Manners & Customs: Women's Clothing
Women's Clothing in the Ancient World
Apparel of the Bride
The adorning of the bride, was a very costly and elaborate affair. Much time was given to the preparation of her person. Every effort was put forth to make her complexion glossy and shining with a luster like unto marble. The words of David must have been their ideal for her: "that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace" (Psalm 144:12). Her dark locks of hair were often braided with gold and pearls. She was decked with all the precious stones and jewels that the family had inherited from previous generations. Those who were too poor to afford much themselves would borrow what they could from their friends.
The wedding festivities, and especially the bride's adornment, would always be remembered by her. The prophet Jeremiah made reference to this thought, "Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?" (Jeremiah 2:32). The Apostle John saw New Jerusalem "prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:2).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Headgear of Women
The headgear of Bethlehem women is of interest in throwing light on Biblical customs. It was of two parts. First, there was what might be called a high cap on the front of which have been sewn rows of gold and silver coins. It would have to be a dire circumstance that would ever cause her to part with any of these coins. If she lost one of these, an evil meaning would be attached to the loss, and so it would be considered a great shame. Thus the woman whom JESUS told us about (Luke 15:8-10), had not merely lost a coin that could be used for buying articles, she had lost a part of that which was an ornament to her and which was also her dowry. Reflection was cast upon her character.
Second, there was the veil, which was quite a large affair perhaps six feet long and some four feet wide, and so placed over the cap as to cover the entire headgear, with the exception of the coins. Most of these veils are made of heavy white linen. Some have embroidery work on them, and some are nearly covered with needlework. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
The Dress of Women
"The dress of women was different in detail rather than of kind. They too wore tunic and cloak. We may suppose that in every case their dress was a little more elaborate. Doubtless they wore longer tunics, larger mantles than their menfolk. And if they did, they may be said to have had every right to them, for they generally made not only their own clothes but those of their lords." [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
The Arab women in washing their clothes today usually go to nearby sources of water such as streams, pools, or watering troughs. They will dip their clothes in and out of the water, and then placing them upon flat stones which abound in Israel, they will beat them with a club which is about a foot and a half long. They carry the water in goatskins and have a vessel for rinsing purposes.13
That this sort of process was used in the time of David is indicated by the prayer of his penitential psalm: "Wash me throughly from mine iniquity" (Psalm 51:2). His picture here comes from the process of washing clothes. Alexander Maclaren says concerning it:
"The word employed is significant, in that it probably means washing by kneading or beating, not by simple rinsing. The psalmist is ready to submit to any painful discipline, if only he may be cleansed. "Wash me, beat me, tread me down, hammer me with mallets, dash me against the stones. do anything with me, if only these foul stains are melted from the texture of my soul."
That soap was used in washing is clear from the Scriptures. The word occurs in The common translation of the books of Jeremiah and Malachi (Jeremiah 2:22 and Malachi 3:2). This form of soap was doubtless a vegetable alkali. Job said: "If I wash myself with snow water . . ." (Job 9:30). This was a vegetable alkali. There are two references in the Bible to mineral alkali which was called nitre (Proverbs 25:20 and Jeremiah 2:22). This was probably the "natron" used so largely in Egypt. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Weaving Clothes with the Spindle
WEAVING CLOTH AND MAKING CLOTHES
The Jewish women were responsible for making the clothing for the family. The wool which was used came from their flocks. It had to be spun into yarn without the use of modern spinning wheels. Concerning this process, the Book of Proverbs in its tribute to the ideal mother, describes it thus: "She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff" (Proverbs 31:19). The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, being experts in weaving, had large looms, but for the most part the common people of Israel used a very primitive loom and the weaving process was of necessity a slow and tedious one. Of course there were no sewing machines or steel needles. Their needles were coarse ones made of bronze or sometimes of splinters of bone that had been sharpened at one end, and with a hole through the other end.
It is said that today most of the spinning in Syria is done by the older women. It gives occasion for these spinners to get together. And they spin while they talk, or even sometimes while they are eating in an informal way. When Scripture says, "She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff" (Proverbs 31:19), it is the same way as saying, "She is never idle," or as the Syrians would say, "Her spindle is never out of her hands." [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Women Wore Veils
The veil was the distinctive female wearing apparel. All females, with the exception of maidservants and women in a low condition of life, wore a veil. They would usually never lay it aside, except when they were in the presence of servants, or on rare occasions. This custom has prevailed among the Eastern women down to the modern era. When traveling, women may throw the veil over the back part of their head, but if they see a man approaching, they place it back in its original position. Thus Rebekah, when she saw Isaac approaching her camel caravan, covered her face with her veil (Genesis 24:64, 65).
When women are at home they do not speak to a guest without being veiled and in the presence of maids. They do not enter the guest's chamber, but rather, standing at the door, they make it known to the servant what is wanted (See II Kings 4:12, 13). It is well to remember that prostitutes went unveiled. Today, as in olden times, virgins and married women may be seen wearing veils in Bible lands.
The old customs are not being observed strictly by some Moslem women, for they are now going unveiled. Although it was the custom for women to wear a veil entirely covering their head, when they were in public, this custom was not always strictly enforced among the Hebrew women. They were allowed more liberty than the Arab women are allowed today. The Egyptians saw Sarah's face (Genesis 12:14). While Hannah was praying, Eli "marked her mouth" (I Samuel 1:12).
When a woman kept her veil down, it was forbidden for anyone to lift it, but she was free to do so if she chose. JESUS said, "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). All these Scriptures indicate that women sometimes exposed their faces to view. Young girls were more apt to be veiled than a married women. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Among the women there was more apt to be ornamentation than among the men. Peter and Paul condemned an elaborate braiding of women's hair (I Peter 3:3; 1 Timothy 2:9), and the use of ornaments may possibly have been involved in the custom. Earrings were at one time worn by the women of Jacob's family (Genesis 35:4). And the golden earrings of the Israelitish women contributed to the making by Aaron of the golden calf (Exodus 32:2). These earrings, as now worn in the East, have as their main design the form of balls, long pendants, crescents, or disks. On behalf of his master, Abraham's servant had two bracelets ready to give Rebekah (Genesis 24:22). In recent years these are made of gold, silver, brass, or colored glass. In the third chapter of his prophecy, Isaiah lists many feminine ornaments. Necklaces or pendants are referred to also (Isaiah 3:19). Today they take the form of balls, squares, or hollow cylinders. Anklets, now having bells and disks attached, are also mentioned in this chapter (Isaiah 3:18). These are worn by Bedouin women today. Noserings also worn by these women were a part of Isaiah's list of feminine ornaments (Isaiah 3:21) Amulets were worn in Isaiah's day (Isaiah 3:20) and still are worn in the East as a charm to protect a person from various kinds of evil. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
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