In the everyday activity of shopping for clothes, whether it’s a quick online purchase or a leisurely trip to the store, there are layers of Jewish tradition and guidance waiting to be explored. Let’s delve into these aspects together, unraveling their practical and spiritual implications.

Are All Garments Kosher? The Intricacies of Shatnez

In the Jewish tradition, certain combinations, like meat and milk, are avoided. This principle extends to clothing in the form of shatnez, the prohibition of wearing garments that combine wool and linen.1 The prohibition applies even if just the threads holding the buttons are made of the other material (e.g., wool threads on linen garments, or vice versa).

The Torah doesn’t provide the rationale behind this prohibition, as the verse describes it as a Divine statute beyond our complete comprehension. Nevertheless, commentators have attempted to provide some explanation. Maimonides suggests that shatnez garments were associated with idolatrous priests, and we are prohibited from emulating them.2 Another explanation is that wool and linen are reminiscent of the sacrifices of Cain and Abel—Cain offered flax, the source of linen, while Abel sacrificed sheep, producers of wool. Shatnez thus blends the spiritual forces linked to Cain and Abel, potentially leading to negative consequences.3

In light of this, many well established Jewish communities have experts who examine a garment for shatnez. Of course, not every community has a “shatnez-checker” and not every garment needs to be checked. So here are some basic guidelines to be aware of when buying a garment.

Can the shatnez be removed?

In many cases, the wool and linen are not combined in the basic fabric of the garment, so the shatnez can be easily removed by the shatnez expert.

What types of wool and linen does the prohibition apply to?

Shatnez only applies to a mixture of sheep wool and linen. Other sorts of wool, such as cashmere (which comes from a goat) and camel wool would be permitted.4 You would just need to make sure that there isn’t any sheep wool mixed in.5

Can I wear two separate garments, one of wool and the other of linen?

If you are able to take off the inner garment of one type without having to remove the other garment, then it would be permitted.6 So, for example, wearing a linen sock on top of a wool sock would not be OK.

Can I determine if the garment has shatnez based on the label?

Although the label may tell you if a garment contains shatnez, you can’t rely on it to tell you that the garment doesn’t contain shatnez. According to American federal law, garment labels must specify the primary fabric content but can exclude details about threads, linings or internal components. This means a garment labeled "100% wool" can legally contain up to 2% of other materials, potentially rendering it shatnez. Additionally, the government's enforcement of these laws is minimal, and fabric allergies are rare and not typically severe, leading many clothing manufacturers to inaccurately represent fiber content or even intentionally mislead consumers without much fear of legal consequences. That said, if the garment is, for example, 100% polyester, chances are minimal that it actually contains shatnez (see below).

So when do I need to check for shatnez?

Halachically, you only need to have a garment checked if there is a miut hamatzui, “a small but significant” percentage of this sort of garment that contains shatnez.7 While there are differences of opinion as to the definition of “a small but significant” minority, many halachic authorities opine that it’s around 10%.8

Additionally, you wouldn’t lump all garments together when calculating percentages; you would take into account the specific garment, country, brand, etc.9

(Of course, it needs to be stressed that the prohibition applies even to the smallest amount of wool-linen mixture; the percentages are only regarding the ratio of garments of that type have shatnez, which may obligate you to check.)

The guidelines are as follows:10

Majority: If the majority of this sort of garment usually contains shatnez, you need to have the garment checked before you wear it.

Small but significant minority: You should have this type of garment checked before wearing it. However, in extenuating circumstances, such as if there’s no one where you live who can check the garment, or it’s right before Shabbat and there’s no time to get it checked, then you can wear it without checking first. Just get it checked when you can.

Insignificant minority: If less than 10% but more than 1% of this type of garment usually has shatnez, there is no obligation to have it checked. However, one who is extra scrupulous should ideally have it checked before wearing it. If it’s difficult to have the garment checked before wearing it, it can be worn without checking (and you can check it later).

Practically, clothing that is 100% non-wool and non-linen, without any other material mixed in, would most likely not contain shatnez. This would include things like 100% cotton pants, shirts, pajamas and underwear.

Additionally, many 100% wool items, such as socks, don’t usually have shatnez. (Interestingly, a number of years ago, there was a rather popular brand of socks that did contain shatnez, but the company changed their manufacturing process. It is now considered extremely unlikely that wool socks contain shatnez.)

On the other hand, many suits, even “100% wool”—and especially the more expensive and foreign-made ones—are the classic miut hamatzui and should be inspected for shatnez. Linen is sometimes used in the lining (both of the jacket and pants) or collar to give it a stiffness.

Woolen sweaters that are multi-colored, embroidered or appliqued can also potentially contain shatnez.

Can I wear a garment before getting it checked?

See the previous question about when it needs to be checked.

Can I try on clothing that contains shatnez?

You can try on clothing to see whether you want to buy it,11 but once you’ve bought the garment, all shatnez must be removed before you wear it.

Does shatnez apply to items other than clothing?

According to biblical law, you just can’t wear shatnez garments. But rabbinic law extends this a bit further—you shouldn’t sit, lie or walk on shatnez in case the materials rise and cover your body.12 This means that items like carpets, tablecloths, rugs, mattresses, pillows, couches and chairs could be a problem. The softer the material, the more likely it is that the rabbinic prohibition applies, while firm materials are OK.

What Makes Clothing Modest?

One of the main concerns when purchasing clothing is that it be tzniut.

Tzniut, which means “modesty” in Hebrew, encompasses a set of guidelines and principles in Jewish law and tradition that promote modest behavior, dress and conduct. When it comes to ascertaining whether a certain mode of dress is tzniut, there are two aspects of tzniut that should be kept in mind: the basic rules of tzniut that apply to all, and the norms and customs of the local Jewish community.

The laws of dressing modestly apply to both men and women.

A number of key pointers are:

  • The clothing should conceal rather than reveal the body.
  • The clothing shouldn’t cling tightly in a way that highlights the body.
  • Women’s clothing should cover the collarbone, torso, elbows and knees.

As mentioned, there are additional details that are dependent upon community norms, so consult with your rabbi or rebbetzin as to what those norms are.

Is Cross-Dressing Kosher?

The Torah generally prohibits cross-dressing, wearing clothing that is meant for the opposite gender.13 This prohibition is based on the concern that cross-dressing can lead to promiscuous behavior and facilitate inappropriate mingling among genders.14 Additionally, some pagan rituals involved cross-dressing, and the Torah urges us to distance ourselves from this practice.15

The basic rule

Garments that are ordinarily worn by a specific gender may not be worn by a person of the opposite gender.16 However, you can wear a garment that is ordinarily worn by both genders (i.e., a “unisex” garment), like a sweatshirt.17

Of course, styles of dress vary across locations and eras, and the prohibition applies only to wearing clothing that is currently exclusively worn by the opposite gender where you live. If fashion norms evolve, and a particular garment becomes commonly worn by both genders, it then becomes permissible according to Jewish law.18

What if you’re cold?

If it’s very cold, there are some authorities who say it’s OK to wear garments like coats that are really meant for the opposite gender19 (as long as that is the only opposite-gender garment you’re wearing and your gender is still recognizable20). But when you’re initially buying the clothing, you should buy items that are meant for your gender (unless it’s unisex).


All Jewish men are obligated to have tzitzit on any four-cornered garments that they wear. Since it’s uncommon to find actual four-cornered garments, Jewish men customarily purchase a tallit katan (a four-cornered garment that already has tzitzit attached to it) in order to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit. This is in addition to the tallit that men wear during the morning prayers.

For more on tzitzit, see: Tallit and Tzitzit Basics

Buying with the Intention of Returning the Clothing

In general, unless you know for sure that the store has a specific policy that permits the practice of buying something even when your intention is to return it, you can’t just buy an item with the intention of using it a bit and then returning it. That said, there are some exceptions to this rule. Additionally, if you bought the clothing with full intention to keep it, but then discovered a defect (or perhaps it doesn’t fit) then, depending on the store policy, there is obviously no issue with returning it.

For general guidelines on buying and returning items, see Can I Buy Something if I Plan to Return It? Halachic Guidelines for Returning Items

When to Shop

While it is obviously forbidden to purchase anything on Shabbat or Yom Tov, there are also other times of the year when we don’t buy new clothing, such as during periods of mourning.

It used to be common to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing, which is traditionally recited when experiencing something new or special, when wearing new clothing. Nowadays, since getting new clothing is a lot more common, we don’t generally recite the blessing when getting new clothing. Nevertheless, at times of the year that are associated with mourning, we avoid purchasing or wearing special clothing for which we would have “in theory” recited Shecheyanu. (This would not apply to socks, underwear, shoes, etc.)

This applies to the Three Weeks of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, starting from the fast of 17th of Tammuz until th 9th of Av. (From Rosh Chodesh Av until the 9th of Av, even new, “insignificant” clothing would not be worn.) For more on these laws, see the section “The Joyous Shehecheyanu Blessing” in What You Need to Know About the “Three Weeks.”

Another time of year during which some have the custom to refrain from purchasing new clothing is the period of Sefirat HaOmer. For more on that, see Mourning Observances of the Sefirat HaOmer Period.

It should be noted that in extenuating circumstances, or if there is a truly exceptional sale, you could purchase even “significant” garments during these periods of mourning (although you shouldn’t wear them until after the mourning period).