Myth: On Yom Kippur
we need to dress only for comfort.
Truth: On Yom Kippur we need to present
our best selves.
Yom Kippur was my first obligatory fast after I became bat mitzvah. The first fast is always the most difficult and it was very difficult for me. Baruch Hashem, I made it through, but I was so uncomfortable that I had to break my fast in shul as soon as the fast was officially over. Of course, it does get easier for most people, myself included. But it’s still a fast and there are those who think it’s better to dress for comfort.
From me, you get the truth.
I would never say that comfort should be sacrificed, but Yom Kippur is not just a fast day. It’s a real Yom Tov. It’s not a sad day but rather a solemn one. Yes, we’re supposed to get emotional and even cry during davening, but it’s supposed to be about a spiritual high. In fact, while I might be grateful to eat and drink when the fast is over, I actually miss the spirituality of the day.
When you dress for Yom Kippur, you do need to be comfortable, but you also need to keep in mind that it is a Yom Tov and that we can’t afford to appear sloppy or even too casual. So how do you go about this?
For the men it’s easy: Go with what you would wear to shul on any Shabbat or Yom Tov. Plain trousers with a button-down shirt looks just fine. Most men add a jacket that matches the pants and that’s fine too. If you want to add a tie, you certainly may do that. Most of the year I advise men to choose colors based on their personal style, but on Yom Kippur it’s really best to stick with a white or off-white shirt. White is the color of purity and we need that. But you’re also davening for good health so you want to project good health, and that means that your white has to be a flattering white. It also means that everything has to fit you and flatter you.
There’s no specific halachic obligation to wear white on Yom Kippur, but it is the color of purity and there’s a tradition for both men and women to wear white. That’s why I advise men to stick with white or off-white shirts. Married men wear their kittels so that makes it easy.
For the women, there’s only slightly more “doing,” but dressing for Yom Kippur is not difficult. Start with what you would wear to shul for Shabbat or Yom Tov. A dress or a skirt and top in refined fabrics are perfect. If the weather is cooler, go ahead and wear a shell with an overtop. Again, while there’s no obligation to wear white, there is a tradition to wear it, so go ahead. But remember that we’re asking Hashem for good health, so make sure that you choose a white or colors that flatter you and make you appear healthy. Remember also that your clothes need to fit and flatter you so as to present that image of good health.
Most of the time I recommend real shoes, but most real shoes are made with leather, which is not permitted on Yom Kippur. Make sure you have a pair of cloth shoes that are sturdy enough but also comfortable. Unless you have a health issue, you will be on your feet a lot during davening so comfort here is necessary.
Most of the time I also recommend one piece of showstopper jewelry, but on Yom Kippur it’s considered inappropriate. I wear my huggy earrings that my bubby left for me.
If you’re wearing your own hair, keep it simple. Don’t change your hair’s movement. If you have curly hair and you want it to look more subtle, just pull it back or put it up. Curly hair goes up quickly and easily and stays that way. If you’re wearing a sheitel, go with a simple style. If you’re wearing a non-sheitel covering, keep it simple and neutral. If possible, go with your best white.
No, you don’t need to sacrifice comfort, but dressing well on Yom Kippur will help you get in the proper frame of mind and keep you there. Let’s remember to face our Maker with the best faces possible.
G’mar chatimah tovah to all.