July 7, 2016 Hasidic women’s swimwear
A reader asked: What do Hasidic women wear to swim, and why?
Answer: There’s been a lot in the news recently about how Hasidic women dress for the pool. This comes amid controversy in Williamsburg over if the Metropolitan Pool should offer hours, especially for women, catering to Hasidic women who will not swim in a coed pool. Yesterday the city announced that it will keep the women’s hours, albeit only four instead of eight, which again fueled intrigue and conversation about unique Hasidic women’s swim tradition.
In its June 26, 2016 report, this is how the New York Times described the clothes of Hasidic women:
“Their swimming outfits would have been considered prudish even by the standards of 1922, when the pool was built. They swam in dresses, some with long sleeves. One paddled in thick black tights. Inside the locker room, wigs sat upside down on window ledges and benches while their owners swam with heads under ruffled swimming caps or knotted silk scarves.”
It may seem from the many comments about Hasidic women’s dress in pools that these women are all simply swimming in their housecoats.
In fact, Hasidic women have their own swimwear, and it is called shvimkleid, Yiddish for “swim dress.”
A shvimkleid is made of the type of material boy’s swim shirts are made of; a non-absorbent, quick-to-dry fabric. It has underpants sewn into it of the same fabric as the rest of the dress. With its shirt skirt and sleeves, it is not modest by Hasidic standards for wearing outside the home.
Why don’t Hasidic women wear bathing suits?
Because the Satmar Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum (1887-1979) believed that the bathing suit itself, as a garment that revealed so much of a woman’s body, was a beged pritzah, a dress of impiety. In his letters, he wrote that, even if a woman wears a T-shirt over her bathing suit (which some women will do, especially from other Hasidic sects), she is still wearing that garment of impiety, and therefore sinning.
The answer to the bathing suit was the shvimkleid, which is worn by hundreds of girls flocking around in pools as we write this.