From “Breslov Eikh She-hu: Breslov the Way It Is: Customs and Practices, Past and Present”
By Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears (work-in-progress)
There is no “dress code” in Breslov, and people from all backgrounds should feel no obligation to change their previous manner of dress if they become Breslover Chassidim. However, as in every Chassidic group, there are traditions that many continue to keep. For those who are interested, we have compiled a few of Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig’s customs related to Shabbos clothing, plus a few from the Tsfas Breslov community led by his son, Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig.
Reb Gedaliah was a born and bred Yerushalayimer chassid, who lived most of his adult life in Meah Shearim and dressed like the chassidim of his time and place. Reb Elazar and his siblings also grew up in Meah Shearim and dress accordingly today.
Reb Gedaliah was particular about the custom of the Arizal to refrain from wearing black garments on Shabbos. Therefore, his sons, many of his talmidim, and most members of the Tsfas Breslov community wear golden caftans, which is the minhag of old Yerushalayim; or at shaloshudes (as well as when visiting chutz la'aretz), they wear dark blue embroidered tisch bekitchehs, etc.
(Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, Ben Ish Chai: Halakhos II, Lekh Lekha, 18, cites Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha'ar ha-Kavannos, Inyan Rechitzah, 63a-b, that one should wear only white garments on Shabbos. However, the Ben Ish Chai adds that at least one should not wear black. According to the Arizal, the color of the garments one wears on Shabbos in this world determines the “color” of the spiritual garments that the neshamah will wear in the World of Souls; also cf. Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha'ar ha-Shabbos, ch. 4. The Baal Shem Tov and his followers wore white clothes on Shabbos; e.g. see Shivchei Baal Shem Tov [Rubenstein ed.], 6. Although this custom eventually fell into disuse, a few Chassidic Rebbes continued to do so, even until the present day; see Shulchan ha-Tahor, Hil. Shabbos 262:8; Zohar Chai, Vayeishev, 182b; Darchei Chaim vi-Shalom [Munkatch], Seder Erev Shabbos, 365; Divrei Torah 141:79; Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Hanhagos Erev Shabbos, p. 315. Many Sefardic Kabbalists dress entirely in white on Shabbos. For the source of this custom in the Gemara, see Shabbos 25b, 114a, 119a; Bava Kama 49b, with Tosefos; Kiddushin 73a. The Rebbe discusses white garments in Likutey Moharan I, 29:3, where he relates white garments to the attainment of tikkun ha-bris, sexual purity.)
Nevertheless, Reb Gedaliah did not tell people to change their levush. Therefore, some talmidim did not emulate their teacher’s mode of dress, but merely avoided wearing black clothing on Shabbos. This was particularly true of his talmidim in America. Moreover, during Reb Gedaliah’s younger years, many Chassidim in Yerushalayim wore tish beketches with some color in them. The custom of wearing entirely black garments did not become widespread in Yerushalayim until they started importing ready-made Chassidic clothes from America. This is true of dressing entirely in black on weekdays, as well.
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro)
In former times, most Breslover Chassidim did not wear a shtreimel on Shabbos, probably because of poverty rather than any shittah not to do so. (Reb Noson writes to one of his sons that he plans to buy him a “good shtreimel and a new hat” for his chasunah, even though Reb Noson himself wore only a hat or kashketel on Shabbos). Another likely reason is that during the 19th century, the Russian government imposed restrictions on Jewish garb, including who was permitted to wear a shtreimel. However, today most Breslover Chassidim wear shtreimlach.
(Re. Reb Noson’s letter, see Alim le-Terufah [Toras Ha-Netzach ed. 2000] no. 402)
Reb Gedaliah was very strict with himself concerning Shabbos clothes, which are an expression of honoring the Shabbos. Once he was caught in the rain on Shabbos but would not remove his shtreimel, even though he was a poor man and the costly shtreimel would be damaged by the rain.
(Heard from Rabbi Chaim Man. Similarly, Darkei Chaim ve-Shalom 366, states that while visiting certain health spas, the Minchas Elazar would not remove his shtreimel even when compelled to leave the premises on Shabbos in order to immerse, and there was reason to be concerned about anti-Semitic neighbors.)
It is a widespread Chassidic custom to wear a zhvulkeh (also called a resh-zhvulkeh), a black satin dress coat, over one’s bekitcheh on Friday night. In Yerushalayim, many Chassidim wear a djebey, a brown satin outer garment, over their golden caftans. Reb Elazar’s custom, which many members of the Tzefas community emulate, is to wear a golden caftan with a long, dark blue suit jacket (rekel), draped over his shoulders. Many Galitzianer and Hungarian Rebbes wear a talis on Friday night (although this was not common practice among Russian Chassidim). All of these customs seem to be variations on the concept that on Shabbos one receives an extra spiritual garment, or “ohr makif.”
(See Siddur ARI-Rav Shabsai, Kavannos Kabbalas Shabbos; Darkei Chaim vi-Shalom [Munkatch] 368; Divrei Torah I, 59; et al.)
Reb Gedaliah wore a gray rekel over his caftan on Shabbos. Reb Dovid Shapiro mentioned that this was once a common custom in Yerushalayim. Certain Sefardic mekubalim still wear gray on Shabbos, too.
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro. Cf. Chayei Moharan 525, which mentions that the Rebbe once wore a gray zhibitzel, another type of outer garment.)
However, the main point is not to wear black clothing, including one’s outer garment. According to the minhag of old Yerushalayim, the only times when this is proper is at one’s chasunah and on Yom Kippur, when one wears a black rekel and a kittel or white caftan.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig)
Reb Gedaliah wore his outer garment draped over his right shoulder, with the left arm uncovered, both by night and by day. This Yerushalayimer minhag is an expression of kavod toward the Tefillin, which we do not wear on Shabbos. Others drape the outer garment over both shoulders (since the sleeves are usually not wide enough to be worn in the usual manner).
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig)
As an expression of kavod Shabbos, Chassidim in general do not remove their jackets at the Shabbos table. Many, including Reb Elazar Kenig, do not remove their shtreimelach or hats, either. However, Reb Elazar has said that if one is not so accustomed, this is not strictly required, but rather a hiddur that one should take on when he feels ready to do so.
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig).
Reb Gedaliah wore his light-colored Shabbos caftan all day long, including at the Shaloshudes meal.
Most Breslover women in Yerushalayim and Tsfas wear colored tichlach (kerchiefs) both during the week and on Shabbos. However, some Sefardic Breslover women wear white kerchiefs in honor of the Shabbos. (So do women in some Chassidic communities, such as Toldos Aharon in Yerushalayim.)
Parenthetically, when I emailed this list of Shabbos Clothes customs to Rabbi Dovid Shapiro of Yerushalayim for him to review, he added a story that he heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig (yibadel bein chaim li-chaim) while he and his siblings were sitting shivah for their father, Reb Gedaliah, zatzal.
It is especially relevent in light of the fact that Reb Gedaliah was makpid to wear two garments on Shabbos (a kaftan with a rekel over it, as mentioned above).
When he passed away in England, the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) there performed taharah and put tachrichim (shrouds) on him. These tachrichim were made of a better quality linen than that used in Yerushalayim. When the aron (coffin) arrived in Eretz Yisrael, the Chevra Kadisha of Yerushalayim saw the unusual tachrichim, and they were unsure as to whether they were really made of linen (which the mekubalim say is important; see Chesed LeAvraham and Ma’avar Yavok). So they decided to put on their own tachrichim. But it is improper to remove tachrichim that the deceased is already wearing, so they put their linen shrouds over the ones from England. Thus, Reb Gedaliah was buried in two garments—for whatever a person wears on Shabbos is what he will wear in the next world.