Paisley – From Ancient Persia to Modern Fashion

Paisley – From Ancient Persia to Modern Fashion


What comes to mind when you think of paisley fabric?

For some, it’s the intricate designs of the 19th century, favoured in fashionable scarfs and shawls. Others immediately think of the swinging sixties, with psychedelic colour-palettes and bold, beautiful patterns. It’s unsurprising that paisley inspires a range of different associations, as it’s been used in a wide variety of styles, in numerous countries around the world.

The Origins of Paisley

Here in the UK, paisley is usually associated with Scotland, and the town that inspired its name. However, the pattern actually originates from ancient Persia, a dynasty that existed thousands of years ago.

The distinctive design (called a ‘buteh’) was initially used on royal garments, including crowns. Experts believe the teardrop design was meant to represent the cypress tree or mango tree, which were symbols of eternal life and prosperity. Over the years, the popularity of the design grew, and by the 1500s, it was a common motif in clothing (and stonework) across Asia.

Travelling to the UK

In the late 1700s, the British East India company first came across the ‘buteh’ garments of the Asian people, and shipped some samples back to the UK. The pattern soon caught on, and UK manufacturers were soon experimenting with ways to create their own similar fabric.

Ironically, the first places to produce it were Norwich and Edinburgh, not Paisley. It wasn’t until the 18th century that Paisley became the epicentre for the iconic material. The Napoleonic wars were largely to blame for this – reduced trade meant that Paisley’s silk workers were out of a job, and when an Edinburgh manufacturer hired them to take on an order for some buteh-inspired fabric, that’s when they realised the potential for producing the material themselves.

The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Paisley

Paisley was all the rage in the early Victorian years, with people clamouring to get their hands on the beautifully woven shawls and scarfs. By 1845, the paisley pattern had become so popular that the French started copying it, driving the British government to put a patent on the design.

However, by the end of the Victorian era, interest in the material had waned, until it was virtually non-existent. It wasn’t until the 1960s that paisley experienced a sudden resurgence, and became forever associated with ‘hippy’ fashion. Celebrities such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Twiggy pushed it even further into the limelight, making it the must-have fabric of the time.

Even now, paisley continues to be used by fashion designers across the world. For example, Jonathan Saunders’ 2012 show relied heavily on the use of paisley print, as did Ronit Zilkha’s 2004 collection. Likewise, Stella MacCartney, Jil Sander and JW Anderson have all used paisley to great effect in their catwalk shows.

Ancient Roots – Asian Inspired Clothing

The paisley pattern is often used in modern fashion, particularly in yoga trousers and other relax-fit garments. The organic, nature-inspired design lends itself perfectly to this type of lifestyle, making it a popular choice for those travelling abroad or seeking ways to live more peacefully at home. To browse Forgotten Tribe’s collection of paisley-inspired clothing, simply click here.

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