Kleider machen Leute : Jewish men and dress politics in Vienna, 1890-1930

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Dress played an important structural, management and sometimes a poetic role in the construction of Jewish male identity in Vienna from the end of the late nineteenth century to the Anschluss (1890–1938). The adoption of the modern suit by urban men over the course of the nineteenth century corresponded to the general period of Jewish emancipation in Western and Central Europe. In donning this iconic garment of bourgeois respectability, Jewish men expressed both desire and intention to join modern European society. The absence of prescribed Jewish modes of dress in this era meant that Jewish men could now appear dressed as their Gentile counterparts. What was the impact of this major clothing development? For xenophobes, a Jew could no longer be identified by his clothing alone, generating a new series of social codes in which ‘Jewishness’ could be identified via physiognomy, grooming, posture and speech. An identifiable participatory clothing culture for Jewish men emerged that was simultaneously modern and democratic as well as holding elements identified as archaic and non-Gentile. This thesis deploys a wide range of visual texts including studio and vernacular photography, sketches and line-drawings in contemporary print media as well as published and non-published written sources including the press, ego-documents such as letters, diaries and memoirs, as well as oral histories. It argues that dressing in a modern manner was not simply a matter of assimilatory desires on the part of Viennese Jewish men. Rather, Jewish men of the day engaged in sartorial self-fashioning for multiple reasons, including the process of acculturation for political, cultural and ideological purposes. They dressed for both their own communities and wider Viennese society, yet the dress choices, preferences and practices of Jewish men also had direct and wide-ranging implications for the antisemitic image of ‘the Jew’ in myriad literary and visual manifestations.
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