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Israel Museum Shows Off its Fashionable Side

Centuries of clothing worn by Jews across the world on display in new exhibit

Lily Wilf
April 02, 2014
Image from 'Dress Code: Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe.' (Israel Museum)

Image from ‘Dress Code: Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe.’ (Israel Museum)

A large collection of Jewish clothing from across the world worn during the 18th to 20th centuries is currently on display in a new exhibit at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. Dress Codes: Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe examines cultural influences on Jewish dress over time, displaying more than 100 items of clothing as windows into Jewish history.

James S. Snyder, a director at the museum, emphasized the universal relevance of the exhibit.

“Our treasury of Jewish dress – the richest of its kind in the world – was assembled over many years and holds a special place of pride among the Museum’s collections – most especially as a testament to the trappings of Jewish life and their universal context. We are delighted to be able to present so comprehensive a display reflecting the incredible depth and diversity of our costume holdings as a vivid illustration of the myriad ways in which the history of Jewish dress informs and is informed by the broader history of world fashion.”

The clothing is arranged into five thematic sections. “Through the Veil” presents wraps, cloaks, and facial veils from Central Asia that were worn as outdoors garments by Jewish women. “Exposing the Unseen” considers the fine, and sometimes hidden, details of clothing; undergarments, linings, and stitched icons are displayed as carriers of cultural significance. The third segment, “Fusion in Dress,” highlights how imported and local costume created hybrid styles that simultaneously celebrated exotic and authentic fashions.

The section about children’s clothing, “Little Women and Little Men,” reflects on children’s role in traditional societies as adults-in-training, a sentiment embodied in their outfits, which were then merely miniature versions of adult clothing. “Clothing that Remembers,” the final chapter, showcases dresses and bridal items that Sephardi Jewish women in the Ottoman Empire donated to their synagogues where they would be transformed for decades of ritual use.

The exhibit is on display through October 25, 2014.

Lily Wilf is an editorial intern at Tablet.

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