Eric Silverman’s long-awaited Cultural History of Jewish Dress was released last month in Bloomsbury’s prestigious fashion history series (formerly Berg). It brings up to date a subject which has long been in want of revision: Jewish clothing was last surveyed in 1967 – almost fifty years ago – by Alfred Rubens in A History of Jewish Costume. The scope of the book is broad, spanning three thousand years in regions and cultures as distant from one another as the Middle East, Russia, North Africa, Europe, and the USA.
Drawing on the Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud, on a selection of secondary sources and newspaper articles in English, Silverman, a US-American anthropologist, chose an analytical rather than empirical approach. Instead of categorizing garments, he chronicles controversies fought over the ages about what Jews should and should not wear.