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Woman’s dresses (Dar'a qasa)
Baghdad, Iraq

Henna dress, 1880s (right)
Silk satin weave, silk and lace ribbons, tinsel embroidery; hand-sewn
L: 130; W: 225 cm

Wedding dress, 1891 (left)
Brocaded silk, silk ribbons, tinsel embroidery, hand sewn
L: 134; W: 220 cm

Gift of Naomi Inbar, Ramat Gan
Gift of Mazli F. Iny, New York, in memory of her mother, Mas‛uda Mathalon
Accession number: B83.0099, B80.0224

The Henna dress belonged to Dakhla Rachel Mu'allem, Baghdad 1880–1960 Teheran, who was married at the age of 11. It was sewn by her mother for her henna ceremony. Dakhla fled to Iran in 1948; when her children escaped Khomeini’s regime for London, they took the dress with them. The wedding dress belonged to Mas'uda Mathalon, and was worn at her wedding to Rahamim Masri.

The dar‘a qasa dress was the hallmark of the traditional attire of married Jewish Baghdadi women in the late nineteenth century. It displays a unique local blend of Ottoman style and European fashion. In our collection, there are four magnificent examples of this style of dress; we know the detailed histories of two of them, including the dates and circumstances of their preparation. The dresses are cut in European style, with a gathered, long skirt sewn to a long-sleeved top, of which the most prominent feature is the low décolleté neckline trimmed with flounce. The dense decorations that adorn the breast, the sleeve ends, the waist, and the lower part of the skirt include European lace and local tinsel (tel) embroidery.The dar‘a qasa was worn over a thin cotton long-sleeved inner chemise and covered in front by a chest panel (ziq) that was secured by strings at the back and accentuated the bosom.

These dresses were made, for festive occasions, from patterned and brocaded silk or satin (atlas), luxurious Ottoman, Syrian, Indian, or Iranian fabrics; for everyday use, they were made from simpler fabrics. It seems that these dresses developed out of versions of the entari, the Ottoman coat-dress worn in the region by Muslim and Jewish Baghdadi women.

In his book written for the Jewish women of Baghdad in 1906–1907, Rabbi Yosef Hayyim included instructions for preserving modest dress. He criticizes the women who abandoned the dar‘a qasa in favor of open coatdresses that he saw as breaking the codes of modesty. While he mentions that a similar type of open coat-dress was indeed the fashion prior to the dar‘a qasa, he describes the former generation’s women as wearing that style innocently, not noticing its immodest features.

From the Israel Museum publications:
Juhasz, Esther (ed.), The Jewish Wardrobe from the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 5 Continents Editions, Milan and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2012

Dress Codes: Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Bella and Harry Wexner Gallery, 11/03/2014 - 07/03/2015

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