One must prepare herself for prayer, revere God’s majesty and glory, and rejoice at the opportunity to stand before the King of kings in prayer. This preparation should also be apparent in her dress; one’s clothes should be respectable, fitting for one who stands before the King.
The laws of prayer are not like the laws of other matters of sanctity. Regarding all other matters of sanctity, such as Birkhot Keri’at Shema, as long as one’s nakedness is covered, they may be recited (SA 74:6). However, regarding prayer, since one is standing before the King, she must dress in a respectable manner (SA 91:1). With regard to women, as long as her clothes are modest in accordance with the halakha, they are indeed valid for prayer. 1
Le-khatĥila one should enhance the mitzva by wearing respectable clothing for prayer, so that one honors God at least as much as one honors human beings. Just as one is careful to wear dignified attire when meeting important people, so too, she must dress at least as respectably for prayer. Indeed, one who goes out once in her life to greet a king makes sure to wear her nicest clothing. However, one who sees the king every day does not wear her fanciest garments; but she does make sure to wear clothes that suit her profession and status. Similarly, we come before the King three times a day, and we therefore dress nicely for prayer, but save our finest apparel for Shabbatot, festivals, and joyous celebrations.
- Regarding men there is a question: What does one do if he finds himself in a place in which there is nothing but underwear to cover his nakedness and he does not have a blanket to cover the rest of his body? Some say that since he is in a situation beyond his control, he should pray the way he is (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 91:3). Others say that he may not pray in this manner (BHL 91:1). This issue is clarified in Peninei Halakha: Prayer, 5:4 n. 6. However, it is clear that a woman in the same set of circumstances may not pray in that manner, because her lack of clothes is much more severe. Furthermore, there are poskim who maintain that women can fulfill their obligation of prayer by reciting only Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah. Yet, if she has a blanket, she can, under extenuating circumstances, use it to cover her whole body and pray.
It is worth noting that these laws are more complex for men because rules governing their modesty are less strict. Therefore, there are men who throughout the day walk around in clothes that are not considered respectable, such as shorts and undershirts, but for prayer they must come in distinguished attire, as explained in Peninei Halakha: Prayer 5:4-5. In contrast, women must dress modestly throughout the day, and the modest clothes that they wear during the day are certainly valid for prayer. ↩