A Coat of Many Colors: Dress Culture in the Young State of Israel

A Coat of Many Colors: Dress Culture in the Young State of Israel


Anat Helman

Series: Israel: Society, Culture, and History
ISBN: 9781934843888 (hardcover)
Pages: 246 pp.
Publication Date: March 2011

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A Coat of Many Colors investigates Israel’s first seven years as a sovereign state through the unusual prism of dress. Clothes worn by Israelis in the 1950s reflected political ideologies, economic conditions, military priorities, social distinctions, and cultural preferences, and all played a part in consolidating a new national identity. Based on a wide range of textual and visual historical documents, the book covers both what Israelis wore in various circumstances and what they said and wrote about clothing and fashion. Written in a clear and accessible style that will appeal to the general reader as well as to students and scholars, A Coat of Many Colors introduces the reader both to Israel’s history during its formative years and to the rich field of dress culture.

Anat Helman (PhD Hebrew University) is a lecturer in the Jewish History Department and the Cultural Studies Program at Hebrew University. Her most recent publications include: Tel Aviv’s Culture during the Mandate Era (in Hebrew) and ‘The Voice of the First Hebrew City to its Residents’: Municipal Posters in Mandate Era Tel Aviv” with Yael Reshef (in Hebrew -forthcoming in Israel).

...fascinating developments loom large in Anat Helman’s deeply researched and thoughtful account, which draws on a wealth of sources, from popular periodicals such as Haishah and Lagever to the minutes of kibbutz meetings and the anguished letters sent to the Ministry of Rationing and Supply ... Supported by this lively material, Helman’s work highlights one of the most important, yet barely studied, ways in which clothing ... furnished the new state with a bonanza of sartorial possibilities.
— Jenna Weissman Joselit (George Washington University) in Studies in Contemporary Jewry, vol. 29 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016)
This is an important and well-written historic sociological study, which may interest researchers, students and the general public. The scope of primary sources, including photographs, texts and caricatures, is impressive and indicates thorough research. The author used a semiotic research method to analyse these sources and tried to ‘read’ the clothing as a language, while examining the attitude of people who lived during this period toward the Israeli dress culture. The book’s contribution is in that it skillfully connects between dress and society and vice versa, and uses dress to expose the social context of the State [of Israel] in its early years. It takes the reader on a fascinating journey of acquaintance with the array of social aspects during this period: culture, identity, ethnic relations, military, economy, religion, social boundaries, politics, generation and gender differences, trends of inclusion and exclusion, verbal and nonverbal communication, and more. . . . The book is recommended for anyone interested in fashion, moulding of the collective identity, the history of the State of Israel, and the emergent (informal) cultural pluralism in the early years of the state, as symbolically reflected in the coat of many colours of Joseph, beloved son of Jacob: one garment with many colours.
— Rachel Sharaby, Ashkelon Academic College and Bar-Ilan University, Israel, in Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, vol. 12, issue 2 (July 2013)
Well-documented with an impressive bibliography, Anat Helman’s book, A Coat of Many Colors, is an easy-to-read account and analysis of dress fashions among Israel’s immigrants and residents in the country’s first years. I enjoyed this book very much—it’s fun to read and clearly demonstrates how clothing and dress are integral aspects of social and cultural history.
— Joanne B. Eicher, Editor-in-Chief, Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion
With her superb eye for detail and her ability to tell a good story well, Anat Helman has produced a marvelous history of the State of Israel’s early days by studying its clothing culture. Through this approach Helman tells the history of the fledgling state’s economy, illuminates the values of the kibbutz movement, the military, the government and Israeli private life and reveals much about gender roles and the East-West ethnic encounter and does so by examining the dress codes each of these spheres promoted and the ideological underpinnings for such choices. A Coat of Many Colors allows us to read Israeli culture in its formative phase in an entirely new light. This is cultural history at its finest and establishes Anat Helman as one of the most interesting and path-breaking historians of her generation.
— John Efron, Koret Professor of Jewish History, University of California-Berkeley

Table of Contents


Chapter One: Simplicity by Necessity and Choice
Chapter Two: Fashion Makers and Consumers
Chapter Three: Israeli Dress between East and West
Chapter Four: Clothes and Ideology in the Kibbutzim
Chapter Five: Representing the State, Molding the Nation