We traveled to Jerusalem this weekend for a short trip. I actually spend quite a bit of time in Jerusalem since I work there a few days a week. However, this does not mean that I get to experience the city. It is funny how sometimes we have the least chance to discover and enjoy the places that we spend the most time. I realized how much I missed just being in Jerusalem, going to places with a traveler’s spirit and enthusiasm. After our breakfast, we decided to spend a few hours at the Israeli Museum.
The museum is currently hosting a temporary exhibition on “Dress Codes: Revealing the Jewish wardrobe.” It is possible to see clothes from all over the world worn by the Jewish community mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries. They also had some garments from Turkey which of course made me happy. Most clothes are not Jewish per se, they reflect the local traditions in terms of style but some of them have a few additions like a Jewish star to reflect that they were worn by Jews. I also remember from my Middle Eastern Studies classes that non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire wore clothes such as different shoes or different colored turbans that would distinguish them from the Muslim population and would be an indication of their community. It is always so interesting for me to see clothes from a different era because you realize how clothes and the way you covered your body had different meanings and how these meanings changed over time. For instance, the dress cuts were different and there was a total different understanding of what constitutes “beautiful.” Look at the “three-meter-trousers” below for instance worn by the Tunisian brides. The display explains that Tunisian brides were encouraged to increase their eating, sometimes being woken up in the middle of the night to do so (!) because this appearance represented health and wealth. Well, I was encouraged to eat less, exercise and really watch my weight before my wedding.
The other thing that I noticed about dressing up from that era was that the outfits are super-layered compared to today. You wear one thing over the other. It could also be that many clothes in the exhibition were from the Middle East region and it was the local tradition to do so. The fabric and embroideries showed how much time and energy people invested in their clothes. I was especially thrilled by the Uzbeki fabric and embroidery which reflected real vivid colors. And each garment from the era was unique and reflected the local and stood as a total contrast to mass-produced and globally marketed clothing. I am not being a romantic here, don’t get me wrong. People also had fewer clothes and their clothes defined gender, status and religion.
The final interesting point of the exhibition for me was that there was no separate children’s clothing sector at the time. The children’s clothes are basically a smaller version of the grown-ups. This part of the exhibition was thus entitled “Little Women, Little Men” showing how children’s and grown-up fashion were almost identical.