From Buteh To Paisley

Printed cloth sample with paisley motifs, European, 1940's. Printed cloth sample with paisley motifs, European, 1940's. TRC 2019.2629

8. Paisley for all

One of the features of the paisley motif is its versatility. It can be worn on any occasion and in any place or occupation. It can also come in a wide variety of forms, as embroidery, lace, as a beaded ornament. It can be printed and woven.

The paisley motif can be found on many forms of dress, from baby garments and Christening robes, to adult garments including swimwear (trunks, swimming costumes and bikinis), sportswear (including women’s weight lifting gloves and the costume of the Azerbaijan Olympic team of 2010), through to casual wear as well as items of high fashion. And not forgetting accessories such as bags, handkerchiefs, and, of course, corona virus facemasks.

Famous figures such as Chuck Berry, Cliff Richard and David Bowie have worn paisley, while designers and designer firms such as Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, as well as well-known textile groups such as Liberty’s of London, have all produced ranges of paisley fabrics.

In Italy, for example, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Italian designer Emilio Pucci created a successful print called cachemire siciliano, which mixed symbols of Sicily with the paisley motif. In addition, in the 1980’s the Italian fashion brand ETRO made the paisley pattern into its iconic motif and it remains widely used by them to the present day, especially in Italian prêt-à-porter.



A small selection of modern gentlemen's ties with paisley motifs from the TRC collection. Please click on the image for more details.

Paisley for men

The wearing of paisley decorated garments by men literally ranges from their socks, underwear, trousers, shirts, handkerchiefs to pochettes and neckwear. Since the early 19th century, the paisley motif has appeared on scarves, cravats, ties and bowties. There are elegant forms as well as ‘loud in the face’ forms. The American businessman, Jim Thompson (1906-1967), made paisley silk ties into a feature of his silk works in Thailand and wearing a Jim Thompson tie in parts of Asia was regarded by some as a mark of wealth and connoisseurship.

A totally different form of neck- and headwear are bandanas. These are large squares of cotton cloth with a printed design of some kind. They are often associated with cowboys, but their history dates back to the late 18th century. When bandanas started to include the paisley motif is not clear, but it is likely to have been in the early 19th century when the paisley shawls were beginning to gain in popularity.

Bandanas are now also being worn by a wide variety of men and women, including country and western singers, motor bike riders (bikers), as well as gang members, with different fractions wearing, for example, red or blue paisley bandanas. Some of the bandanas include mixed paisley motifs and skulls.

 Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, wearing a dress with paisley motifs.Paisley for women

Although paisley is mostly associated with 19th century women’s shawls, the use of paisley in women’s clothing is much wider. In the 19th century, for example, woven paisley cloth was used for bodices, jackets as well as skirts and aprons. The motif also occurred on ribbons, bands and lace.

Dresses, blouses, skirts, trousers and beachwear, using cloth with paisley motifs, were popular in the 1900’s through to the present day. It also occurs on virtually everything, from underwear to stockings, as well as on accessories such as gloves, hats and shoes.

As the fashions in materials, designs, colours, style and cut of women’s dresses changed over the last century, so did the appearance of the paisley motif. There is a big difference between a 1930’s paisley dress, and one of the 1950’s and 1960’s. From the 1960’s onwards there was also a growing difference between formal and informal wear, as well as urban versus folkloristic (bohemian) styles of garments. These are trends and fashions that are reflected in the form of the paisley motif used.

Steampunk gothic

Steampunk is a ‘retrofuturistic’ fictional genre and a form of cult clothing that developed in the late 1980’s. It is based on the concept of 19th century industrial and steam powered technology, mixed in with modern science fiction and horror. The associated fashion scene is a mixture of 19th century retro-fashion and fantasy. Not surprisingly, paisley is a popular motif of this group and is worn by both men and women.

Paisley is for everyone!


Image Gallery

Browse through the exhibition: « 7. Some Western paisley variations