Bar & Bat Mitzvah Attire

Parent Q&A

  • Our teenager is attending their first Bar Mitzvah. Our family is culturally Jewish on one side, but we have not been to a Bar Mitzvah in the Bay Area (only in New England) and our children will not be called to the Torah, so we’re a bit at a loss on a couple of things. 

    One: what are some appropriate (and fun) gift ideas?

    Two: what are boys wearing to Bar Mitzvahs (the party, not the service) these days? 

    Three: any tips on encouraging a (reluctant) teen to learn some dance moves, or can you(r teen) suggest what moves are popular?


    im glad I’m not 13 anymore

    We are not Jewish but both of my kids have attended several Bat/Bar Mitzvahs in Berkeley. They always gave money. Usually $18, sometimes more depending on the friendship. My son wore nice dark jeans and a white collared shirt to the party. And I would just leave them alone re: dancing. That sounds horrifying lol. 

    As much as I hate giving cash, for bar/bat mitzvot we always opted for a nice card with a check or cash in one of the "lucky" chai amounts (multiples of 18) - usually $36/$54/$72 depending on how well we knew the kid, about the same as I would for a birthday party, but I'm probably on the cheap side. It's been a few years, but my boys always wore khaki-ish pants (but with the better slimmer/jeans-like fit - I don't know what you'd call them technically - the kind of thing H&M sells), a button-down shirt and sometimes a tie, which usually ended up stuffed in a pocket - about what he'd wear to something like the 8th-grade dance. It seemed to be pretty much the uniform for boys. As for dancing. that only happens in a few years when it's worth it to impress someone they're interested in. Until then most middle-school boys huddle up and try to seem inconspicuous at dances. :) But I think the simple side-to-side shuffle that guys have been doing since rock music was invented will still get him pretty far.

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Anti-Fashion Daughter's Attire at her own Bat Mitzvah

Jan 2006

Our daughter's Bat Mitzvah is coming up this fall. At almost 12 1/2 years old, she is still quite a tomboy, couldn't care less about fashion - actually is sort of anti-fashion - cares mostly about comfort, and lives in sweat pants and large tee shirts. She goes to a school that is very casual and dress is not an issue at all. We give her a tremendous degree of freedom in this area as we rarely find ourselves needing to dress up for anything given our current lifestyle, and feel it is an important area of self-expression.

Here's the issue: It's one thing to be casual for everday life, but from my husband's and my point of view, we absolutely need/expect/require that she really look her lovely best at her Bat Mitzvah. I'm just not about to have my family fly in from all points of the globe for this weekend only to have her look like a ragamuffin. So I think I could really use some advice as to how to work with her on this, how to help her find clothes that she finds comfortable and I find appropriate, how to overrule any inclination she has to dress like her usual self. I rarely insist on things of this sort - in fact I can't remember the last time I did in this way, but this series of events (dinner Friday night, ceremony on Saturday, Sunday brunch) are too significant to not show up in a fully respectful, appropriately dressed matter. We haven't actually approached the subject in great depth, so I'm gathering insight in advance in the hopes of us both having our needs met as fully as possible in this area.

I would also value tips on where to shop. She never ever goes shopping, claims to have no interest in it and just continues to wear what I bring home for her as long as she likes it. She can never seem to find herself reflected back in any of the usual stores my friends' daughters seem to shop in (Limited Too, Nordstrom, Gap, Old Navy and the like). She claims she will never wear anything with trim, lace, pink, frills, gathers, pants with zippers, long sleeves, tight clothes, denim, stockings, shoes that aren't sneakers, and she hasn't worn a dress in eons.

Lastly, I suppose it's worth adding that she's really a very lovely emerging young woman with great, distinctive looks, and looks like a million dollars when she just puts a little energy into looking her best.

Any words of wisdom or direction would be really appreciated. Thanks in advance. Planning Ahead

Your situation actually sounds like a wonderful opportunity to move into some great discussions with your maturing daughter. As she gets older, there will be more and more situations where you have an opinion based on your greater maturity and wisdom that may be different from hers, and you'll have the right to suggest and urge, but she'll get to make the decision in the end. I can't tell you how much better parenting a teen can go if you get that kind of discussion into your repertoire early. In this case, you can lay out to her pretty much what you've written to the newsletter, ask her what she thinks, and go from there. The idea is to make clear to her that your goal is to figure something out that works for both of you, ie dressy/formal enough that you aren't worried, but something comfortable and expressive of who she is for her. Then you get to ask her how she sees herself, what image would she like to project for this special growing-up occasion, etc. It could really end up being as important a rite of passage as all the rest of it. Try to enjoy it. MF

I suggest that you consider a nice pants ensemble for the occasion since women rabbis don't always wear dresses but look appropriate. Some nice black pants will be discreet and then either a lovely blouse that's not too fem or a tank top and some kind of casual jacket. Plain black flats or ballet style shoes might work as well. I respect you for letting her be who she is but remember, this is her bat mitzvah and the meaning should come from the texts and how she deals with them, not her clothing. There's a compromise to be had here. I hope your relatives judge her by her words and not her appearance. It sounds as though you have a great daughter! good luck! another mom

Who is the motivation behind the Bat Mitzvah? A Bat Mitzvah is a religious occasion, in the same category as a Confirmation, and appropriate attire is expected in a synagogue/temple situation. If the daughter wants the Bat Mitzvah, she should be willing to dress accordingly. If she does not wish to dress accordingly, then she doesn't have to have a Bat Mitzvah.

If you want to participate in a sanctioned high school football game, you cannot do so wearing a bathing suit. Robert

I have to weigh in on on this for two reasons, 1. I have a daughter who is not into dresses and will pretty much only wear black (which is fine with me), and we have struggled at times about what to wear at a dressed-up occassion, and 2. I thought a Bat Mitzvah was about HER, and her becoming a woman, so to speak? I think you should be a little grateful that you have a daughter who is not consumed with fashion and appearences! Aren't you somewhat glad that she isn't buying into the whole image/peer-pressure thing? Sounds like you are also saving some money on clothes for her too! She is an independent spirit and is finding herself, image has a lot to do with that now. You ought to let her make this decision on her own and stand by her. She will laugh at it when she sees the pictures later in her life and will thank you for letting her do what she wanted! The other people will have to accept her as she is too. My daughter showed up to her very conservative relatives in Kansas with green hair one summer, they loved it and even invited her back on her own when she was ready.

Anyway, my daughter agreed to wear some dress pants, pinstripes, with a white button-down shirt when we were going to a special play, and she was a knockout! You can get dress pants at Macy's or Nordstroms and they will also tailor them to fit. It was actually kind of fun and a new experience for us both. If on the other hand, she won't go to Macy's why not take her to Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads Trading. You could even just give her some money and say buy something fancy to wear. At both of those places she will find odd clothes that might strike her fancy. We always find good stuff there.

Good luck and don't let the clothes get in the way! mom-in-black

Our temple had specific dress standards for the kids for their service attire. Maybe you can have her tutor, teacher, rabbi talk to her so it's not all your battle. It helped me to have others set those limits/perameters before we went shopping. I think it's important that your daughter be allowed to show ''her'' style but still show some respect for the ceremony and the congregants. Shopping is a toughie...we were successful in the petite dept at Nordstrom and Macy's and shoes at Piedmont's Step Forward (?)near Piedmont Grocery. I didn't fight about stockings but insisted on a closed toe shoe..but that's me! Good luck. Been there

Teenage girls don't particularly like taking fashion advise from their mothers or fathers, no matter how hip or well-meaning. Why not ask a young adult or older teen (cousin, friend of the family, etc.) to take your daughter shopping, or at least get her looking at appropriate clothes for her Bat Mitzvah? This person could also help your daughter fix her hair, which relieves you of what could be a struggle. As for shopping, you might check out consignment shops like Crossroads which have nice, gently worn junior fashions, or stores like H & M or Delia (online) which also offer stylish, but not so ''girly-girl'' fashions. Mom of 2 teenage not-so-girly girls

She will be working very hard towards the big day, lay off. If she wears a tuxedo, who cares, really. You may want to discuss this with her Rabbi. My daughter who hadn't worn a dress since she was 3 decided on an elegant grey suit with a pink shirt, it cost more than I would spend on clothes for me, but she wore it. We let her put sneakers in the party room and she wore a tee shirt under so she could be comfortable at the party. THe friends and family come to celebrate her and her accomplishment, that is enough for you to show off. Let her decide, she will see what people wear to the twelve bar and bat mitzvahs she gets to go to. She knows what to wear to Synagogue, I am sure. Let it go and it will be okay is my advice. Let it go in Oakland.

This is a tough one. You might find that she already knows that your expectations for attire are dressier than her usual. Maybe you could compromise a little bit - let her be a lot more casual (but nothing with slogans, etc. on it) on Friday night and the party, and find something suitable (but not frilly) for the service. My daughter wasn't quite a picky as your's seems, but at that age she wore almost exclusively baggy pants, sweatshirts, and sneakers - though she wasn't totally opposed to all dresses. She surprised me by picking out a fun, slightly quirky dress (at Macy's!), which she wore for both the service and party. I let her buy some brightly colored Converse sneakers for her party (it's a celebration for HER after all), but she agreed to regular shoes at the service.

Unless your synagogue is very conservative, I don't think it should be a problem to avoid long sleeves. If she's attending Bat Mitzvahs of other kids, I'm sure she's aware of the the range of acceptable dress, so don't assume she'll fight it. I'd say you should let her know you expect her to dress appropriately for the occassion, but be prepared to accept an ''appropriate'' outfit that may not be as dressy as you envisioned. And be sure to stand up for your daughter and her ''own style'' if you have relatives who'll make a fuss. Remember - it's HER coming-of-age, held in a community with some expectations about appropiateness. R.K.

Quite simply I would say some of what you did in your post to her. There is nothing wrong with the way we dress 99% of the time, but there are a few special occasions that we want to be extra special and the way we dress expresses this. I would however, leave out the part about you not wanting her to look like a ragamuffin for your family. As long as she is looking forward to her Bat Mitzvah I\x92m sure she will be easy to convince.

I have an 11-year-old daughter who is very particular about what she wears. This fall we were to attend a formal wedding and she insisted that she was going to wear jeans and a t-shirt because anything else would make her look like a \x93dork\x94. We went out one day without any expectations and she found a nice dark blue and silver Chinese style shirt that she loved. It was not really what I had in mind but it looked great on her. She ended up wearing it with silver pants and beaded flats. She even found a great silver purse to go with it. It is certainly 180 degrees from how I thought she would look at this wedding when we sent our rsvp but she really looked quite fancy and grown up and I didn\x92t have to fight to get her into it the day of the event.

You will most likely have to compromise on color and even may have to change your expectations of what an appropriate outfit is. Take her shopping and tell her that you are just looking and that she is must try on things that you pick out. In turn you will look with an open eye at things that she picks out and that she must pick things out. This is her day (or days) and you want her to wear clothes she is not only comfortable in but also proud of. Do not buy anything that day. Stores will be glad to hold things for you. The point is to take the pressure off. Try looking in the Juniors sections of department stores if you don\x92t already shop there. We\x92ve found good stuff at Macy\x92s. Some times they need to be hemmed but unless she is really small the clothes there should fit and give a more grown up feel. natasha [at]

To the mom who is worried about her daughter's Bat Mitzvah attire - pick another topic to worry about! This one is not worth a fight.

My daughter gave me the same ''no dresses/skirts/etc'' ultimatum in advance of her Bat Mitzvah. For the service, she ended up wearing a pair of black slacks, a petite sized black blazer, and a cotton short sleeved t-shirt ($9) that happened to match her tallit. The cobalt blue Converse High Tops were the finishing touch on the outfit. She looked darling! And best of all she was completely comfortably and had a huge smile on her face all day long. We bought the clothes in one day at Macy's, with the rule that I could ask her to try anything on and she got 3 ''free'' vetoes - no questions asked. She used them too!

For the party she wore the same black slacks and a tank top with an overshirt from the Limited. Same sneakers too. For Sunday brunch (at our house) she wore pajama bottoms and a dirty t-shirt...with uncombed hair!

The other thing I did was warn my mom and other relatives who have very fixed ideas of what girls should wear to synagogue. This kid has her very own style. And in the end, they all thought she looked great!

Figure out what your bottom line is, and then work it out with your daughter. And look on the bright least you are not fighting about the amount of midriff or cleavage that will be showing. Good luck. Been There

Since I am a 55-year-old computer programmer whose own daughter is 30, I may not be a great fashion consultant. However, I admire your daughter's independent-mindedness and think it will work well for her in her life to continue to focus on clothes that are functional rather than ''cute.'' I relate to her problem in dressing for the relatives as similar to the problem I have in dressing for work, where I am looking for something comfortable that I can get away with as professional. I also hate shopping, and have solved the problem by getting my clothes almost exclusively by ordering on the web and getting them through the mail. LL Beans and Land's End knit pants, knit tops and cardigans are mainstays; Travelsmith is also good for easy-care clothes with comfortable waists; my daughter likes J.Jill, which has a younger style, though some of their stuff seems a little frilly and silly for your daughter's tastes as you describe them. I assume at 12-1/2 your daughter is large enough to wear the smaller sizes in these catalogues. Your relatives are probably harder to please than my colleagues at work (Is a dress required to please your relatives? Nylons? Ugh! Heels? Shudder...) but I hope you can find something with a classic simple style that you and your daughter will both enjoy. Best wishes for the celebration! (P.S For comfortable shoes that aren't sneakers, Ecco brand, which I buy at Elmwood Shoes, can't be beat.) Also likes comfortable clothes

We had a similar dilemma, exacerbated by the fact that our synagogue is very informal and the kids wear jeans and t-shirts and sneakers or flipflops all the time. We settled on a handkerchief-hem (uneven hemline) black skirt with a pretty knit top (nicer than a t-shirt but not really very dressy), plus nice black sandals with low-moderate heels. It was not as formal as I would have liked, but it wasn't jeans or flipflops! And she looked and felt pretty. (She continued to wear that identical outfit to every event that required something nicer than jeans for about a year - and then suddenly the urge to dress up hit - but that's another story!)

As to where to purchase things: we got the skirt at an out-of -town department store, but you could try Macy's or somewhere with a decent junior's department. My daughter and her friends like Forever 21, but you have to watch out - a lot of the stuff there is a little on the not-for-shul side! The shirt was actually from a resale shop. Shoes from DSW Shoe Warehouse or Shoe Pavilion.

Good luck! Ann