All posts tagged: exoticism

Terminology: what is a burnous?

The burnous, both in name and design, is of Arab origin, and describes a full, hooded cloak, often decorated with embroidery and tassels. It can also be spelled burnoose and bournouse. The burnous was introduced to Western fashion through the Spahi, the French calvary troops of from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, whose uniforms included burnous.  The Spahi began in the 1830s, and saw extensive action throughout the 19th century.  This, combined with photographs of the Spahi troops in their burnous taken by Roger Fenton in the 1850s popularised their image in the West, and started the fashion for the cloaks. Burnouses fit well with mid-19th century fashion, as the loose shape was easy to wear over large hoopskirts, and the hoods mimicked the bonnets that were worn with daywear, or could even fit over the bonnet. A 1859 fashion article describes burnouses: These are made frequently in cachemire, in broad Algérienne stripes, or in light coloured cachemire, wadded and trimmed with plaid, and also in black silk trimmed with plaid, or plain velvet, plaited ribbon …