I went to a wedding not long ago with separate seating for men and women and even separate entrances to the catering hall. This happened about a year after I heard a taped shiur from a Rosh Yeshivah who said that while there was no clear Halachic imperative to have separate seating at weddings, but if asked by his own talmidim, he would tell them it is better to have separate seating – for three reasons. The reasons were that women tend to dress less modestly these days, the music is louder than ever before and women sweat more.
I found myself taken with these three reasons so I did a bit of research. I asked several of my dermatology friends about the sweating and all of them independently informed me that there is no research indicating any change in sweat gland size, or excretion rates over the last 50 to 100 years. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that women sweat more. Then I checked with the museum of dress, design and fashion. They indicated that formal dress and evening attire has, if anything, become increasingly more modest over the last 30 years, not less so. As far as the decibel level of music played at weddings, I am not sure of the relevance but I am willing to concede the point. So, the Rosh gets one of three – with the one having little or no bearing on reasons for separate seating as far as I can see.
At this gender-separated wedding I did glance over to the women’s’ side just to check out the modesty level of dress. I find that I am doing this more and more ever since I heard the shiur. What I have found is that the museum’s statement to me is accurate. Overall, the style of dress is so modest that you can start to imagine yourself at a convention of widowed Italian women. Everyone is dressed in black with little or no color at all and while some women do wear jewelry, it is often very much understated. Yes, there are some outliers who are over the top with their accessories but only the wedding party is dressed in color, everyone else was monotonic, that is to say black, without color. Some of the younger women accent their dresses with tight belts or wear headbands that glisten, obviously to attract some attention but still color on their dresses is not evident.
This approach to clothing and what may be an attempt to wear this dark uniform of contemporary Tzniut was highlighted for me just today when a woman (yes, a woman) I was speaking with pointed out that the Daf Yomi portion of two days ago indicated that women should not wear all black on the Shabbat. Colored clothing is urged because black clothing is a sign of mourning. Women are instructed by the Talmud to wear colored garb when celebrating a holiday or a joyful event.
I have a few questions: Why would someone who wants to encourage successful marriages insist on separating the sexes when they can meet and mingle in a healthy, festive, celebratory environment like a wedding where they can get to know one another and perhaps start a dating relationship that may lead to marriage? Why is the black uniform de rigueur these days when all it does is to make everyone look virtually the same? One woman told me that black is a slimming color. Psychologically I am quite sure that black may cause less attention to be paid to the wearer but does not affect slimming. Why would women as a group just accept this rather dismissive uniform? And, my final question, at least at this moment is – If we are coming this far why not go all the way and require head to toe black? If restricting attention is the goal then perhaps a black tent should be the latest fashion option; Yes, a burqa!
The burqa idea was just a joke – I hope. Well, it was because I was envisioning just how some enterprising young woman who wanted to get some attention might get some in a kosher burqa. She could wear a headband with a bright feather that peeked out of the side of her head covering. Belts would not be allowed but maybe a pin or a brooch that reflected light in a colorful way. There is also the possibility of Jimmie Choo shoes or high top white sneakers that peek out at the bottom on those covered feet.
There are so many possibilities that I was conjuring up but none as good as the real thing when you finally see it. I went to the mall last night with my wife and Meryl (she wanted me to mention her name) and there was the answer! In the mall, walking with her two young children, was a woman wearing a burqa and wrapped around her head was a Burberry scarf! I could not see what type of shoes she had on but maybe they were Jimmy Choo’s!