Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Halachic Discussion: Is Red an Immodest Color for Women?

I was reading Halichos Bas Yisrael and came across an interesting point: "Bright red clothing is considered immodest." It was then grouped with tight clothing (which is an interesting line in itself!). I had heard that "bright red" (as distinguished from shades like "burgundy red") is considered an immodest color before, but primarily from people stricter than your average modern orthodox community. Of course, some communities go further, and the women traditionally only wear black, white, and navy blue. I would be thrown right out of those communities because I love wearing very bright colors!

The book cites this to the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 178:1, which is not a resource I have in my home yet. I'd appreciate it if someone could tell me what that says! The footnotes in the book go on to describe that the prohibition has several sources: (1) the prohibition against adopting pagan practices, especially "licentious" ones (anyone care to explain why this was a licentious and pagan practice?), (2) the tradition of "modest women," (3) red is associated with arrogance, and (4) Rashi, commenting on Bereshit/Genesis 49:11, says, "Their clothes have the color of wine...and are worn by women to entice."

I have been having a similar discussion in my personal life about the line between a chumra and mandatory "minimum" halacha, and it does seem to be a different line for every person. As the old saying goes, "Anyone stricter than you is a fanatic, and anyone more lenient than you is a heretic."

What do you in Lurker Land have to say about women wearing red and the chumra/halacha line? I would very much like to hear from you!


  1. I also love colors, including bright ones. I once talked to a rebbetzin in my community about it, who said bright colors are fine. I have never really inquired into the halacha of wearing red, though--I never wear red because I just don't like how it looks on me!

  2. Something along these lines that I'm curious about is why some women don't wear long skirts. Long skirts rock.

  3. This:


    and this:


    lead me to suspect that the rabbi's knew something was going on. In short, Red makes men look more powerful and romantic, and it makes women more attractive and sexually desirable.

  4. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 178:1 simply condemns taking on the practices of gentiles and idolators. I'm guessing that it was a common practice to wear red among the unsavory types ... thus, forbidden. Red has always been a questionable color, though. Think about the Scarlet Letter.

    And yet we have no problem wearing the red string, right? :)

  5. Hmm...all very interesting. I don't own any bright red clothes (probably a mere accident), but I do have two awesome pairs of bright red shoes!

    And thank you, Chavi, for doing some research for me!

  6. I also have bright red shoes! Everyone calls them my Dorothy shoes, but with some outfits they just look fantastic. The links Jeffrey posted above are also very interesting. I don't really own any bright red clothing(other than one really awesome shirt: http://www.threadless.com/product/383/The_Communist_Party/), but like you it is probably more of an accident. I used to wear red a lot, because I thought it was the color that looked best on me, but lately I've been digging other colors!

    I love wearing bright colors but I think I'm bad at clothing matching. I buy skirts I love and tops I love but have a hard time putting them together. When you move out here you will have to assist me in my plight as you always match very well imo!

  7. I read (in Rivevot Ephraim) that were it not for the significance of techelet, tzitzit should have been red, and the red string is tied to remind people to do mitzvot (like tzitzit). Interesting that wearing something red could remind people to do mitzvot.

  8. So what is everyone's verdict here? Do we or do we not wear red? I own a couple of red pieces and have often hesitated whether to wear them or not...I pretty much stuffed them to the back of my closet ever since I started dressing Tzniut-ly :/

  9. I am wearing a red and black sweater right now. Last December when I wore it, a co-worker said, "You look like Christmas!" I said, "Um, no, it's not for Christmas," and he insisted that yes, I looked like Christmas. Apparently in his enthusiasm he completely forgot that I'm Jewish, even though I wear my Star of David necklace from Chanukah through Christmas.

    So that would be one reason not to wear red in December, but I refuse to let the Christians be the only ones who get to wear red and/or green in December.

  10. My LBD tutor says red is fine as long as it's not post box (bright) red head to toe :)

  11. I was told/teached not to wear red/"very bright colors", so I dont...

  12. I would say that wearing red depends largely on the community you're in. In more Modern Orthodox or Dati Leumi circles wearing some red is fine. In Yeshivish or Charedi circles it's a no-no.

    Red was avoided for two reasons: First, it was the color associated with royalty and power. (Note how often leading male politicians in government wear red ties and, women, red dresses. This is a holdover from the red=royalty idea.)

    Red, being a particularly bright and unusual color in ancient times, was expensive to produce and only the wealthy (royalty) could afford it.

    Second, red was the color adopted by prostitutes for advertising purposes and to attract the eye of potential customers, as was the wearing of ankle bracelets. Thus, modest Jewish women were advised not to wear red.

  13. Well, I'm not quite sure, as I'm a Noahide, but I've been told from my rabbis and Jewish friends that there are no real problems with it.
    I personally practice tzniut.
    I wear red, but I don't wear skin tight clothes, but I don't wear skirts all the time either. I wear a lot of baggy slacks. I usually wear bits and pieces so as not to look immodest. Bits of bright colors... :)