Since we have looked at houses in the last segment, I thought it would be interesting to look at the “fashions” of the day in Judea. The word “fashions” is in quotation marks, because style did not change much in Judea for a very long time, perhaps centuries. People were conservative, following the old traditions, their activities were very much the same for many years, and most of them were poor anyway. Many of the wealthy adopted the Greco-Roman fashions, but most of the population wore the same functional, rather simple and unassuming attire that we meet in the Bible. In this segment, I am looking at men’s clothing and accessories.
The wealthy could afford silk, fine thread linen and cotton. The silk was gorgeous, and came in many bright colors, particularly in deep reds and oranges, purples, and blues. It was often further enhanced by a precious metal thread that was woven into the material. Silk was so expensive, that it could be sold for its weight in gold. Cotton was liked, but it was not available in large quantities. The common people used mostly wool and coarse thread linen. Sackcloth, made from dark and heavy goat’s hair, was used mostly for tents, and for clothes one wore during mourning. The sackcloth mourning tunic was girdled with a leather belt, and the wearer d removed any foot or head covering as part of the mourning attire. The inexpensive yarns were rarely dyed, so usually the fabric retained the natural color of the yarns from which it was woven.
The expensive silk and cotton were brought over by the traders’ caravans, but the clothes worn by the middle class and poor were woven domestically in commercial weaving houses, but often right at home. The women of the house had the necessary tools, even looms, though they were a smaller version of the commercial looms. They started with the raw wool which they washed and combed. The clean wool was spun into yarn and thread, and then woven into fabric. The women then cut the fabric and sewed the clothes for the household. Many women expertly embroidered the clothes with colorful threads to achieve at least some embellishments. Considering the sheer amount of work that had to be accomplished daily by the women, including tending the children, cooking, grinding flour, baking, laundry, and fetching water, it’s amazing how they could find time for such high level craftsmanship that the making of clothes required –particularly since the light of oil lamps in the evening was not adequate and they could not work well into the night.
The style and cut of the clothes worn the common people was simple, usually without any pins or knots. Modesty was important so the body was fully covered and the clothes were never tight fitting enough to show the shape of the body too clearly. For poor and middle class men, the basic garment was a shapeless short tunic, cut either in one or two rectangles and worn on its own under any other garment. Since it was entirely loose, it needed a girdle that allowed the wearer to tuck the tunic in and up to make movement easy, particularly during physical labor. Another type of tunic was full length and reaching the ankles. For ease of movement, a slit was cut on each side. It could be worn with or without belt, since it was rarely used for strenuous activity. It was worn indoor or in the yard, but not in public.
Also indoors and around the house, the wealthy wore a long sleeved tunic, made of fine linen and often woven with a thin stripe or dyed. They sometimes also wore an outer tunic made of heavier linen or wool over the inner tunic, particularly in cold weather. For appearing in public and for ceremonies, the rich man would still wear the inner tunic, but instead of the outer tunic he wore an outer robe. This was an elegant garment that reached the ground and had very long sleeves that could hide the hands. The robe was made from expensive fabrics, including silk.
On top of the robe or tunic, everyone wore a mantle, which basically was a square piece of cloth. The mantle served as a coat, and for the poor, also as a blanket when they slept. The rich had them made from quality materials suitable for the season This garment was particularly important, since it involved a religious ritual; the Jews believed that God had commanded them to sew a blue tassel to each corner, and wear two in front and two in the back, to always remind them to obey God’s commands.
Accessories were important – belts, purses, footgear, etc. Several types of headgear were available. Most men wore an “upper mantle” which was a smaller square. It could be worn by simply wrapping it lightly around the head, or held in place by a tie of leather, cloth, or rope. It protected them from the elements both winter and summer, since the sun was as dangerous in the hot summers of Judea, perhaps even more dangerous than the cold in winter. Others wore a turban made of white linen. It was simply a piece of cloth wrapped around the head over and over, usually with a small cap under it. Some wore only the cap. In summer, many men who worked outside wrapped a piece of cloth around their forehead to keep perspiration away from their eyes.
The belt, or girdle, was used often, as mentioned above. For the poor they were made of cloth or leather strips, while for the rich they were made of silk and fine linen, and decorated with metal ornaments and precious stones. The purse was a leather pouch, where the man carried his money. It was either tucked into the girdle or hidden inside the tunic. Jewelry consisted mostly of signet rings which the man either wore on his fingers or hanging on a cord or string around his neck. Footgear was either sandals, made of strong leather, or soft leather shoes that were mostly worn indoors.
The Jews in Judea, even the poor, tried to maintain personal hygiene, since cleanliness was part of the rituals they believed were desired by God. It was not easy for the poor, since the public baths had to be paid for and the area was dry and did not allow much free bathing, but they did their best. There is no doubt that at least before the Sabbath an attempt was made to be clean, even by the very poor. Most men paid close attention to their hair and beard, keeping them as well-maintained and as clean as they could, since a full head of hair was something they aspired to, and the beard was considered the greatest beauty accessory a man could have. They usually let the beards grow as long as they could, though some trimmed it shorter, particularly if they worked outdoors. The rich even perfumed and anointed their beards with oils.
In the next segment, I will write about the Jewish women’s fashions, accessories, and cosmetics. If space allows, I would also like to write about the fashions of the Roman ladies who settled in Judea during this time as the wives of officials, . And these ladies were elegant indeed…