views updated May 23 2018


Since the 1980s new generations of academics, collectors, curators, and enthusiasts have discovered the value of the study of dress as an analytical research tool through which to examine aspects of social and economic history, material culture, cultural and gender studies, art history, anthropology, and sociology. As a consequence, the study of the history of dress has been transformed from its marginalized place of professional connoisseurship and amateur enthusiasms to become a firmly established academic and museum-based subject.

In the world of ethnography, a reconsideration of the cultural significance of clothing coupled with a rejection of old imperial approaches to ethnographical artifacts has revolutionized the field. In the early twenty-first century ethnographical museums have reconfigured their collections and displays, creating "living culture" exhibitions. These, as Michael Ross and Reg Crowshoe insist, must "see the world through another's eyes" and must ensure that "respect [is] given to another world view" (p. 240). Many ethnographical museums are also faced with serious questioning about their right to hold on to artifacts that are specifically sacred to their communities of origin, who now demand their return.

The study of dress, especially European-American fashionable dress, has long had to deal with accusations, usually from male academics, that the entire subject is a frivolous, female, trivial interest. However, the use of material culture and history of consumption debates have finally overwhelmed these prejudices. Material culture approaches stem from the premise that all goods carry a weight of cultural meanings that can be specifically "read" through object-based and consumption analysis. Anne Smart Martin states that "material objects matter because they are complex, symbolic bundles of social, cultural and individual meanings fused onto something we can touch, see and own" (p. 142).

Even when the clothes themselves have gone, their shadows survive through archives such as diaries and family accounts. Amanda Vickery studied the dress of Mrs. Elizabeth Shackleton, a well-off textile merchant's widow from the north of England, through a set of surviving personal papers dating from 1762 to 1781. Vickery concludes that Mrs. Shackleton used her clothing to identify her exact place in her gentry/merchant-class community. She did this by simplifying aristocratic style, consuming fashion with care and consideration, and altering her favorite clothes. Vickery shows that some clothes became so important to Shackleton in terms of family memory that they acquired talismanic characteristics. Vickery declares finally that her study of Mrs. Shackleton indicates significantly that women were highly responsible managers of "daily household consumption" (1993, p. 274) and far from frivolous spenders.

In 1998, Christopher Breward usefully outlined dress research developed from cultural and media studies. He noted a new interest in dress within social anthropology and semi-otics, for example, citing approaches by Ferdinand de Saussure and Roland Barthes as offering "cultural signifying systems, allowing the scholar to examine the social specificity of representations and their meaning across different cultural practices" (p. 306). Such dress-related representations include issues of behavior, the construction of appearance, the political question of identities (race, gender, and sexuality), subcultures, and semiotic interpretations of dress in films, literature, and magazines.

Caroline Evans discusses punk dress (with its patched-together use of schoolgirl uniform, bondage dress, and aggressive hair styling) as epitomizing a set of signs whose meaning is changed "through being jumbled up, re-ordered and re-contextualised next to other signs" (1997, p. 107). Fred Davis, in Fashion, Culture, and Identity (1992), also examined clothing as a nonverbal means of communicating social identity, "as this is framed by cultural values bearing on gender, sexuality, social status, age, etc." (p. 191). In refuting the trickle-down style-diffusion theory, he concludes that there are two fashion systems at play at the turn of the millennium, the globalized world of mass, commodified, international fashion and the "veritable cacophony of local, sometimes exceedingly transient, dress tendencies and styles each attached, however loosely, to its own particularity, be it a subculture, an age grade, a political persuasion an ethnic identity" (p. 206).

Feminist approaches.

Vickery, Jane Gaines, and Elizabeth Wilson have argued that feminist consumption analysis of the 1970s all too easily accepted a male view that women's interest in dress was frivolous and that women had indeed allowed themselves to become "the gilding of the patriarchal cage," on display for male pleasure (Vickery, 1998, p. 274). Wilson comments how strange it is that "when so much else has changed there still exists such a strong hostility to fashion amongst so many radicals" (p. 28). She proposes that feminists should accept "fashion as a legitimate and highly aesthetic pleasure," (p. 33), a view shared by Caroline Evans and Minna Thornton, who wrote in 1989 that fashion "is a field in which women have found pleasure in the elaboration of meaningmeaning which is there to be taken and used" (p. xv).

Analysis of male dress.

A new development in the 1990s, building on Farid Chenoune's innovative History of Men's Fashions (1993), has been the emergence of new critical examinations of menswear. This differs from the subcultural focus of Dick Hebdige in that it looks at a far wider social range of male clothing. Christopher Breward, Frank Mort, and John Tosh focus on the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries rather than on earlier periods. Their studies investigate not only the style, retailing, and consumption of men's clothing, but also the cultural processes surrounding the construction of masculinity and they provide, for the first time, an analysis of gay culture and its impact on mainstream dressing.

Thus, the whole field of dress history and dress studies has undergone a dynamic transformation since the 1980s, though it is useful to remember Patricia Cunningham's warning of 1988 that dress historians should not "follow other approaches blindly, but rather let our own questions and materials lead us to new approaches" (p. 79).

Constructions of Beauty: Sexuality and Issues of
Gendered Dress

Classical Greek art, including dress, has formed the basis of constructions of ideals of male and female bodily and facial beauty in the Western world, as witnessed by the continuing rereferencing of images such as the charioteer of Delphi, a bronze, life-size, votive statue from the Apollo Sanctuary, Delphi, dating from 475 b.c.e., at the end of the early classical period. In her study Fabrics of Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting (2002) Anne Hollander notes that the cutting and shaping of cloth was unknown in ancient Greece. Rather "the beauty of clothing dwelt in the distinction of its woven fabric and the elegance or aptness with which it was draped around the individual body" (pp. 1314). Typically, the charioteer of Delphi wears a long, simple, Ionic tunic held in place with cords over the shoulders that tie at the front waist. This system frees the arms and allows drapery to fall over the waist and then straight down to the ankles. Hollander notes that "the life likeness in carved Greek clothes and bodies has often produced perfectiona stylization of natural appearances so subtle as to seem absent" (pp. 1314).

This classical draped perfection has been continually reworked within European-American dress design, nearly always in white fabric, and usually with a high waist. It was most famously appropriated as the symbol of freedom and equality during the French Revolution. Originating in the 1770s anti-establishment, neoclassical paintings of Jacques-Louis David, the style was adopted for use by women in French revolutionary festivals in the period from 1790 to 1795 and became, in modified fashion form, the fashionable attire of European and American women from 1800 until about 1825, when the high waist was abandoned. The next revivals came out of the English arts and crafts and aesthetic movements in the period from 1878 to 1910, favored by progressive, antifashion dressers. This reflected the very same search for natural feminine perfection at a time when the shape of fashionable women was distorted and restricted by corsets and bustles. The search was repeated again by Mariano Fortuny, who famously created his own "Delphos" dresses in finely pleated, plain-colored silk, modeled exactly on the tunic of the charioteer of Delphi. Fortuny produced these from his Venetian palazzo from 1910 until his death in 1949. They were worn by a group of progressive women, in defiance of the fashion of their time. Paris couturiers too, however, have famously reworked classical Greek drapery into the height of seasonal fashion, including Madeleine Vionnet, from about 1918 into the 1930s; Alix, also known as Madame Grés, through the 1930s and 1950s; and since the 1980s, John Galliano.

Maori culture.

The ethnographer Dorota Starzecka confirms that among the Maori of New Zealand, ideals of beauty, fashion, and glamour, and concern over creating a strong "visual impact" were traditionally embedded in the cultural practices of both men and women. "Even the most mundane dress or humble ornament was aesthetically pleasing or tasteful; the most successful fashion statement implied harmony of function, texture and design as well as glamour" (p. 45).

Starzecka, quoting Margaret Mead, notes that a Maori man "anxious to follow the fashion to its highest level would need to dress his hair into a top knot have greenstone pendants and white feathers hanging from his ears; have the rei puta [pendants carved from the teeth of sperm whales] suspended from his neck, have a dogskin cloak around his body" as well as "elaborate indelible tattoo designs over his face and forehead, and over his butoocks and thighs." (p. 39).

Starzecka describes the moko, or tattoo, as a fashion, albeit with mythic origins, a sacred practice, which came to New Zealand "as part of the cultural template from Eastern Polynesia. With this elaborate and tastefully designed array of jewelry and other ornaments, including the permanently inscribed indigo-black patterning of the moko, the Maori were acutely conscious of personal appearance" (pp. 3940).


In Europe and America trousers were gendered as masculine until women very gradually, through progressive dress movements, encroached on this ownership little by little from the mid-nineteenth century. In China, however, trousers were worn by both sexes, especially among the rural peasantry. Made in blue cotton dyed with indigo and worn with simple matching jackets, this style can be seen in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century travelers' drawings of the Chinese peasantry.

When Chairman Mao sought to represent sartorially a uniformed image of his evolution from the late 1940s, he selected the same indigo-dyed trousers and jackets for civilian use and the entire population had to wear versions of this work uniform (zhifu ). Women's patriotic trousered suits (aiguo ni ), however, had "different styles of shirt and jacket to choose from, primarily distinguished by the detailing of the collar" and the shortness of the jackets (Roberts, p. 23). However, Claire Roberts notes that these differences were so slight that they "may have appeared the same to Western eyes" (p. 22). Despite the shift in political ideology and lifting of harsh dress regulations after Mao's death in 1976, similar styles continued into the new millennium; in the early twenty-first century many ordinary women in China still wear plain trousers and jackets, though Chinese-made jeans often replace Communist-style trousers.

Clothing as a Powerful Container of National
and Community Identity

Studies in clothing, as shown in Eileen Hooper-Greenhill's discussion of the return of a Ghost Dance shirt from Glasgow to the Lakota Sioux, confirm that dress can carry a profound talismanic weight of sacred meaning, related to the specific religious practices of their community of origin. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, museums that contained such examples, either looted by conquering and occupying forces or collected by missionaries, anthropologists, or traders, found themselves at the center of demands for their return.

The clash here lies between old imperialist museum approaches and the determination of communities to be respected as living cultures on their own terms. Many such communities see their sacred artifacts as defiled through storage and display in museums. In 1993 the Wounded Knee Survivors Association started a campaign for the repatriation of a Ghost Dance shirt to the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre, South Dakota. George Crager had collected this shirt after the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, when nearly three hundred Lakota Sioux were killed by the Seventh U.S. Cavalry. Crager sold the shirt to Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1892. By then he was the Lakota interpreter on Cody's Wild West Show, which visited the city that year. In an awful irony, among the cast were Short Bull and Kicking Bear, both survivors of the massacre.

In the 1880s, Ghost Dance shirts were the center of Sioux ceremonies and were seen as so deeply imbued with protective qualities that they offered protection to wearers against the white man's bullets. As Eileen Hooper-Greenhill explains in her study Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture, the Glasgow shirt, displayed since the 1950s, had been exposed in a large case with little explanation alongside mixed "Indian" items. Museum curators in Glasgow refused to return the shirt, suggesting that it was a fake. The Wounded Knee Survivors Association petitioned the city, arguing that, as a sacred symbol of their cultural heritage, the shirt's return home would bring healing and dignity to a community plagued with despair, alcoholism, suicide, and loss of identity. The City Council voted in favor of the shirt's return, and it was taken back to Pierre in 1999. Hooper-Greenhill comments that even if doubts over provenance remain, the sacred cultural weight of the shirt to the Lakota Sioux in the 1990s "merited serious consideration" (p. 156).

Kente cloth.

Dress exhibitions and debates also question the role of dress within concepts of national identity. National dress, as Lou Taylor confirms, "bears the weight of representation of an entire nation stemming from an urban, knowing, intellectualised awareness of the concept of nationhood" (p. 213). The UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History exhibition and book, Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente Cloth and African American Identity (1998), edited by the museum's director, Doran H. Ross, tracks the meanings placed on kente cloth from its "traditional" design, manufacture, and ritualized use in Ghana, including its use as national identity dress, to its consumption in the United States, where it has become a symbol of African-American identity. Ross explains that "the strength of kente [is] in the ideas that bind it to African American life and tie it to the Motherland" (p. 194). Research shows kente-inspired design has been used to mark out specific African-American identity through use in women's fashions, by children to mark Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, for kente ornaments for the African-American Kwanza holiday, and to trim academic and church robes. Ross confirms that all of this anchors this cloth specifically within African-American culture, "enabling" increasing numbers of African-Americans to relate to and buy into their African heritage.

European peasant dress.

Dress in rural communities historically carries highly specific visual forms of ethnic identity because it is deeply embedded in local sociocultural tradition and practice. The design of dress is specific to each community, and clothes are worn with pride, uniting the village into one cohesive social and spiritual identity.

Peasant dress was worn in the more isolated rural communities of Europe until World War II. In Hungary, for example, over 50 percent of the population lived in the countryside until 1940. In Poland the number was 80 percent. European peasant communities led a parallel existence alongside urban cities (Hofer and Fél, p. 56). Their land was usually owned by wealthy urban families, and their art was informed by urban style, though always on their own terms.

As well as identifying a community, the use of artifacts and festive clothing in seasonal, religious, and life-cycle ceremonies was so central to community belief systems that Tamás Hofer and Edit Fél state that they "represent intentions, emotions and they solemenize human relationships and sanctify them" (Csillery, Fél, and Hofer, p. 3). Every step of a villager's life cycle (birth, courtship, marriage, and death) was celebrated by the entire community, following long-established rules that involved specific use of clothing, which represented their social and spiritual strength and unity.

Among the Matyó people of Mezokövesd, for example, if "a woman died young, her best clothesfollowed her into the grave," while "a man's shroud was made from the loose sleeves of the shirt he had worn as a bridegroom" (Csillery, Fél, and Hofer, p. 23). Even though Mezokövesd was poor, interest in clothing was so strong that it was a "leading inspiration of peasant taste and style for surrounded area from the 1870s" (p. 50) because both men's and women's clothes were a riot of proudly flaunted decoration and color. Such clothes were central expressions of ethnic identity and reflected a community's "struggle, sacrifice and joy" (p. 60).

Issues of European-American Fashion Development and Consumption

Paris became the provider of modern, elegant, and costly fashions for royal and aristocratic wear across Europe beginning in the late seventeenth century. Louis XIV established his personal image as le Roi Soleil (Sun King) by creating at his palace of Versailles a luxury world entirely devoted to his glorification. Key to this was the appearance of his court and especially the clothing of his courtiers. All encouragement was given to the development of a new silk-weaving industry in the city of Lyon to provide luxury fashion fabrics for the court. Thus, from the early eighteenth century Lyon became the center for the design and manufacture of the most desired fashion silks, which were worn at every European royal court. Paris itself became the center for the retailing of dress and fashion accessories. This successful Paris/Lyon commercial twinning led to the development of the Paris haute couture industry by the late nineteenth century. Through this, Paris held its place as the creator and arbiter of European-American fashion right through to the 1960s, a period of over 350 years. Paris remains the most famous center for the display of fashion, though its designers come from all over the world and are rivaled by those in New London, Milan, Tokyo, and London.

In the eighteenth century, court dressmakers and their urban and aristocratic clients were the orginators of new styles. Aileen Ribeiro emphasizes the centrality of the creative fashion role of the marchands des modes in Paris, who "supplied and arranged" all the fancy trimmings on women's dress (p. 68). In 1745, Madame de Pompadour became mistress to Louis XV and, as Ribeiro shows in her study Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, "her fashion sense was dominant for the next decade; she summed up the elegance of the Rococo" (p. 136). Interestingly, Colin Jones (2002) confirms that Paris, rather than Versailles, set the fashions; Madame de Pompadour "shopped on the Rue St. Honoré and spurred the court to follow the city fashions, rather than rely on the city aping the court" (p. 153).


In Britain, nineteenth-century mourning dress can be seen as an example of the social control of women through etiquette, but also as an example of the development of a middle-class fashion market, through ready-to-wear manufacture, department store retailing, and advertising. Social pressures to enact every last detail of the three stages of mourning dress were so intense that between 1850 and 1900, no woman who sought any kind of public respectability and community approbation for her family dared defy the rules. Thus sales in dull black silk mourning crape, white widows' caps, black woolen bombazine, and ready-made widows' weeds flourished until the ghastly death toll of World War I eroded the pressures and etiquette regulations.

Globalization of Fashion

Since the 1980s and the growth of the global economy, there has been massive growth in what Joanne Eicher has termed "world fashion" (p. 300). At the start of the twenty-first century, the preferred garments of young people of both sexes from around the world tend to be jeans, sweatshirts, T-shirts, and sneakers. These clothes are also international icons of American culture. The global young wear the same clothing, a phenomenon made possible by the exploitative mechanisms of the globalization of clothing manufacture, distribution, and retailing and by new technologies, global commodity advertising of branded leisure clothing, and the cultural and political domination of the United States. The reasons for wearing such clothing vary, but these clothes signify youth, modernity, and an eagerness to belong to the newly globalized capitalist world.

Dress as the Image of the Cutting Edge

In the period from 1964 to 1970, styles of dress worn by young women in Britain were the most famous visible representation of the "teenage revolution" and of the cutting edge of cultural modernity. Miniskirts exposed thighs to public view for the first time in European-American fashion history. These changes were rooted in the major social and cultural upheavals of the late 1950s, generated, as Tony Bennett explains, by "a watershed around which a series of significant "before" and "after" contrasts can be drawn" (p. 7). Young, radical film-makers, painters, writers, photographers, and designers then successfully challenged the British establishment's hold on cultural power. Many who came from working-class backgrounds were helped into university and art-school education by postwar state grants to cover fees and living costs.

The London couture trade ignored these developments, maintaining their prewar function of creating elegant clothing for the annual high society calendar. The fashionable age in 1955 was around thirty-five but could easily be fifty-five if a woman kept a slim figure. By 1965 the fashionable age was sixteen, a near twenty-year drop in ten years.

Countercultural groups and their dress.

This fashion shift was created by the young on their own terms. Angela Carter, a radical feminist writer and antiVietnam War activist, felt that "one was living on the edge of the unimaginable; there was a constant sense of fear and excitement" (p. 211). Young countercultural dressers from the late 1950s wore clothing appropriated from workers' clothing and army-surplus store outlets. "Ban the Bomb" campaigners and art students (the women often with long loose hair and the men with beards) wore fishermen's pullovers, road-menders' jackets, and ex-Naval duffel coats, in an effort to defy existing barriers of gender, class, and occupation. At about the same time, the subcultural, androgynous Mods focused their attention on modern jazz and on acquiring motor scooters, drugs, and neat expensive suits and short smart hair cuts. It was a tidy "look," originally male, but one that belied an "alternative" fascination with drugs and hard partying after the end of the working day.

It was a fusion of these styles and interests that by 19641965 evolved into the hard-edged bright "look" of London fashion and propelled the bold, colorful geometrics of Pop and Op art. By the late 1960s however a far more exotic, ethnic, and historical revival of styles, largely drawn from the hippie culture of the West Coast of the United States became commonplace in both alternative and mainstream fashion circles.

In Britain, state art colleges were the central catalyst for the blossoming of radical fashion, producing key designers such asMary Quant, Ossie Clarke, and Barbara Hulanicki of Biba. As the most directional British style creator of the mid-1960s, Mary Quant's work cannot be underestimated. Always more interested in creating a whole "look," her innovative, simple clothes (with colored stockings and flat shoes appropriated from art-college, countercultural dress) were retailed at mid-market price levels. These designers threw out centuries of British upper-class clothing etiquette and nearly destroyed the London couture industry in the process.

The contrast with Paris could not be greater. There, the couture houses themselves produced a new generation of dynamic designers, such as Paco Rabanne, whose metal/plastic disc minidresses were not only more radical than London designs but also, crucially, helped keep Paris couture alive because of their direct appeal to the young.

Yoruba fashion, Nigeria.

Through the 1990s the academic study of fashionable dress began to reject its Eurocentric focus and a long-held view, as Joanne Eicher comments, that "dress outside the boundaries of western civilization has experienced little change and is therefore traditional" (p. 4). Acknowledgement has finally been made that the term fashion applies as equally to dress designed, manufactured, and consumed, for example, in Lagos, Dakar, Rajasthan, and Chiang Mai as in Paris, London, and Milan.

One of the most useful texts is Cloth, Dress, and Art Patronage in Africa (1999), by Judith Perani and Norma H. Wolff. This details the design, manufacture, and consumption of contemporary Yoruba strip-weave aso-oke cloth, which forms the basis of fashionable women's Yoruba dress in Nigeria. Made up into wrapper, blouse, and head tie, a competitive fashion in the late twentieth century was "shine-shine" lace cloth woven from specially imported Japanese, synthetic, gold, filament yarn.

Perani and Wolff explain that "shine-shine" cloth, made on narrow, traditional Yoruba strip-weave looms by male weavers, "has been adopted by wealthy urbanites as a visible symbol of prosperity, status and pride in ethnic heritage." They show that the weavers "have their fingers on the pulse of fashion through on-going interaction with their elite consumer-patrons" (pp. 171172). Because of the flexibility of these craft processes, the weavers can alter the design of these fabrics rapidly, in keeping with fashion shifts. As Perani and Wolff make clear, none of this bears any relationship whatsoever to elite levels of European-American "designer" dress, except through the same constant search for design modernity and newness.

Designer fashion in the twenty-first century.

The world of couture has always responded to the zeitgeist of its times, as much in the twenty-first century as in Madame de Pompadour's day. In the twenty-first century's fascination with brand labels as symbols of modernity and "cool," the top designer fashion trade now serves as the glamorous front for the billion-dollar global marketing of designer-branded products of every kind. This mass retailing of branded fashion accessories, cosmetics, and perfume is built on near-mystical, magical designer images of beauty and celebrity, seen in glossy advertisements, on catwalks at the Academy Awards, and in much-reported fashion shows. With only a few thousand clients personally buying couture, designers are given free reign to create. All involvedparticularly the two major fashion conglomerates, of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (also known as the LVMH group, which owns the salons of Givenchy, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs International, Kenzo, Christian Lacroix) and Pierre Bergé, owner of Yves St. Laurent, and of Gucci (which in the early 2000s owned majority holdings in the companies of Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney)recognize the central need for brand images to be "individual," seductive, and at the cutting edge of modernity. John Galliano's London sense of extreme, romantic, youthful modernity has, for example, been successfully appropriated in Paris, transforming the international image and bank balance of the house of Dior.

Weaving in and around this world are the conceptual designers, such as Martin Margiela, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, and Hussein Chalayan. Defined as designers who are more interested in the ideas behind their designs than in commercial viability, all of these produce both commercial and conceptual collections. Some, such as Alexander McQueen, fuse both approaches successfully into one. Caroline Evans in her seminal study Fashion at the Edge (2003), argues that from the 1990s avant-garde fashion design has reflected "the dark and deathly side" of consumer capitalism (p. 37). She notes the deliberate creation of "spoiled work that reflects a spoiled world" (p. 307), spoiled by deconstruction, remaking, cutting, slashing, damaging, even despoiling with mould and bacteria as in Margeila's exhibition work in the Netherlands in 1997. She describes these clothes as "apocalyptic visions" typified by notions of trauma, deathliness and haunting (p. 4). Evans sees these clothes as contemporary representations of cutting edge modernity, through their sartorial articulation of the political, cultural, social, and technological instabilities of the turn of the twenty-first century.

Evans shows how the work of Alexander McQueen illustrates many of these themes. She highlights his "What a Merry-Go-Round," autumn-winter 20012002 collection, based on a circus theme, with models made up as white clowns "to produce a mournful and alienated imagerather than celebrating circus performance" (p. 102). Evans notes that this show stressed "the frightening and strange elements of the circusand thus the darker side of modernity" (p. 102).


The wide range of past and present approaches to the study of clothing and fashion outlined here were well established by the early 2000s, as confirmed by their use within museum exhibitions and a full range of dress publications dealing with historical, ethnographical, and fashion analysis. As Ann Smart Martin clearly states, all of this reflects, finally, "the shifts in intellectual feelings about the core relationships between humans, goods and society" (p. 143).

See also Body, The ; Cultural Revivals ; Cultural Studies ; Masks ; Textiles and Fiber Arts as Catalysts for Ideas .


Bennett, Tony, et al. Politics, Ideology, and Popular Culture. Milton Keynes, U.K.: Open University Press, 1982.

Breward, Christopher. "Cultures, Identities: Fashioning a Cultural Approach to Dress." Fashion Theory 2, no. 4 (December 1998): 301313.

Carter, Angela. "Truly It Felt Like Year One." In Very Heaven: Looking Back at the Sixties, edited by Sara Maitland, 209216. London: Virago, 1988.

Csillery, Klára, Edit Fél, and Tamás Hofer. Hungarian Peasant Art. Budapest: Corvina, 1969.

Cunningham, Patricia. "Beyond Artifact and Object Chronology." Dress 14 (1988): 7679.

Davis, Fred. Fashion, Culture, and Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Eicher, Joanne B. Dress and Ethnicity. Oxford: Berg, 1995.

Evans, Caroline. Fashon at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity, and Deathliness. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003.

. "Street Style: Subcultures and Subversion." Costume 31 (1997): 105110.

Evans, Caroline, and Minna Thornton. Women and Fashion: A New Look. London: Quartet, 1989.

Hitchcock, Tim, and Michèle Cohen. English Masculinities, 16601800. New York: Addison Wesley, 1999.

Hofer, Tamás, and Edit Fél. Hungarian Folk Art. Translated by Mária Kresz and Bertha Gaster. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Hollander, Anne. Fabrics of Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting. London: National Gallery, 2002.

Hooper-Greenhill, Eileen. Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture. London: Routledge, 2000.

Jones, Colin. Madame de Pompadour: Images of a Mistress. London: National Gallery, 2002.

Martin, Ann Smart. "Makers, Buyers, and Users: Consumerism as a Material Culture Framework." Winterthur Portfolio 28, nos. 2/4 (summer/autumn 1993): 141157.

Mort, Frank. Cultures and Consumption: Masculinities and Social Space in Late Twentieth-Century Britain. London: Routledge, 1996.

Perani, Judith, and Norma H. Wolff. Cloth, Dress, and Art Patronage in Africa. New York: Berg, 1999.

Ribeiro, Aileen. Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 17151789. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002.

Roberts, Claire. Evolution and Revolution: Chinese Dress, 1700s1990s. Sydney, Australia: Powerhouse, 1997.

Ross, Doran H., ed. Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente Cloth and African American Identity. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1998.

Ross, Michael, and Reg Crowshoe. "Shadows and Sacred Geography: First Nations History-Making from an Alberta Perspective." In Making Histories in Museums, edited by G. Kavanagh, 240256. Leicester, U.K.: Leicester University Press, 1996.

Starzecka, Dorota. Maori: Art and Culture. Auckland, New Zealand: British Museum, 1996.

Taylor, Lou. The Study of Dress History. London: Manchester University Press, 2002.

Vickery, Amanda. "Women and the World of Goods: A Lancashire Consumer and Her Possessions, 17511781." In Consumption and the World of Goods, edited by John Brewer and Roy Porter, 274301. London: Routledge, 1993.

. The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.

Wilson, Elizabeth. "All the Rage." In Fabrication: Costume and the Female Body, edited by Jane Gaines and Charlotte Herzog. London: Routledge, 1990.

Lou Taylor


views updated May 14 2018


In the Bible

The biblical terms for clothing (Heb. בֶּגֶד, beged; כְּסוּת, kesut; לְבוּשׁ, levush) and the corresponding verbs are employed in connection with the cover of the body for warmth or reasons of modesty. Extensive use is also made of the terms in figures of speech: "Put on thy beautiful garments" (Isa. 52:1), as an emblem of greatness; "He put on garments of vengeance for clothing" (Isa. 59:17), as a symbol of revenge; "For he dressed me in clothes of triumph," as a metaphor for victory and good fortune (Isa. 61:10); "They shall wear shame" (Ps. 35:26), as a metaphor for failure and defeat; and "Let your priest be clothed with triumph" (Ps. 132:9), as a metaphor for success and prestige; and so forth. On many occasions, clothing emphasizes a person's status, position, clothing, or particular situation or task: "Royal apparel (levush malkhut)… which the king is accustomed to wear" (Esth. 6:8), with which another man (Mordecai) would be honored or favored. A hairy cloak was probably a hallmark of Nazirites and ascetics: "Neither shall they wear a hairy mantle (adderet se'ar) to deceive" (Zech. 13:4). During the period of mourning widows wore a characteristic garment: "She put off from her garments of widowhood" (Gen. 38:14). Prisoners apparently also had special clothing: "He changed his prison garments" (ii Kings 25:29). The official uniform (holy garments) worn by priests in the service of God was of great importance: "And Thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron" (Ex. 28:2). Just as the beauty of a garment symbolized a man's greatness, tearing the clothing or wearing poor and dirty clothing or sackcloth indicated a lowered station or mourning.

The Bible mentions articles of clothing appropriate to specific parts of the body: a cloth miter or turban (ẓenif, miẓnefet) to cover the head (Ex. 29:6; Zech. 3:5); metal or leather helmets (kovaʿ), and head coverings used in warfare for protection (i Sam. 17:5; ii Chron. 26:14); a dress-like garment (simlah), apparently with closed seams used by both men and women to cover the entire body from the shoulders to the ankles (i Kings 11:30; Ex. 12:34; Y. Yadin, et al., Hazor, 3–4 (1961), pl. cccxxxix: 1, 2); the tunic (ketonet), a short, closed garment, covering the top part of the body, worn by both men and women (Gen. 37:3; Lev. 16:14; Song 5:3); the coat (meʿil), a long outer garment open at the front (i Sam. 15:27; 24:5; ii Sam. 13:18); breeches (mikhnasayim), covering the loins, worn by the priests (Ex. 28:42; Ezek. 44:18); the girdle (ʾavnet), a belt for fastening the coat or dress around the waist (Ex. 29:9; Lev. 8:7); and the shoe, made of skin and attached with laces, strings, or straps (Gen. 14:23; Isa. 5:27).

Clothes, particularly the dress-like garment and the tunic, were considered essential though expensive articles, both because of their value, which of course was related to the work that went into producing them, and by reason of their importance in indicating a man's status, position, character, and living style. It is for this reason that the Bible and royal documents frequently list the quantities of clothing given as gifts (Gen. 45:22) or taken in war (Judg. 14:12). Kings had keepers of the wardrobe (ii Kings 22:14), and the Temple in Jerusalem had a special wardrobe room.

Types of Garment Shown on Monuments

A common garment worn by men, which is often depicted on monuments in Egypt and Mesopotamia, was a piece of cloth covering from the waist to the knees or below (N. de Garis Davies, The Tomb of Puyemrê at Thebes, 1 (1922), pl. xxxiii, a), gathered around the waist and held in place by a belt fastened either in front or at the back or tied near the navel (L. Borchardt, Das Grabdenkmal des Koenigs Sahu-Re, 2 (1913), pl. 6; M.G. Lefébure, Le tombeau de Séti i, 4 (1886), pl. v). Occasionally this garment was patterned and multicolored, but more often it was a solid color, usually white. It was sometimes held in place by a leather or cloth suspender, passing diagonally over one shoulder from the upper part of the garment (Y. Yadin, et al., Hazor, 3–4 (1961), pl. ccxxvi). A more complex garment, made of a wide piece of cloth, covered the body from shoulder to ankle; it was worn by both men and women and was most common in Mesopotamia, though in other places it was worn as a festive garment (N. de Garis Davies and A.H. Gardiner, The Tomb of Ḥuy, 1926). This garment could be both in single color or in multicolored patterns. While it usually covered only one shoulder, it was occasionally worn covering both. In addition to the patterns woven into the cloth, a decorative border was common (W. Wreszinski, Atlas zur altaegyptisehen Kulturgeschichte, 2 (1935), pl. 46).

A garment more characteristic of the lower classes consisted of two shrunken cloths which were suspended from the waist in front and back by a belt or string, thus covering the loins (P.A.A. Boeser, Die Denkmaeler des Neuen Reiches (1911)). A sewn dress-like garment with sleeves covered the entire body; it had a large opening for the head, somewhat resembling a collar. The pictures on several monuments show that the stitches were prominent, serving also as a kind of decoration. The more elegant classes wore two garments: a sewn, short- or long-sleeved dress over which was worn a sheath covering the shoulder or sometimes the entire dress (E.F. Schmidt, Persepolis, 1 (1953, pls. 31, 32). Another such two-piece ensemble in the luxury category was made up of a length of cloth extending from the waist to the knees or trousers over which was worn a wide decorated cloth covering the body from shoulder to ankles. Typical of the colder, northern countries was a sleeved coat fastened all the way down (F. Thureau-Dangin, Arslan Tash (1931), 111–2, pl. 33:43; N. de Garis Davies, The Tombs of Menkheperrasonb… (1933), pl. iv). Pieces of cloth were frequently added to the basic garment in order to cover the shoulders (Boeser, op. cit., pl. xxiv). The tunic was a short, sewn garment, usually with short sleeves. It was made of one piece of cloth specially woven for this purpose with an opening for the head in the center. The cloth was folded along the shoulder line and sewn along the edges, thus making a garment which covered the upper part of the body. The tunic was often made with a woven decoration or later embroidered.

The clothing shown on early Mesopotamian and Egypt monuments emphasizes ethnic differences. Most apparent are the shorter lengths, relatively lighter weights of the materials (including translucent cloth) – especially in the case of women's wear – and the head coverings worn in Egypt, while the northern countries used longer and heavier clothing. The materials from which the garments were made also show ethnological differences. The garments depicted on a number of Mesopotamian monuments of the third millennium b.c.e. are made of heavy wool strands, fastened with large laces, or sewn with strips of animal skin. Noticeable ethnological differences also appear in head coverings. Wigs seem to have been widely worn by both men and women. A common style was a band circling the hair, tied at the back or side. On the majority of the Egyptian monuments feathers worn on the head depict Ethiopian captives. Headgear crowned with feathers is characteristic of the Sea Peoples (T. Dothan, Ha-Pelishtim ve-Tarbutam ha-Ḥomrit (1967), figs 1–7). Skullcaps resembling cones and cylinders decorated with ribbons and lacing were common in Babylonia and Assyria. Covering the head with a kerchief was customary in Egypt and Canaan. The most common sandal had a leather sole held in place by straps. Sandals could be partly closed, covering half the foot, or completely enclosed. However, the figures on monuments are usually shown barefoot.

[Ze'ev Yeivin]

Talmudic Times

Talmudic and midrashic literature is replete with information on matters of dress and clothing, usually supplied incidentally as part of a comment on biblical themes or in connection with religious law and custom which often concern matters of dress.

The importance of clothing in adding to the confidence and dignity of man is stressed in the Talmud: "fine garments" are among the things which "enlarge man's mind" (Ber. 57b), and "a man's dignity is seen in his costume" (Ex. R. 18:5). Apart from the special and distinctive garments which characterized the scholar, he was enjoined to be spotless and neat in his dress: "A scholar on whose garments a stain is found is worthy of death" (Shab. 114a), and he should not go out in patched shoes (Ber. 43b). An incident related in the Midrash is based upon the fact that *Yannai mistook an ignorant man for a scholar because he was elegantly dressed (Lev. R. 9:3).

As many as 90 different articles of clothing are listed by Krauss, but the Talmud enumerates the 18 articles of clothing which were regarded as indispensable and which could therefore be rescued from a fire on the Sabbath. The lists given both in the Babylonian (Shab. 120a) and the Jerusalem (Shab. 16:5, 15d) Talmuds, apart from some differences in spelling, are practically identical, affording a picture of a man's complete apparel. On the upper part of the body, next to the skin, he wore a sleeveless tunic which was covered by a shirt (ḥalluk). Over this came an outer tunic, and the top garment was a cloak. A hollow money belt was worn. The lower part of the body was covered by breeches, over which trousers were worn; on the feet were socks and shoes. A girdle was tied round the waist and an apron was also worn. A felt cap covered the head and a hat was worn over this. A scarf completed the attire. Even the order of donning the clothes was laid down (der 10). Apart from the shirt and the girdle, all these garments were worn by the Greeks, and this raises the question of whether there was a distinctive Jewish dress in talmudic times.

There is evidence that there was. With regard to men, the Midrash states that Moses was called an Egyptian (Ex. 2:19) because he was dressed as such and not as a Jew. In one version of a well-known Midrash, one of the reasons given for the redemption of the children of Israel from bondage is "that they did not change or substitute their [distinctive Jewish] dress" and on the verse "Lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone," a Yalkut (Num. 768) states, "they are distinguished from the other peoples in everything, in their dress…" Generally speaking, however, it would appear that apart from the * ẓiẓit enjoined by the Bible, the dress of the ordinary people was similar to that of non-Jews. The scholar however wore distinctive garments. The scarf worn by ordinary people, which was probably fringed, became the * tallit of the scholar. The Talmud indicates its severe displeasure of the common person who wore the tallit of the scholar (bb 98a). The scholar's shirt covered his whole body, so that his skin was invisible, and his tallit completely covered the shirt (bb 57b), so that "the scholar was recognized by the manner in which he wrapped himself in his tallit" (dez 5). He wore a distinctive hat, a kind of turban (Pes. 111b). Judah b. Ilai used to wrap himself in his fringed shawl and he looked like an angel of the Lord (Shab. 25b).

It was regarded as immodest and against Jewish custom for a married woman to wear her hair loose. The difference between the costume of women in Ereẓ Israel and Babylon is noted; in Babylon the women wore colored garments, while in Ereẓ Israel they wore starched white linen garments (Pes. 109a). Black clothing was worn as a sign of mourning, trouble, or distress (Ḥag. 16a), or when appearing as a defendant in a lawsuit (tj, rh 1:3, 57b). When R. *Akiva had to break to R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus the news of his excommunication he "clothed himself in black" (bm 59b). A complete change of garments was enjoined for the Sabbath, and this was regarded as so important that biblical sanction was found for it (Shab. 113a, 114a).

Hellenistic and Persian Periods

The frescoes of the third-century synagogue at *Dura-Europos, depicting a number of biblical scenes, portray costumes reflecting the Hellenistic and Persian cultures, both of which influenced this frontier city. The more common type of dress-tunic or gown (chiton, colobium, or dalmatica) with purple stripes (clavi), shawl (himation orpallium), and sandals – is assigned to prophets, elders, civilian leaders, and laymen. In certain cases, the pallium has ẓiẓit attached to the corners. The Persian costume, which includes a short belted tunic, trousers, and soft white boots, is assigned to royalty, courtiers, and Temple personnel. The high priest wears a long cloak; he alone has a head covering. Women wear a plain chiton with elbow-length sleeves and a shawl, one end of which is fastened over the shoulder and the other draped over the head. The two distinct traditions in Jewish dress, Hellenistic and Persian, are represented by a group of Jews portrayed in the sixth-century mosaics in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, and by the sixth-century wall painting from Wadi Sarga, Egypt, of the "Three Children in the Furnace," now in the British Museum. These two works are probably based on much earlier types. The pronged ornaments known as gams shown on many of the costumes at Dura-Europos are similar to those found on garments discovered in the Judean Desert caves used as refuge by Bar Kokhba's followers in the second century.

The Post-Talmudic Era

In the post-talmudic period Jewish costume was greatly influenced by various halakhic, moral, and social principles laid down in rabbinic literature. The prohibition against following the custom of the Gentiles in the manner of dress and mode of cutting hair (Lev. 18:3; 20:23; Deut. 12:30; Zeph. 1:8) became an important factor behind many of the communal dress regulations and *sumptuary laws. The garb of a Jew should reflect propriety and humility and he should therefore avoid wearing expensive clothes. He must observe the laws regarding ẓiẓit and sha'atnez (see *mixed species) and decency requires him to wear a belt. Women must be modest in their attire, and married women should always cover their hair. Fine clothes should be worn on the Sabbath and even finer ones on the festivals. These rabbinical regulations served to keep Jewish dress conservative and outmoded. Discriminatory laws passed against the Jews had a similar effect. The earliest example of these, decreed in Egypt in 849 by the caliph al-Mutawakkil, required Jews and Christians to wear a yellow Persian mantle (tailasan) and a cord belt (zunnar). If they wore the Persian hat (kalansuwa) they were restricted to certain colors, and if they wore a turban it had to be yellow. Later, they also had to wear a *badge of the same color. In the Christian world, the first legislation of this kind was enacted in 1215 by the Fourth Lateran Council, which ordered Jews to wear a distinct type of dress on the grounds that in some regions they could no longer be distinguished from Christians. All these different influences combined to create a specifically Jewish dress, which, however, varied from one country to another.

Early Middle Ages

Little is known of Jewish costume in the early Middle Ages. Certain pottery figures of peddlers with Semitic features discovered in some of the Chinese T'ang Dynasty tombs (618–907) are believed to represent Jews, particularly those with pointed Persian hats, caftans, and girdles. There are no paintings or descriptions of European Jews from this period, and only two obscure references to their attire. In 839, when *Bodo became a convert to Judaism he allowed his hair and beard to grow, and also put on a military belt. This may be an early reference to the practice of wearing a girdle, later laid down in the Shulḥan Arukh. In the ninth century, Pope Nicholas i (858–67) attacked Arsenius, bishop of Orta, for introducing Jewish furred garments (judaicae peluciae).

The Orient

In many Muslim countries, Jews were restricted to black clothing, in North Africa practically up to our times. During the 16th century in Turkey, a native Jew wore a yellow turban, while the Sephardi Jew wore a red hat, shaped like a sugar loaf. The ḥakhamim of the Spanish expulsion wore the capos ("cape") on the Sabbath, which had been the distinctive dress of the Jews in Spain. In spite of the strict ruling of R. Elijah *Mizraḥi the capos was used as a festive garb. By the 18th century, the common dress for all Jews in Turkey was a violet kaveze ("turban"), a black or violet habit, mest ("socks"), and violet slippers. The same dress was worn in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Ereẓ Israel. Women developed various regional styles of dress with marked Jewish distinctions. During the 19th century, in Smyrna and Salonika, a woman's costume included full Turkish trousers, over which two or three gowns slit open from the hips to hem were worn. The different cloths had wide contrasting stripes with flower patterns printed over them. Outdoors, a woman wore a long, dark red pelisse, lined and trimmed with fur, and she covered her head with a fine white Turkish towel with fringed ends. In Constantinople, a short, loose jacket replaced the red pelisse. The Turkish Jewish woman's head-wear included a hotoz, an enormous cushion-like headdress covered by a white muslin veil; this reached such fashionable extravagances at Constantinople that the chief rabbi banned it at the request of the grand vizier. The feradje ("cloak") worn by Jewish women was distinctive in color and shape. Peculiar to Aleppo was a high-domed cap of striped silk, from which hung a quantity of false hair.

The characteristic costume of Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, and Tripolitanian Jews was black; it consisted of a skull cap, a tunic, drawers, a burnous ("cloak"), and slippers. In Morocco, for ceremonial occasions, the women wore the keswa el-kbira, a costume that had elaborate gold embroidery for which the Jewish needlewomen of Tetuan were renowned. They also wore characteristic wigs which had many regional variations. In Algeria and Tunisia, the tall headdress, known as the çâma, was retained by Jewish women as part of their ceremonial dress, after it had ceased to be fashionable during the 19th century. In Tunisia women's ordinary dress consisted of a baggy chemise reaching down to the hips, a small gold-embroidered velvet jacket, a pair of white, very tight pantaloons, and a velvet kufia, shaped like a sugar loaf, worn on the head. No information is available on the Jewish dress in Turkestan, Kurdistan, South Arabia, or India prior to the 19th century. In recent times, some elaborate Jewish costumes have emerged from Bukhara, Yemen, and Aden, most of which reflect local influence. (See also *Bukhara.)

In India, the distinctive feature of the Bene Israel was their pe'ot (side curls). They wore Hindu-style turbans and shoes, and Muslim-style trousers. The Iraqi Jews of India retained Turkish dress; for festive occasions their women wore a long, silk brocade gown with a white plastron, probably also Turkish in origin. In the middle of the 19th century, the White Jews of Cochin wore a white cotton skullcap, a jacket, a waistcoat with 12 silver buttons, and trousers. The synagogue dress included a turban and a djubba ("Turkish gown"). The distinctive feature of the dress of the Black Jews of Cochin was a round embroidered cap.

Western Europe

In medieval Spain, Jews were obliged at times to wear a full length black gown with a cape and a pointed hood. They were also forbidden to shave their beards. Other distinctive features were the badge and the pointed Jewish hat. By the 13th century, in Germany, France, England, and other parts of Europe, the pointed hat, known as the Judenhut, had become distinctly Jewish; it was worn voluntarily and was accepted as a Jewish symbol. Later, however, the Judenhut, like the *badge, was also sometimes imposed by law. The hat was not worn after the 15th century, by which time a new type of hat with a tassel on its crown was prescribed by the laws of Frankfurt; other garments also acquired a distinctively Jewish significance. The medieval chaperon ("hood") known in Germany as the matran, gugel, or kappe as well as the liripipe ("tailed hood") was still being worn among the Jews of Nuremberg in 1755. Elsewhere in Germany and many parts of Central Europe, it had been replaced by a barrette (a black round hat made of felt or wool). Together with the Judenkragen (the 16th-century ruff), it became a distinctive feature of Jewish costume.

In the Papal States and elsewhere in Italy, the church canon requiring Jews to wear a yellow hat remained in effect until the French Revolution. Elsewhere in Western Europe, most Jewish distinctive dress had by then disappeared, except for synagogue and ceremonial occasions. The Jew, however, could still be identified by his beard and until the beginning of the 19th century even in England and Holland it remained a distinctive feature among Ashkenazi Jews.

The Sabbath barrette, known as schabbes deckel, and the schulmantel ("synagogue cloak") worn with a ruff, remained the accepted synagogue attire until the end of the 18th century; the whole costume was black. The schulmantel, or Sabbath sarbal, was a long cloak closed on the right side to prevent anything being carried on the Sabbath. During the 19th century, a new style for synagogue wear became the accepted garb: a three-cornered hat, a tail coat, knee breeches, and buckled shoes.

From the 13th century onward, in many parts of Europe, Jewish women were obliged to have two blue stripes in their veil (oralia or orales). The oralia was replaced by a pointed veil (cornalia or cornu) and, in the middle of the 18th century, it, together with the Jewish ruff and a special synagogue cloak, was still part of the Jewish woman's synagogue apparel. Other distinctive clothes worn by Jewish women were the sivlonot ("marriage belt") and the kuerse (a kind of blouse worn by brides). The sheitel ("wig") worn by Jewish women is a relatively recent custom (see Covering of the *Head).

Rabbinical Dress

There is no traditional rabbinical dress but among the Ashkenazim the distinctive features of Jewish lay dress were retained much longer by the rabbis. In 1705, at Fuerth, the rabbi wore a plain collar, a long tunic buttoned down the front, and a barrette. In 1755 the Judenmeister of Nuremberg wore the medieval kappe (hood) with a deep fringed collar and a long sleeveless gown. By the 19th century, the typical European Ashkenazi rabbi had a heavy beard and wore a Polish-style costume which included a fur-trimmed gown and a fur-trimmed hat; the latter was exchanged for a streimel (a wide-brimmed hat made of fur) on the Sabbath. The rabbinical streimel was made of 13 sable-tails. In the middle of the 19th century at Mattersdorf, Hungary, the rabbi wore a streimel on the Sabbath and a boat-shaped hat on weekdays. In England and America, Christian dress was adopted much earlier and in the 18th century Isaac Polack, ḥazzan of London's Great Synagogue, was clean-shaven, wore a three-cornered hat, a wig, and clerical robes with white bands.

The European Sephardi rabbis were even less subject to traditional influences. In the 15th-century painting by Nuno Goncalves, in the Lisbon National Museum, the rabbi wears a tall, black circular hat and a black gown with the Jewish badge shaped as a red six-pointed star. By the 17th century, the Sephardi rabbis of Holland and England, with their stiletto beards, skullcaps, wigs, and clerical gowns with white bands, were indistinguishable from the Christian clergy. In Oriental countries, a few instances of distinctive dress can be cited. In 1781, in Morocco, the rabbi's habit had very large sleeves and he usually had a blue kerchief around his cap. In the 1860s in Constantinople, the rabbis wore a dark blue felt cap, bound around the base with a white kerchief or turban with fine blue stripes. In 1873, at Smyrna, the rabbi wore a bonneto, a type of turban reserved for doctors and priests. At the present time, there are no distinctive features in rabbinical dress either in Eastern countries or in the West.

[Alfred Rubens]

Eastern Europe

The earliest Jewish costume from Poland, depicted on a 12th-century miniature, is an exact copy of the Byzantine tunic and paludamentum ("cloak") worn by men, though usually the Jews of Eastern Europe were less influenced by Christian fashions in dress than in the West. The first intervention of the authorities occurred as early as the 13th century; a church council held in Breslau in 1266 ordered the Jews in the bishopric of Gnesen in western Poland to wear a special hat. Soon the Council of Ofen (1279) specified the distinction to a greater extent by requiring the Jews to wear a red badge. Late medieval costumes seem to have been influenced by Central European gentile and Jewish garb, like the dress cut like a kimono, called a cotte, worn by men and women, the female kerchief, and the Jewish conical hat worn by men. Later the Jews adopted from the East their most characteristic garment – the caftan, which is still in use in certain extreme Orthodox circles. This Persian coat, cut open in the front, was so widely worn throughout the Turkish Empire that it was found in Yemen and Morocco under the same name. In the eastern areas of Poland and Russia the caftan was girdled by a wide Oriental sash and in the western regions by a cord.

Like other European regional costumes, the characteristic Jewish dress evolved during the 16th century, incorporating some features of the attire no longer worn by the Polish nobility or upper classes. The authorities in several parts of Eastern Europe reacted independently but with the same aim: to restrict the splendor of Jewish costume and to preserve some form of distinction. Thus the Piotrkow diet of 1538 reproved the Jews for adopting Christian attire and compelled them to wear a yellow hat. The Lithuanian statute of 1566, as well as the southern Polish statutes of 1595, laid down minute specifications restricting the sumptuousness of female dress and jewelry. The Lithuanian statute ordered yellow hats to be worn by men and yellow kerchiefs by women. On the other hand in times of special calamity, like the *Chmielnicki massacres (1648–49), the Jewish communities themselves imposed sober dress on their members. In the 18th and 19th centuries the Jews in Eastern Europe clung to their distinctive wear. Local differences continued paramount; in Russia and Lithuania clothes revealed an Oriental influence shown in the multicolored silks of the women, the halfmoons printed on materials, and an immense turban with three tails made of white starched linen.

The most widely known garments worn by Jewish men in Poland were the bekeshe and the kapote. The latter, both in name and shape, was derived from the Persian caftan. The kapote was generally made of very expensive cloth, such as velvet or atlas (a glossy silk or satin). Besides a shirt, knee-length trousers, and white stockings, the men also wore velvet waistcoats (Yid. vestel or speneer), a black silk belt with tassels called a gartel, and a small prayer shawl. Special headcoverings were the skullcaps (Yid. keppel, yarmulke), the fur hats (soibel-heet and streimel), the immense sable kolpak, adopted from the Gentiles, and the fur-trimmed spodek ("saucer") with a plush base. Most of these types of clothing, as well as female costumes, appear in the pictures and engravings of Polish types drawn by several artists (Norblin, Le Prince, Dave, Piwarski, Kilisinski, Kruszewski, Andrioli, and Debucourt).

The most important item of clothing was the white woolen prayer shawl, the tallit. Its central neckpiece (atarah) was decorated with an appliqué of knit embroidery, executed in flat, silver threads, in a style called by Polish Jews spanier ("Spanish style") or shikh, which was probably brought to Poland by Jewish craftsmen from Spain during the reign of King Sigismund Augustus. A similar type of Spanish embroidery was also used on Torah curtains and Torah mantles.

women's costume from the 18th to the beginning of the 20th century

Although the woman's dress was more colorful, her finery was not meant to be displayed out-of-doors, for it is written: "In all glorious things the king's daughter is within" (Ps. 45:14). However, the sumptuary decrees regulating women's clothing made an exception for the Sabbath. The dress of the Jewish woman was generally in the fashion of the period, but rather more subdued. The Jewish woman of the late 18th and 19th centuries wore on top of her dress a kind of bodice, the vestel or kamisol, usually made of brocade with black passementerie trimmings. At a later stage these trimmings were sewn on to the dresses themselves, or even on to separate plastrons, called brust-tukh, brist-tikhel, or bristekh. The brust-tukh was initially a wide strip of brocade adorned with silver stitching and occasionally ornamented with semiprecious stones. Later, this rectangular strip was almost covered with silver stitching, but in the 20th century it lost its regular shape and was made of velvet and adorned with various trimmings. The very Orthodox woman always wore an apron (Yid. fartekh or fartukh), usually trimmed with lace, embroidery, and ribbons, and serving no practical purpose.

women's headdress

A distinctive form of headcovering for Jewish women did not emerge until the 17th century. At first the forms of headgear varied through the different regions of the area. In western Poland during the 18th century, it was customary to wear on the Sabbath a bonnet made of brocade trimmed with lace and silver stitching. On the other hand, in the east – Lithuania and parts of Russia – the earliest form of headcovering consisted of lace trimmed with colored ribbons, glass baubles, and beads. In time pearls and diamonds gradually replaced the simpler popular ornaments, and not only among rich women. In central Poland, Galicia, and Hungary the headcovering was made up of three separate parts: the harband, which covered the hair above the forehead; the grint, which served as the background; and the kupke, made of cloth or lace. Floral trimmings or ribbons were placed over all three. The headdress for very Orthodox women had to be made up from seven different parts assembled in strict order (in an implicit reference to the seven species of crops). The elaborate trimmings for these headcoverings were made by an expert hat-trimmer called pitzikel (derived from putz, "adornment").

For the Sabbath a woman put on a sort of tiara, the binde, consisting of two strips of velvet (recalling the two tablets of the Law), decorated with gold chains, pearls, and diamonds. One such tiara, belonging to a Jewish woman of the late 18th or early 19th century, was acquired by the well-known Polish painter Jan Matejko, and he used it in several of his paintings as a headdress for Polish princesses. After the beginning of the 19th century the binde gradually disappeared and was replaced by the sterntikhel, sternbindel, or bindalikh worn on top of the kupkeh. The sterntikhel consisted of pearls and diamonds, strung on iron wire, set off against a cloth background, and later on with no background. Fixing the jewels on the sterntikhel was the job of an expert craftsman (which gave rise to the family names Perlherfter and Perlsticker ("pearl-fixer," "pearl-embroiderer"). From the sterntikhel (and other pieces of jewelry) a pearl or a segment was deliberately removed to indicate that there can be no complete joy as long as the Temple is in ruins. From the beginning of the 20th century the sterntikhel ceased to be worn almost entirely. In Lithuania where the sterntikhel was never worn, the headdress consisted of a white binde wound around the head like a turban, called a patshaile; it was often adorned with a decorative pin, the knopp.

Various forms of the harband and of the kupke continued to evolve in Poland throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, most of them trying to suggest a woman's hair (with a white line of parting, the kvishel). The wig or sheitel (made of natural hair) was never considered proper wear for the very Orthodox woman, but many imitations, made of brown satin, were in use. Eventually the kupke took on the shape of a hat, the hitel, topped by flowers, ribbons, peacock feathers, and a tsitenadel ("trembling pin"). Two pairs of earrings were sometimes attached to the kupke, one at the level of the temples, the other at the level of the earlobes. Exhibitions of Jewish clothing may be seen at the Israel Museum (Jerusalem), the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore (Tel Aviv), and the Ethnological and Folklore Museum (Haifa).

[Miriam Nick]


Distinctive Jewish costume largely disappeared from the early 20th century. Among the influences of ancient dress that have survived in synagogue wear is the Roman pallium, in the form of the tallit, and the *kitel (sargenes) worn by some on the Day of Atonement and for the seder. Distinctive features are still found in the everyday dress of Oriental Jews. In addition, the wearing of a headcovering at all times has become de rigueur as the external sign of the Orthodox Jew; among the modern element this has developed as the small embroidered kippah. The ultra-Orthodox groups, concentrated mostly in Jerusalem and Bene Berak in Israel, and in limited areas in other parts of the world, still wear the characteristic streimel on Sabbaths and festivals (including the intermediate days) and the long caftan, yellow and white striped, is sometimes still retained. The custom of married women covering their hair, obligatory according to the Mishnah, is no longer widely observed, except in Orthodox circles where the sheitel is also sometimes worn as a substitute.


in the bible: em, 4 (1962), 1034–49 (incl. bibl.); idb, s.v., cloth (incl. bibl.); A. Rosenzweig, Kleidung und Schmuck in Bibel und talmudischen Schrifttum (1905); H.F. Lutz, Textiles and Costumes… (1923), 40–72; C. Singer, et al. (eds.), A History of Technology, 1 (1955), 413ff.; W.F. Albright, in: aasor, 21–22 (1941–43), 55–62, Pl. 53; Y. Yadin, in: Eretz Israel, 4 (1956), 68ff; idem, The Finds from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters (1963), 169ff. other periods: A. Rubens, A History of Jewish Costume (1967), includes bibliography; Krauss, Tal Arch, 1 (1910), 127ff.; M. Grunwald, in: jjv, 25 (1923); H. Munic, in: yivo-Bleter, 12 (1937), 463–73; E. Fuchs, Die Juden in der Karikatur.


views updated May 21 2018

dress / dres/ • v. 1. [intr.] put on one's clothes: Graham showered and dressed quickly| I'll go and get dressed. ∎  wear clothes in a particular way or of a particular type: she's nice-looking and dresses well | (be dressed) he was dressed in jeans and a thick sweater. ∎  [tr.] put clothes on (someone): they dressed her in a white hospital gown. ∎  put on clothes appropriate for a formal occasion: we dressed for dinner every night. ∎  [tr.] design or supply clothes for (a celebrity): for over four decades he dressed the royal family. ∎  [tr.] decorate (something) in an artistic or attractive way: they had dressed the doorframes with sprays of bittersweet.2. [tr.] treat or prepare (something) in a certain way, in particular: ∎  clean, treat, or apply a dressing to (a wound). ∎  clean and prepare (food, esp. poultry or shellfish) for cooking or eating: [as adj.] (dressed) dressed crab. ∎  add a dressing to (a salad). ∎  apply a fertilizing substance to (a field, garden, or plant). ∎  complete the preparation or manufacture of (leather or fabric) by treating its surface in some way. ∎  smooth the surface of (stone): [as adj.] (dressed) a tower built of dressed stone. ∎  arrange or style (one's own or someone else's hair), esp. in an elaborate way.3. [tr.] Mil. draw up (troops) in the proper alignment. ∎  [intr.] (of troops) come into such an alignment.4. [tr.] prepare (an artificial fly) for use in fishing: [as adj.] (dressed) a dressed wet fly. • n. 1. a one-piece garment for a woman or girl that covers the body and extends down over the legs.2. clothing of a specified kind for men or women: traditional African dress | fig. the underlying theme is recognizable even when it appears in feminist dress. ∎  [as adj.] denoting military uniform or other clothing used on formal or ceremonial occasions: a dress suit.PHRASES: dressed to kill wearing glamorous clothes intended to create a striking impression.dressed to the nines dressed very elaborately.PHRASAL VERBS: dress down dress informally: Sue dressed down in old jeans and a white blouse.dress someone down inf. reprimand someone.dress up dress in smart or formal clothes. ∎  dress in a special costume for fun or as part of an entertainment: he dressed up as a gorilla.dress something up present something in such a way that it appears better than it really is: the company dressed up the figures a little.


views updated May 17 2018

dress may meet practical needs such as protection against climate and labour hazards, but it has also been a powerful tool in the maintenance of hierarchy through its reflection of status, and has served to distinguish occupation and faith as well as rank. It additionally mirrors fashion and permits expression of personal taste. Sumptuous clothes are usually worn by the more privileged classes, to enforce authority, flaunt wealth, or merely dissociate themselves from menial labour: medieval and Tudor monarchs could not wear too many jewels or precious metals; outer clothing was slashed or looped to show underlying layers of expensive fabric; impractical footwear and incapacitating sleeves were signs of leisure, if not symbols of dignity. Sumptuary laws may have been framed to protect home industries by bans on foreign imports (clothes, cloth, wool) and internal trade controls, but they considerably enhanced, then maintained, class distinctions. Because of ‘the outragious and excessive apparel of divers peoples against their estate and degree’, dress for servants, handicraftsmen and yeomen, esquires and gentlemen, merchants and burgesses, knights, clerks, and ploughmen was firmly regulated in 1363 via quality of cloth and permitted embellishment. Such distinctions were perpetuated in clauses forbidding velvet caps to any below the degree of knight (8 Eliz. c. 11) or demanding the Sunday wearing of woollen ‘statute’ caps (13 Eliz. c. 19) by all save the nobility, clergy, and London company wardens. Dress, according to Lord Chesterfield in 1745, was a very foolish thing, ‘yet it is a very foolish thing for a man not to be well dressed, according to his rank and way of life’.

In some instances, practicality and symbolic authority merged. The periwig, adopted from French fashion after the Restoration, not only concealed baldness or reduced head-lice (since the natural hair was close-cropped or shaved) but was worn to enhance dignity. Gain in size and artificiality meant that the heavy full-bottomed wig could only be worn on formal or special occasions, or by gentlemen of leisure. Modified for general use, wigs spread slowly throughout the country despite the hazards of inflammability, contagion, moralist attack, and poor durability, but generally decreased in size through the 18th cent. until their demise. Legal wigs, however, as part of traditional professional costume, are only today being slowly abandoned. Combined practicality and authority may also be seen in doctors' white coats and policemen's helmets.

If practical considerations dictated much of working dress, particularly when it remained relatively simple, occupational distinction came through attachment of appropriate emblems (threaded needle, weaver's shuttle), cap or arm badges, apron colour, or the heraldic crest/colours of the family served, while company liveries symbolized competence in a particular skill. Custom grew out of utility, then persisted, partly to prevent workers absconding from their employers, but also from the wearers' desire to maintain their group's recognized trademark. This may be seen today in corporate uniforms (airlines, hotels), identification badges, shoulder-tabs, and arm-bands; regimental and old school ties are merely rose-tinted nostalgia for lost fraternalism. Variations within uniform can denote distinctions of rank, most readily observed within the armed forces.

A prevailing style of dress has become known as being ‘in fashion’, but fashion has been described as a tyrannically democratic force, enforcing conformity to current social or moral conventions. Attack has come from moralists (frequently men rather than women), medical critics concerned about distorted torsos or incipient pneumonia, politicians and economists, aesthetic critics, animal lovers (against fur and feathers), and caricaturists, but with little long-term effect. Individuals have challenged fashion through aggressive nonconformity—Miss Chudleigh, later countess of Bristol, appeared virtually naked as Iphigenia at a 1749 ball—only to find the shock of the new fading because of growing familiarity, and the focus of attention shifting to another part of the body. Fashionable style moved downwards quite quickly. If Thackeray's duchess of Fitzbattleaxe was emulated by Lady Croesus, then Mrs Broadcloth must follow suit; if her, then also Mrs Seedy, her landlady Miss Letsam, and finally Suky the maid. This might produce vulgarization, but it also spurred the duchess to modifications to restore her lead in fashion. Sumptuary laws had long disappeared (1643 saw the last enactment), and class distinctions had been further blurred by the growing custom for the mistress to give her cast-offs to the lady's maid—such well-dressed servants puzzled many foreign visitors whose own countries still enforced sartorial regulations.

Fashion has frequently reflected overseas influences, despite war or trade restrictions: returning crusaders introduced silks and damasks, emphasis on Germanic puffs and slashes yielded to Spanish bombast (padding) and rigid outline as that country's power advanced in the 16th cent., puritan dress had similarities with its Dutch equivalent, and French influence on taste generally was enormous after the Restoration and for most of the 18th cent. The bloomer costume, adopted by some early female emancipators, originated in mid-19th-cent. America, and in the 20th cent., Parisian couture-houses led the way, even if designs were watered down for high-street shops, and the growing trend towards informality and casual wear has lessened their importance. American influence may be seen in the proliferation of baseball caps, for young and old, and jeans for the former.

A. S. Hargreaves


views updated May 21 2018

dress †make or put straight or right; prepare, treat (later, in a specific way) XIV; array, equip, attire XIV; line up (troops) XVIII. — (O)F. dresser :- Rom. *dīrectiāre, f. dīrectus DIRECT.
Hence dress sb. †setting right XVI; personal attire XVII.


views updated May 09 2018



views updated May 23 2018


DRESS. SeeClothing .