Religious Jewish law strictly defines male
dress, but it did nevertheless change over time and regional differences
did exist. The restrictions affected women to a lesser extent, although
religion did dictate certain norms for appearance; rabbis advised
modesty in dress. The Biblical ban on combining threads made of wool and
linen was observed, because the vestments of the priests were made from
this combination in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem.
In the Middle Ages and modern era, Jewish dress did not differ from
that of the burghers. Wealthy men modeled their dress on that of the
nobility, and even carried weapons. Church legislation stipulated that
Jews wear a sign of shame or pointed hats to distinguish them more
easily from Christians.
These orders were not enforced in Poland. The
Jewish Sejm addressed the issue of apparel several times, and banned
women for example from wearing expensive adornments and jewelry.
Chasidic groups kept male dress the same as it had been in the
eighteenth century, with only slight modifications, up until the
twentieth century. The everyday outer dress was the chalat [Arabic,
khalit], called kapote in Yiddish. The shape and cut was similar to that
of the noble "zupan", which was modeled on Turkish dress. In the
eighteenth century, the color of the chalat varied: in the southern
Kresy, it was sewn of small vertical stripes, and in the nineteenth
century it was usually black, to symbolize the Jews' mourning after the
destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.
Chasidic boys and men wore tales kutn [Hebrew, talit katan = small
tallith] under their shirts or instead of a shirt. The tales kutn were a
kind of shirt made of white canvas that was not sewn on the sides, and
was decorated on the front like the tallith-with dark blue or black
stripes, and tzitzis attached to the corners (fringes left hanging over
the top of the trousers). The trousers of the Chasidim were short,
knee-length, as had been the habit in the eighteenth century. Men had
black or white woolen socks and shoes-either tall ones or flat Turkish
felt shoes. Men covered their heads with a small cap, yarmulke, over
which was worn either a cap or hat whose form depended on local fashion.
On holidays, a shtreyml [Yiddish] was worn-caps with a broad brim made
of fox or sable fur, modeled on the Polish hat known as a kolpak. During
prayers, men would cover themselves with the tallith and wear tefilin.
Women usually dressed in line with the current
fashions. Depending on their financial status, they would dress either
like peasant women or townswomen; the wealthier women would model their
dress on the models they saw in foreign magazines. In religious
families, the married women would wear scarves or wigs, since custom
required that their heads be shaved after marriage so they would not
evoke sinful lust in their husbands. This also protected them against
evil spirits, shedim, who entangle themselves in one's hair. They wore
aprons over their dresses that until the early nineteenth century used
to be richly embroidered; their dresses should reach their necks and
have long sleeves covering their elbows.
Although the dress of Sephardic Jews was more varied, they always
had a chalat (although its style and color was a bit different),
yarmulke and tzitzis.