The East has had a profound influence on Western fashions for millenia, from the Chinese silks that were worn in Ancient Rome (much to the dismay of the government, who hired notable writers to create anti-silk propaganda in order to discourage people from wearing it), through Vionnet, Lanvin, Chanel, and Schiapparelli: all the great designers of the 20s and 30s borrowed from the East.
There isn’t a single period that hasn’t borrowed from the East, and there isn’t a single Eastern culture that hasn’t been borrowed from. Islamic geometricism influenced Medieval and Renaissance textiles through the Crusades and the Venetian trade. Indian influence began in the 17th century when chintzes began to make their way to Europe, and florished again from the end of the 18th century when Kashmiri shawls introduced the paisley motif. The 18th century saw the fad for Chinoiserie, and the Turkish influence, and the late 19th century the rage for Japonisme.
Early 20th century fashion was influenced by every possible Eastern culture, from Poiret’s kimono inspired cocoon coats, to Orientalism of the Ballet Russes, to the Egyptomania that culminated around the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb.
In the Historical Sew Fortnighly challenge #14 (due July 15) make a historical garment that shows Eastern influence.
Orientalism is one of my favourite areas of historical costuming. I’ve made a 1780s Indian chintz inspired pet-en-l’aire, the 1813 Kashmiri dress, an 1850s paisley gown, an 1880s Japonisme gown, 1920s dresses and 1930s beach pajama tops from re-purposed kimono, and yet there are so many more Eastern inspired items I want to sew! Here are some of my favourite examples of Orientalism to get you started.
This 1740s robe à la française of Chinese silk which has been hand-painted in exotic flora just makes me swoon with delight. Finding a way to recreate it is high on my historical costuming bucket list!
Not just dresses showed the influence of chinoiserie in the 18th century, as this delicate Dutch fan attests:
And how can you not love this amazing blue and yellow parasol with chinoiserie handle?
I think my love of paisley and Kashmiri shawls is pretty well known! My latest favourite of the trend is this ensemble with a pale blue paisley shawl. And, of course, the dress itself might have been made of Indian muslin.
In addition to the more typical paisley shawls, and paisley patterned cotton dresses, paisley also met traditional Western techniques, like broderie anglaise.
While paisley was the most common Orientalist influence in the mid-19th century, there were exceptions. This simple dress with tone-on-tone Chinese roundels is both subtle and spectacular:
One of the influences that 19th century fashion borrowed from Japan is the colours used in traditional kimono and ukiyo-e prints. The combination of muted blues and vivid vermillion in this furisode inspired dressing gown is a particularly spectacular example.
Look at this amazing battenberg lace jacket, with the lace arranged in Japanese inspired designs. It’s such a beautiful and unusual interpretation of Japonisme.
The most common form of Japonisme in the early 20th century, embraced by Poiret and a host of other designers, is the kimono based cocoon silhouette, seen in coats and dresses alike.
Paisley wasn’t the most common Eastern-inspired motif in the 1920s and 30s, but it wasn’t completely unknown. I own one length of 1930s paisley patterned cotton, and have seen two examples of ’30s paisley rayon. This paisley evening bag is just gorgeous:
Finally, I’m in love with this 1930s dress, with its nod to ukiyo-e aesthetic: