What to wear to a bar mitzvah

Unlocking the dress code

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Dear Cantor Matt,

To help ourselves prepare for our daughter’s bat mitzvah, we’ve been going to services pretty often this year. I still can’t figure out what’s considered appropriate clothing. It seems to range from full suits and dresses to t-shirts and shorts. What do we wear?

—Are Flip-Flops OK?

Dear Flip-Flops,

Don’t ever wear flip-flops unless you’re having a destination bat mitzvah in Maui.

But you’re right — standards have definitely changed, and it may differ from place to place. But even if fashions change over the years, common sense never goes out of style.

Back in the old days, a man would never think about setting foot in Shabbat morning services unless he was wearing a suit and tie. Similarly, all women and girls would wear dresses — pants would have been unthinkable. Then there may be a slightly different dress code for services at other times, like Friday night or during the week.

Today, things tend to be a bit more relaxed. You will see men wearing a sports jacket without a tie, or even just a nice shirt and dress pants (called slacks by people over the age of 100). Women also might skip the dress and have on something a little more casual. And yes, there will still be congregants that will dress much more formally and traditionally because that’s how they grew up and how they’re most comfortable.

If you’re attending a service, you will be safe wearing what used to be called “school clothes.” Since we’ve all seen how some kids dress for school nowadays, a better term might be “business casual.” Wear something a little more special than normal, and make sure to skip the jeans and sneakers.

But this brings us to another important issue: How should you guys dress (and how should your daughter dress) for the bat mitzvah?

Obviously it’s going to be dressy. Of course you will be wearing suits, dresses, and really uncomfortable shoes.

But here’s what you should definitely avoid:

• Cleavage. Let’s try to keep everyone’s minds on the prayers.

• Tuxes and fancy-shmancy over-the-top party dresses: It’s fine if you have planned some kind of formal or black-tie event. But come dressed for services and arrange to change into your party stuff later on.

• Cleavage. Really, I can’t tell you enough. This includes the grandmothers, by the way. Some things you just can’t unsee.

• Wild socks or sneakers. Yes, I’ve seen it. The family is going for a little humor. My advice: play it straight. Everyone will spend the whole time giggling about the footwear and get distracted from the importance of the event.

• Mile high heels. While we’re on the subject of footwear, leave the stilettos at home and make sure you and your daughter wear something you can actually walk in. Remember she will be carrying the Torah.

• Bare shoulders. Sleeveless may be cool and comfortable, but not in services. Wear a shawl (and no, the tallit doesn’t count) and then toss it when you get to the party.

You will all look fine with these tips on finery.

Cantor Matt Axelrod (Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ) is the author of “Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide.” He’s always happy to hear from you and he might answer your question in a future column. You can email him at cantormatt@mattaxelrod.com.

Posted 12:00 am, May 28, 2014
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