Beis Yitzchok in Kaminetz where black hats are definitely a minority.

So unless it's a throwback to the late Middle Ages, the insistence on black seems to be merely a fashion.

share|improve this answer
    
I know that the hats were not always black, my grandfather z"l never wore a black hat when he was younger (nor in his older years for that matter) however, the question pertains more to the present, as evidenced by the use of tense. –  Noach mi Frankfurt Aug 17 at 16:51

Many things we take seriously today had very humble beginnings.

From a purely practical perspective, black clothing requires less maintenance. In times before quick, cheap, efficient cleaning1 laundry was a major undertaking, and some outerwear (like hats) didn't like soap and water. Walking around a European city that could politely be described as "filthy"2 while wearing white will have you looking like a tramp by lunchtime. If you wear black, people can't see the dirt. Thus, black becomes popular, and is subsequently made to be fashionable (yes, this skips a few steps, like the wealthy being able to afford the cleaning).

In Victorian London (MAJOR dirt problem) residents went as far as keeping black chickens. Just as nasty as white ones, but you couldn't tell just by looking. The Prime Minister's door at 10 Downing street is traditionally black. Today it's painted that way, but before WWII it was because they gave up on constantly cleaning it.

  1. read: before 1950

  2. basically anywhere that had factories, steam trains or people.

share|improve this answer
    
Cute answer. Welcome to Mi Yodeya! –  YeZ Jul 21 at 2:25
    
Your story about the door of 10 Downing Street is implausible. They would have needed to clean the windows, too, and cleaning the door isn't much more effort. British post boxes have been painted red since 1874 and it's hard to believe that people were prepared to keep post boxes clean but not the Prime Minister's door. Furthermore, many of the very steam trains that were responsible for at least part of the dirt were themselves not painted black and were kept reasonably clean when hauling passenger trains. –  David Richerby Jul 21 at 10:18
    
They had to clean the windows, as the dirt was obvious. They didn't have to clean the door. Keeping the train itself clean isn't all that difficult. In 1998 I passed through a train station in northern England. The ceiling was largely jet black, the odd fresh pane of glass revealed that the whole ceiling was glass covered with soot. No steam trains had passed through in 50 years, it just wasn't worth the effort to wash. In many cases doing nothing will look better than an incomplete job. –  Joseph Jul 21 at 10:42
    
I think I've discovered the source of the confusion. Wikipedia says that the bricks were originally yellow but had been blackened by pollution (like all buildings in those days). When the building was rebuilt in the 1960s, the bricks were cleaned and then painted black to preserve the familiar appearance of the facade. –  David Richerby Jul 21 at 12:56
    
Formal clothing is/was black, for that, among other reasons (not least of which was aveilut for Prince Albert), however day-to-day clothing had other colours, often subdued, but black was less common on Joe Schmoe's frock-suit than on his morning frockcoat. –  Noach mi Frankfurt Aug 17 at 16:49

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.