What clothes can males not wear when davening?

Ignoring Kabbalistic considerations for the moment, we know that the laws about proper clothing for davening are relative. In simple terms, one is meant to wear clothes which are “appropriate” when having a meeting with an important personage. Clearly, the style of clothing changes from place to place, and indeed from climate to climate. It has also changed over time. The idea that שלא שינו את לבושם that Jews didn’t change their clothing from the time they were exiled in Egypt cannot be taken literally.

One can look at a Chassid who wears medieval clothes, especially on Shabbos and Yom Tov with a positive twist: namely, that they are

  • yearning for the days of yore,
  • exhibiting a fidelity to their tradition,
  • expressing disdain for a modern world they consider tainted
  • aligning themselves to their mentors (התקשרות) in all aspects including dress
  • teaching their children that one can live in this world and be part of a chain of tradition

I don’t wear a Shtreimel or Spodik or white stockings. At the same time, if somebody chooses to do so, it doesn’t bother me.

I don’t know why I thought about this over שבת, but it occurred to me as I was davening שחרית that perhaps it presents a halachic conundrum. How so? Imagine Chasid X, who wears a particular uniform on שבת. Let’s say that Chasid X does some exemplary work for the community, for example, they might be an icon of charity or community service or Hatzalah, or whatever. Chasid X is then invited to receive an award from the Queen’s representative, the Governor General, or the Prime Minister, or the Premier. After consulting with his Rav, the Chasid is advised that it would be קידוש השם ברבים to accept the award as it would highlight the achievements of the community at large. The Chasid comes to receive his award, makes a nice humble speech, and all is good. My question is, how does he dress to receive the award? My lay understanding of Halacha (and I’m by no means a Posek) is that the Chasid should consider appearing in his Shtreimel, Bekeche, white stockings etc. But would he? I doubt it. This begs the question:  If the best שבת and יום טוב finery is deemed inappropriate to wear in front of an important non-Jew on an important occasion, why would one be allowed to wear it for Davening in general? (Does any one know how Maharam Shapira dressed in the Polish parliament?)

To put it simply, in some countries you wouldn’t appear in sandals without socks in front of an important person. In Israel and other countries, it’s commonplace. However, if nobody did this, it is questionable whether one is permitted to daven in this way. Why would a Spodik etc be any different?

I’ve seen a similar example. Some adhere to the Kabbalistic notion that one should always have two head coverings. Yet, if they find themselves in a situation where they have to daven, and they don’t have the second head covering, I’ve seen them put on the hood from a hoodie! Is a hoodie considered acceptable clothing in front of a dignitary? What about an ordinary peaked cap? Is that acceptable? Would anyone wear that in front of a dignitary?

I wear a hat on Shabbos. I do so, because

  • I like it
  • I think it looks good with a suit
  • My father and grandfather wear and wore it
  • It’s part of my shabbos and yom tov clothing

In point of fact, my grandfather hated me walking in the street in a simple yarmulka, but I think that had more to do with trauma from the war. I have been in a meeting with the Premier, and I wore a suit, but I didn’t wear my hat. Perhaps I am not different to the Chasid who wouldn’t wear his Spodik in such a situation. Is the simple answer that I reserve my best clothing for Shabbos, but that I wear acceptable clothing otherwise? Perhaps.

There are two things at play here:

  • acceptable garb
  • quasi-uniform

Does a quasi-uniform over-ride the requirement to wear acceptable garb?

I’m reminded of R’ Schachter’s observation that someone who normally wears a Gartel but doesn’t have one, and resorts to using their tie as their Gartel, is perhaps completely missing the point. Am I missing the point?

The Rav ז’ל wouldn’t perform חופה וקידושין if the חתן wasn’t wearing a hat. He argued that the חתן had a דין of מלך and a מלך wears a crown at important occasions, and the proverbial Jewish crown of the King (today) is the hat. He didn’t even accept a straw hat as a substitute.