The other day I pulled a couple of fashion history books off my shelf for a different post I’m working on, and realized that I actually have quite a library of fashion books. (Disproportionately so, compared to other topics, some might say….) I’ve built up this collection over the years, either purchasing them for myself or receiving them as gifts. As nice as a Google search and Pinterest can be for inspiration, there is still something special about pulling out your favourite books and leafing through the pages.
Today I thought I would share some of my favourite ones along with summaries and thoughts in case you are looking to add some fashion related books to your own library. (I have quite a few, so I’ll do some more posts in the future as well.) First up today are Dress and Fashion History books!
“Decades of Fashion” edited by Harriet Worsley and published by h.f.ullmann
This square little book is probably the one that started my love of vintage fashion, and was the first vintage fashion book that I bought. While I was at college, someone left their copy of this book out on the bathroom counter one night, and I paged through it. (There was some sort of dress-up event happening, and they must have pulled it out for reference) I never knew whose it was, but I copied down the name of the book and checked it out from the library as soon as I could. After a while, I decided that it would be a good one to own, and even today it is one of my favourite books to page through.
It’s mostly a compilation of photographs from the eras, with a tiny bit of historical information at the beginning of each section. I like being able to see photos of what the couture houses were wearing as well as average people. Don’t be fooled by the ugly cover- it’s actually a really great book! (Also, the original edition had a Missoni photo from the 70’s which was way better- it’s too bad in 2011 they reprinted it with this cover!) This one is 603 pages and spans the years 1900- 2010.
“1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s Fashion The Definitive Sourcebook” edited by Emmanuelle Dirix & Charlotte Fiell and published by Goodman Fiell
These three books are great resources for these three decades, as they are full of original images and fashion plates. The editors and writer chose to include mainly fashion illustrations from the time, rather than photographs, because they wanted to be able to show how colourful these eras actually were. When you’re looking strictly at black and white photographs, it can be hard to imagine what the colours would have been at the time.
These are quite thick books at 510 pages, and they are heavy! I originally checked the 1920’s one out of my local library, and then eventually purchased the set of three. They are definitely worth getting if you want original fashion plates for inspiration. While they do have a historical write up at the beginning of each section, these are mostly all about the beautiful illustrations! I wish they had continued with the series and done one for the 1950’s too.
“Everyday Fashions As Pictured in Sears Catalogues” edited by Joanne Olian & Stella Blum and published by Dover
This series of paperback books spans 1900 to the 1960’s and each book is split into sections for each year. This is a good series to be able to see what the average person was wearing during these decades. While looking at couture fashions is a lot of fun, it’s also nice to be able to see which of the trends trickled down to the street. There is a wide variety of fashions shown in these books, from daywear and accessories to evening wear and formal, as well as a small selection of menswear and children’s wear.
Each book averages around 100-150 pages, and since they aren’t too expensive, they are a great alternative to buying original catalogues, since that can get pricey. The only downside is that they are printed in black and white, and I think that some of the catalogue pages would have originally been in colour.
“Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, 2nd Edition” By Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta, Ph.D. and published by Fairchild
This is a very technical book that my friend gave me. (It was a library discard.) It’s not the sort of book you’d just sit down and page through, but I probably should do just that, since there is quite a wealth of information in it. For example, there are nine pages dedicated just to describing the many different kinds of dresses across the world, or if you’ve ever wondered what an escarelle is, you can find out here. There are also some illustrations and photographs to further illustrate points, and at over 600 pages, it’s a very good educational resource. It’s the sort of book you’d have if you were going to fashion college.
(BTW an escarelle is “a pouch or purse attached to waist or hip belt in the 14th and 15th century into which a knife was frequently thrust”)
“The Mode in Costume” & “The Mode in Hats and Headdress” by R. Turner Wilcox and published by Dover
Finally, these two are my favourite fashion history books. Written in 1942 and then republished in 1958, these two books cover the history of fashion beginning in the earliest (recorded) days of 3000 BC and going up to 1958 (the year it was republished). Each chapter begins with a historical overview and descriptions and then ends with several pages of illustrations. These illustrations are based on surviving images and real garments, so they are quite historically accurate, and reveal quite a lot of detail. The books cover a lot of ground, but don’t go so fast as to miss out on the smaller trends such as the French “Directoire” of 1795-1799.
The books also cover mostly Western/European fashion, but they are split into different countries, since different countries each had (and still have) their own spin on the fashions of the day. The Mode in Costume is 477 pages and The Mode in Hats and Headdress is a bit shorter a 348. These are a great educational resource if you want to learn about the evolution of fashion over the centuries. There is also one about The Mode in Shoes. I haven’t read it, but I’m sure it’s excellent as well.
So, there are some of my favourite books for studying and learning about fashion history. With the rise of popularity in vintage fashion in the past few years, the number of books about vintage fashion has also increased; but they are definitely not all equal. I am not a fashion history expert, but I have caught errors in some of the more trendy vintage “overview” style books before. If you are wanting to actually learn about fashion history, these are a good place to start- though they are only the tip of the iceberg! There are so many more books out there…
If you’d like to check these books out, I’d definitely recommend that you look at your local library first. That’s what I did with each of these before I ended up purchasing them. Also, while I did buy the majority of these books new, I am not sure whether they are each still in print, so you can always check at second hand book stores, as you never know what they might have. (I just did a quick search on Thrift Books and Better World Books, and they do have many of these in stock. I’ve never purchased from these online book sellers myself, but I just wanted to give you an idea of where you could look.)
What are some of your favourite fashion history books? Do you have any recommendations for us to check out? I’m always looking for some good new books to read!
In one of the later season’s of Foyle’s War, (a British crime drama set in the 1940’s, which I highly recommend, by the way, if you enjoy murder mysteries and period wartime dramas) there was an episode where the character of Sam is seen discussing shoes with a coworker. Her coworker had recently purchased a pair of “coupon busters”, which were an ingenious pair of shoes that came with detachable heel covers and shoe clips. The heels and clips could transform the single pair of shoes into three different pairs, simply by removing the sensibly shaped heel cover, which made the shoe appropriate for office wear, to reveal the more sensuously curved heel which was perfect for evening. Adding a shoe clip to the toe created yet another fashionable look.
I don’t know if coupon busters were a real invention in wartime Britain, as a way for women to stretch their rationing coupons, allowing them to purchase one pair of shoes, instead of three separate pairs, or not. I couldn’t find any information about them at all. I think that coupon busters are rather a clever idea though, and it really is too bad that they are not being made today. Even though we don’t have to worry about rationing coupons today, I would love to be able to transform one pair of shoes into three, wouldn’t you?
Although a manufactured shoe like this is not readily available, there is, however, an easy way to transform the look of your shoes, and that is by wearing shoe clips. Shoe clips are one of those accessories that have wavered in and out of fashion throughout the years. Shoe buckles were very popular in the 18th century, not just for function, but fashion as well. In the 1950’s shoe clips rose in popularity with the invention of proper shoe clip hardware. My mom had shoe clips in the 1980’s, and I remember a few years ago they were a trend again. However, they are not a common thing to see for the most part. I really don’t know why, as they are so fun and versatile, and can transform your shoes into a completely new look. I personally think they make your shoes look like “princess shoes”- don’t princesses always seem to have big bows and what-have-you on the toes of their shoes?
I have been wanting to find shoe clips for years, at least five years now, as I got these coral flower decorations with the express intent of attaching them to shoe clips. However, apparently shoe clip hardware is an impossible thing to want, and I could never find any for sale. I put the flowers aside and forgot about them, until recently, when I found them again in my craft stash, and got the idea to look online to see if shoe clip hardware was available. Sure enough, on Amazon I found a pack of ten pairs of clips! Score! I immediately pulled out the flowers, and set to work creating several different pairs of shoe clips. I mean, I do have ten sets of clips now, so I can make a lot of pairs of shoe clips. At this rate, I’ll never have to wear the same pair of shoes again! 😉
I thought that since shoe clips are such a versatile accessory to change up the look of your shoe, I would demonstrate with two pairs of shoes. Shoe clips work best on open, classic style shoes that don’t already have too many details, straps or embellishments, and they work equally well on heeled or flat shoes. Here you can see how shoe clips transform the look of the shoes and lend themselves well to any occasion.
First up are these navy peep toe pumps. I wear these shoes a lot as navy is such a versatile colour, and this pair is so comfortable. They are a plain and serviceable shoe, so you’ll see how much they change just by adding some clips.
Round pom-pom flowers turn these into statement shoes. These are Cinderella shoes for sure- don’t they look like something the Disney princess would wear?
Did you know you can also use clip-on earrings as shoe clips? You have to be careful with which ones you use- I have some pairs which have too weak of a clasp, or come up too high above the edge of the shoe, but some pairs clip on rather nicely to add some sparkle. Both of these, the brown and the green are clip-on earrings I seldom wear, but I think they work rather nicely to dress up the shoes. Clip-on earrings are also much easier to find than proper shoe clips.
These are true shoe clips which I found at an antique sale. They add just the right amount of sweetness, sparkle and vintage flair. Vintage stores and sales can be a good place to look to find real shoe clips.
Now here are my black pumps: they have a band across the toe which has sparkly gems on it, but you’ll see that they still work rather well with shoe clips, because of the open shape of the shoe.
Here are the coral coloured flowers. I absolutely love the shape of these as they are very “princessey” too. Unfortunately I have very few clothes that go well with the colour, so that is definitely something I’ll have to change!
I think that bows work really well for a vintage look. Bows were a very popular shoe decoration in the 1940’s, and they have a very classic look about them. Bows that are the same colour as the shoe, work very well for daywear as they look like part of the shoe.
The last set of shoe clips are these ribbon flowers I made. They add a nice splash of colour, yet are small enough to be discreet.
And case you would like to make some shoe clips for yourself, here is how:
I used a pre-made flower for these, but some of the others I made from scratch. Attach your decoration to a felt disk, either by sewing or gluing it on. Once it is attached, you can then sew your shoe clip onto the felt. Attach it near the top of the disk, so the decoration will sit lower on the shoe. Clip them onto your shoes and enjoy! I got my shoe clip hardware off of Amazon- if you search “shoe clip blank” it should bring some up for you. I am sure there are other places that sell shoe clip blanks as well, I just purchased them from Amazon because I live in a rural area which apparently doesn’t see much demand for shoe clips and the stores didn’t carry them! 🙂
One note of caution I do have, is that depending on the material of your shoe, metal clips may leave indentations or marks. If you have soft leather, or suede like I do, you may want to put some kind of “padding’ in between the clip and the shoe to keep it from getting ruined.
So, have you ever worn shoe clips? What do you think of them? And, would you want a pair of “coupon busters”?
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! When thinking of what I wanted to post for this Valentine’s Day, I immediately thought of lockets. (Actually my sister suggested that I write a post about lockets quite a while ago, and I hadn’t gotten around to doing it yet, so here it is now!) Lockets are one of those very sentimental and romantic pieces of jewellery, and I can’t think of any better piece of fashion history to delve into on Valentine’s Day, than the history of lockets!
When we think of lockets, we instantly think of romance, and sweethearts separated by circumstance with only a small token left behind as a remembrance of each other. This is very true that lockets are a sentimental piece of jewellery, but their origins are actually not as romantic as you might think and sweethearts were not the first to own and exchange lockets.
A locket is by definition “a small case usually of precious metal that has space for a memento and that is worn typically suspended from a chain or necklace / a thin chain necklace with a gold or silver disk which opens to reveal a picture of loved one, or lock of hair”. Although lockets are typically worn as a necklace, there are also many examples of locket rings and locket brooches.
No one really knows when lockets were invented, but it is thought that they evolved from the amulets and pendants of ancient times and the Middle Ages. Pendants had been popular for a long time before lockets appeared on the scene, and many pendants had cameos on them or other special engravings and symbols (some of which were supposed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to the wearer). The first lockets often served purposes far removed from “love” and “sentimentality”. Some of the earliest ones held herbs or medicine for the wearer, some held perfume to help mask odours arising from less-than-thorough hygiene and some (owned by people of questionable morals) even held poison! You never know when you might just need a handy supply of poison to get rid of someone, I guess. . .
Lockets did quickly evolve into mementos though, and one of the earliest known examples of a locket with a picture in it, is the locket ring of Queen Elizabeth I. This ring, dating from 1575, was very precious to her, (my preciousssss!) and contained a portrait of herself on one side and her mother Anne Boleyn on the other. She is said to have never taken it off; it was removed only after she died.
In 1649, many supporters of Charles I wore lockets containing his portrait or locks of his hair after his execution, as a sign of mourning for him. These lockets were worn secretly and, though not romantic in nature, were nevertheless cherished pieces to the wearers. During this century, lockets became a way to remember someone special who had died, and often contained a lock of their hair, or a miniature portrait. The lockets of the 17th century were enclosed, and the hair or portrait was concealed inside the piece, which gave the lockets a sense of secrecy and privacy, as only the wearer knew what was inside. At this time, lockets were extremely expensive and often made of precious metals and gems; thus they were worn mainly by the wealthy.
During the Victorian era, lockets became extremely popular and turned into the piece of jewellery we recognize today. There are several reasons the locket became so widespread during this time period. The first reason is that Queen Victoria, who was both extremely admired and copied by the people of the time, had two lockets of her own. One was a locket bracelet given to her by her husband which contained locks of hair from each of their children and the other was a very special locket with a portrait of Albert, which Victoria wore after her dear husband’s death. The Victorians were a very sentimental society, so seeing their Queen so publicly wearing a sign of mourning and love for her husband set off a new “trend” for mourning jewellery. Lockets of this time period contained locks of hair, miniature portraits, and even tiny portraits of a person’s eye. Lockets of previous eras had been worn with the lock of hair concealed, but during the Victorian era, lockets of glass also became popular, so the hair could be seen inside without needing to be opened, and the hair was often plaited or woven to create a design, rather than being hidden away. There was also a rather macabre practice of creating jewellery directly out of the hair of the deceased. (Google it, if you dare!) Am I the only one who finds this a little. . . disturbing? I am totally fine with carrying a lock of hair from the one you love, but why must you create a piece of jewellery that is literally made out of the hair itself??? Anyways, moving right along. . .
Though lockets were often worn as a sign of mourning and remembrance during this time period, we also see them become a token of romantic love. Up until this point in history, lockets were a symbol of love, just not a symbol of only romantic love. The Victorians were a culture obsessed with love and courtship, and a locket was a lovely symbol of promise between lovers. In the USA lockets, sadly, rose in popularity during the Civil War, when soldiers gave them to their sweethearts as a memento in case they didn’t return home.
In previous eras, lockets, as with all jewellery, were very expensive and were owned only by the wealthy, but during the Victorian era they became quite affordable. Because of the Industrial Revolution, and advances in technology and manufacturing, jewellery became easier to manufacture, thus dropping the price to a level that many could afford. Also, with the advent of photography, lockets could now be worn without a lock of hair inside them or a commissioned miniature portrait. Photography was affordable for the masses, and it soon became popular for lovers to wear lockets, with a picture of each person on either side of the locket.
During WWI and WWII, lockets again jumped in popularity as many of the soldiers who fought in the war gave lockets with their pictures to their wives and girlfriends, as soldiers had done years before them. Many of the lockets at this time were very cheaply made, which made them affordable to everyone. They were available everywhere- even being sold at post offices!
After the wars, lockets diminished in popularity overall, though many people of course do still wear them. Today they are seen as a rather traditional type of jewellery, and are often given as gifts for special occasions. I’ve also seen in recent years that glass lockets have come back into style again, though often they don’t contain pictures of loved ones, and instead hold pressed flowers, charms or other pretty tokens. There has also been a resurgence of interest in vintage lockets- and you can find lots of antique ones for sale online and in shops.
Nowadays people don’t wear only lockets as sentimental pieces; instead any piece of jewellery can be a special one- such as a charm bracelet with meaningful and personal charms, or even a simple necklace or ring that was given by someone special. I also think that the reason lockets are not as popular today as they once were, is probably because we are not as “separated” from our loved ones as people of the past were. Before the era of technology, people didn’t have photographs or other ways to keep each other close, so sentimental jewellery pieces like lockets (cameos would be another example) became a common way for loved ones to remember each other. Nowadays, in our era of technology, many of us have an abundance of photos of our loved ones and we also have the “connectedness” that the internet gives us, which was simply not possible before. Still, there is something so special about the thought of wearing a cherished piece close to your heart, isn’t there?
I own this silver oval locket, which was given to me when I was 11 or 12, by my parents. Somewhere along the way it got a dent in the front of it- I’ve no idea how or where that happened, but it is still completely wearable, and though I don’t wear it often, I do love it still.
My sister owns two lockets. The heart shaped one was my mom’s locket which she received as a graduation gift. The silver oval one is one that my mom gave to her.
Even though lockets are not as popular as they once were, I would still say that they hold a rather prominent and special place in history and amongst jewellery collections today, and there is nothing more fitting to wear on Valentine’s Day than a locket or other special piece of jewellery. Do you have a cherished locket or own any other “sentimental” pieces of jewellery? Did you know the history of lockets, or was this new to you- as much of it was to me?
This is not an exhaustive history, of course, so if you want to find out more about the history of lockets here are some of the sources I used:
Harem pants have got to be one of the most interesting and comfortable garments ever invented, and honestly I don’t know why they are not more popular in Western fashion. Most commonly known as “harem pants” in the West, they can also go by the names “genie pants”, “elephant pants”, “Aladdin pants”, “parachute pants”, “Sarouel pants”, “Thai pants”, “pantaloons”, and “bloomers” (And I am sure the list goes on. . . ) The true name for these pants, which are “extremely full, puffed Turkish-style pants, very full at the waist and gathered at the ankle”*, is “Salvar” or “Shalwar”. These are simply the Turkish and Persian words for “pants”. (Other languages also use the word “shalwar” for this style of garment, with variations on spelling.)
Harem pants are one of those distinctly “exotic” garments we encounter very little in the Western world. Even the name “Harem Pants” conjures up images of foreign, glamorous and outrageous fashions. Yet in much of the world- the Middle East, African, and Asian cultures- these pants are still worn daily by both men and women as a practical and comfortable everyday garment. When my brother was traveling in Nepal, he saw many people wearing this style of pant, and even purchased a pair like the ones I have, only in red. This style of pant is alive and well, yet despite the fact that this fashion has been around for ages, much like the Turban, which I shared about in my post here, it has only been sporadically and minimally popular in the West.
Originating in ancient Persia about 2,000 years ago (as we don’t have any records to substantiate the fashion before then) these trousers were everyday clothes for both men and women. They are thought to have developed from the man’s dhoti, which was a skirt/tunic tied and wrapped into a trouser shape, eventually evolving into a true trouser like garment. There is very little evidence of what women wore in ancient Persian/Middle Eastern cultures, as there are no records depicting women in artwork of the time. While we do have some record of what men were wearing, one of the earliest records of women’s fashions is from 5th century BC, in which a Queen is depicted wearing trousers and a long tunic. Interestingly enough, women are also shown wearing more fitted and “modern” styled trousers underneath long tunics at home. However, whenever women left their homes, they did not wear the more revealing trousers, instead wearing baggy ankle length trousers, long tunics and shawls over their upper body and head. The combination of these trousers, and the large mantle effectively concealed the body, and maintained modesty. Up until the last century, this remained the standard outfit of Middle Eastern women.
However, the Western fashion world went in a completely different direction from the East- both literally and figuratively 🙂 Although Europe had much the same ideology of feminine “modesty”, this manifested itself in a different way. Rather than baggy pants, women instead wore skirts and dresses. Although they varied in length, style and shape, the one thing they had in common was that they never showed or revealed the shape of the leg, rather concealing it, lest it be revealed (heaven forbid!) that women had these two appendages on the lower half of their bodies! Although some fashions could hardly be called modest (the low cut bodices of the 18th century, or the tightly laced Victorian silhouette, for example), by not revealing the leg, they were considered “proper” and modest by society. Trousers, Breeches, Pants, all generally the same garment, by different names, were firmly a man’s garment throughout the next centuries of Western fashion.
18th Century Costume from “The Orphan of China”, Source
Although there are several examples of blowsy pants depicted in fashion plates of the late 1700’s, pants for women do not seem to have burst onto the scene until the mid 19th century. However, I can’t seem to find much out about the pants of the 1700’s, and it appears that they were “fancy dress” costumes, or stage costumes, rather than actual garments women of the day were wearing. (If you know more about harem pants in this era, please do let me know, as I’d love to find out more about this era!) Of course, throughout the centuries, women have dressed as men, whenever circumstances behooved them too, but the key was that it was done incognito.. If women dressed as men, they were disguising themselves as men, and this remained the norm up until the 19th century, when things were suddenly going to change in women’s fashion.
In 1851, Amelia Bloomer, who was a women’s rights activist, burst onto the European world stage in a “Turkish Dress”. The was a Victorian styled Turkish outfit consisting of a short dress with baggy shalwar pants underneath. Amelia Bloomer was an advocate for this outfit, reasoning that it would provide women with ease of movement, ability to excercise, freedom from restrictive corseting, hoop skirts, petticoats etc, and would also prevent the germs, dirt and mire that collected on the trailing skirts of the time from being dragged into the home. This style, she argued, was successfully being worn by women of Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Unfortunately, the style did not pick up as she hoped, and was dismissed by many as to leading to the downfall and decay of society if it was to become mainstream. However, the style of pants were popular enough, even if dismissed at the time as extreme, to be immortalized as “bloomers” after her name. Some women did choose to wear this style of pants at the time, although it was more for practical and social reasons than for fashion. In the later Victorian years, these pants were adapted into “bicycling bloomers”, and were actually thought to be more modest an alternative than bicycling in a long skirt (which could also be dangerous!) However, despite the fact that 50 years or so had passed, they were still not thought to be fashionable, and were instead regarded as much too scandalous.
Poiret, whose designs were most popular from 1904-1924, would finally introduce the harem pant to the Western world, not for practical or social reasons, but for fashion alone. (although the timing was certainly influenced by the culture). Poiret was greatly inspired by Oriental, Persian, and Eastern styles, and these played heavily into his collections. His collections were made up of kimonos, turbans, tunics, flamboyant embroidery, eye makeup, ornate jewelry, and finally in 1911, the arrival of the long awaited “Harem Skirt”, as it was first called. Poiret’s harem pants arrived at a time of women’s rights advancements in history, (this was right around the peak of the woman’s suffrage movement) and they became popular with the more progressive ladies of the time willing to “shock” polite society. Even the name “Harem Pants” was designed to stand out as modern and exotic. Poiret’s One Thousand and Second Night Ball (inspired by the 1001 Arabian Nights stories) was a place to show off his collections, and harem pants along with hobble skirts and lampshade tunics, were the most desired styles of the time.
One of Poiret’s 1002nd Night Inspired Garments, Source
Although harem pants didn’t end up “taking off” as they were, they instead became a bit of a stepping stone to women’s wearing pants of any kind. The blowsy and full modest shape of the trousers, allowed society to get used to the idea that women actually possess legs, and by the time World War One was over, women were wearing pants for fashion, not just for practicality. Although the popularity of harem pants died out in the 1920’s, we see other styles of trousers rising to take their place in women’s fashion. Interestingly enough, the garment that was designed to conceal the body in the East, was destined to reveal it in the West.
Harem pants would fade out of style after the 1920’s. They didn’t see much success in the 1940’s or 1950’s, as the fashion sensibilities of those eras was a tightly corseted “ladylike” silhouette. The blowsy, flowy exotic pants, didn’t quite fit that image. I have, however seen one example of a harem skirt dress, designed by Jaques Fath in 1952. The “Canasta” dress was made of turquoise chiffon although, unfortunately, the pictures are in black and white. The tightly fitted bodice of this garment is very “of the era”, while the loose billowy culottes have the appearance of a skirt, rather like a puffball skirt.
Harem pants were to be resurrected in the 1960’s and 70’s, with the “global” inspired craze that again swooped through fashion at the time, bringing kaftans, turbans, peasant styles, tunics and other ethnic garments back into style. Although they never reached fashion heights, the harem pants of the 1960’s, were reinvented in the form of “harem pyjamas” which were either sewn as a one piece, like below, or paired with a short tunic, or oriental style bolero. They were often worn as loungewear.
In the 1980’s and 90’s, harem pants again became popular, this time with street culture, since the loose fit of the pants were perfect for hip-hop dance. Several rappers such as MC Hammer famously wore them while performing, thus they became known as “hammer pants”.
Harem pants today are still a controversial fashion item in the West. We hardly see them in European and American wardrobes, and yet they are such a versatile and unique garment. They have faded in and out of fashion throughout the past century, but have never really caught on. In my personal opinion, the pants that have been released in recent years have not retained that exotic and elegant air, and have instead come across as shapeless, baggy, stretched out, dropped crotch garments which are as far as possible from fashionable as can be. Sorry to be so derisive, but harem pants of the past, and harem pants, or more correctly shalwar, of the East today, are so beautiful and unique, that it seems a shame that they should be reinvented in such a bad way. However, even the more traditional style of harem pant- blowsy and drapey- is rarely seen in Western fashion. It is kind of funny when you think about it: that one of the oldest garments- predating even the “dress” as we know it- is largely considered too avant garde for Western fashion. I do appreciate the fact that the 21st century allows me, as a woman to choose what I want to wear, whether it is a skirt, a dress, fitted pants – or more unconventional styles like harem pants!
Oftentimes true harem pants, whether in a Thai Pant style, or gathered harem style, are associated with a more hippy culture, but I think that they can easily be styled for a more vintage look as well. When I wore my pants a week ago, to church, I paired them with a pin tucked blouse so that I would get the 1910’s silhouette, and some sparkly jewelry and headband and black Mary Jane’s. I feel like this conveyed the style, without being too over the top. I did feel a bit out of my element, and yet, it is so fun wearing harem pants. I was serious when I said I don’t know why they haven’t caught on in Western fashion. They are the best combination of skirt and pants: the comfort, looseness and coolness on a hot day, that a skirt gives you, with the ease of pants for working, running, exercising and leaping (even on windy days when you don’t want to accidentally flash the whole world!) I can see why women around the globe wear these daily! So, do you want to give harem pants a try? Here are some tips to keeping you look fabulous as you do!
To wear harem pants in a vintage style, look for inspiration from Poiret’s collections of the 1910’s.
Tucking your shirt in, will create a more vintage silhouette, rather than wearing an untucked t-shirt, which will give you more of a modern, causal, “earth mother” silhouette. (you know what I mean!)
A blousy shirt, either a peasant style top, or any kind of soft drapey shirt, will tuck in nicely, and pair well with the softness of the pants. Make sure that the top is not too bulky or stiff, as the pants will be “big”, and you will end up looking big all over. It’s like the opposite of wearing a pencil skirt, where a large top is OK because it is balanced out by the slim bottom, here you want a softer or slimmer top to balance out the larger bottom. Details like pin tucking, pleats, buttons, lace, chiffon etc. will evoke a 1910’s style.
A button-up or structured blouse or shirt will play off the drapey pants well, and keep you looking vintage. For a casual look, wear a tie front shirt. This will keep the look structured enough, while also looking a bit “dressed down” without being a t-shirt, which will read as modern.
A structured jacket or blazer will work nicely too. I have seen a more modern style of cropped blazer paired with harem pants and it looks fabulous!
I also really love the look of the crossover top the model is wearing in the 1960’s image above. It is fitted and elegant, and suits the style of the pants nicely.
Pairing these pants with high heels, will elevate the look (literally- haha) as well as making you look dressed up, rather than dressed down. If you aren’t careful, harem pants can easily look like “I didn’t even try” instead of “I am fabulous”.
Pairing the pants with sparkly jewelry, bracelets, earrings, headbands, feathers, cloches, etc. will give you a Poiret 1002nd Night’s look. Be careful of going overboard, as it could look very “costumey” very quickly. But, then again, if you love that more embellished look- I say “go for it!”
If you want to try a 1960’s look- pair your pants with a vest or tunic. This would be a really fun look.
And most importantly: Be confident! If you are anything like me, you are most likely in the minority with this style of pants, you are out of your comfort zone, and people are probably staring at you, so just walk with confidence knowing you look great- and are in league with many other stylish women both past and present!
So, what do you think- will you try Harem Pants? What do you think of Poiret’s 1002nd Nights style? Do you think we will see a resurgence of this fashion in Western culture?
Also, PS: While doing research for this post, I came across this company, Hippie Pants, that sells Thai Pants, which are fair trade too! While I have not personally purchased anything from them, they have some beautiful styles, (this is the style of pants I have, in rayon) and I thought you might like to see where you can get some for yourself – or just simply be inspired 🙂
Want to read more about Harem Pants? Here are the sources I used:
“The Mode in Costume” (book) by R. Turner Wilcox is an invaluable resource for of fashion history.
* This definition is from “Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion” (book), which has definitions of all fashion related terms, and is also quite interesting to read.
I have recently discovered the magic of vintage turbans. Of course I have always been aware of them, but I never wore turbans up until about a year ago, and when I started wearing them, they were actually more like headscarf headbands. The first time I wore a turban, I was absolutely sure that it was outrageous and that everyone was staring at my head. Actually, they probably were staring at my head, but that’s OK because vintage turbans are fabulous!
So what exactly is a turban, and where did they come from?
A turban is a “head covering consisting of a long piece of fabric wrapped around the head”. (According to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion) This kind of head covering originated in ancient times, in the Middle East. In fact the word “tulip” is actually derived from the Persian word “Dulband”, because it resembles the complicated wrapping of the headpiece. The earliest known record of the turban’s existence is 2600 BC in Mesopotamia. Originally they were worn for practical purposes, but they soon became a religious head covering in the ancient Moorish/Sarracenic cultures and are still worn today in many religions. Thus, Middle Eastern cultures view the turban not as a fashion statement, but as a religious symbol. When wearing a turban, for this reason, one must be culturally respectful by wearing it in such a way that it won’t disparage someone’s religious beliefs . (I would liken this to the scandal that surfaced a few years ago when certain fashion houses dressed their models in Native American Plains Indian headdresses of feathers, when headdresses are a strictly religious head covering in Native American culture, so it is extremely insensitive to use it as a fashion piece. Does this mean that we can’t wear feathers? Does this mean that if we are not Native American, we can’t wear any Native American fashions? No, but it does mean that we need to be respectful, and wear it in a way that doesn’t belittle someone else’s culture.)
So back to the turban. The turban was introduced to Europe in the 15th century because of trade with the Turkish-Ottoman empire, and this led to the rise of the Renaissance and the fad for “Eastern” inspired fashions. The turban didn’t rise in popularity however until the 18th century, where it was worn mainly by the ladies of the aristocracy. This was an era largely influenced by the East and the style carried over into the next century: the Romantic Period of the 1814-1840.
As that era ended, and the Victorian era began, the turban all but disappeared and would not be seen for almost another hundred years, when it again rose in popularity in the 1920’s. In the 1920’s, Western culture again looked to the “Exotic East” for inspiration. Events such as the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb, led to the rise of fascination with the far reaching nations of Egypt, India, China, Russia and many other Eastern cultures. The turban was again a popular accessory with an exotic origin, and it became extremely popular with the “Bright Young Things” of the era. By this time, turbans varied, and the shape was not necessarily even a full wrap, as there are many pictures of women wearing them as an open topped headwrap. They were often worn low on the head, sometimes almost obscuring the eyes in the same style of the cloche hat.
By the 1930’s, turbans were here to stay, and became very popular for everyday wear, sports wear, as well as evening wear, depending on the fabric used. The 1930’s style headwear was up and away from the face, thus turbans were also worn back from the face. Sometimes they were pre-shaped and sewn rather than tied into place.
The 1940’s is one of the most recognizable era’s of the popularity of the turban. It is in this era where turbans were one of the most famous and widely worn items. Because of WWII, the effect that rationing was having on fabric supply, and the fact that many fashion houses had shut down, hats were scarce. Creative ways of wrapping headscarves ensured that a lady always had a headcovering to match her outfit. Many of the publications of this era show different ways of wrapping, to create different looks. It is in this era that headwraps reached outrageous proportions, and often flowers, bows, fruit. . . all kinds of embellishments were added. If you think that your headwrap is large and outrageous today, it’s probably got nothing on the wraps worn by women at this time! Even though going hatless was more common in this time period, for most women, that simply wasn’t an option, as no respectable lady would leave the house without hat, gloves and heels. Just because there was a war on, didn’t mean an end to civility!
Image of Loretta Young, via
1941 Vogue turbans, via
Simple headscarves were also common for women at this time, as they kept women’s hair contained for the war work they were performing, like in the famous “Rosie the Riveter” poster.
The 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s saw the popularity of the turbans continue, although the silhouette changed a bit. The 1950’s turbans were often smaller and “tidier” than the previous era, and were often preformed, like a hat. The turbans of the 1960’s were rounder, in keeping with the popular round pillbox shape of the era. The turbans of the 1970’s were headwraps rather than full tied turbans, and were often tied front to back, being bohemian in style, as were many of the fashions of the time.
In modern history, from the 1920’s to the 1970’s the turban was a popular choice for everyday wear, only falling out of fashion in the 1980’s alongside hats for everyday wear. Now, 30 years later, Western culture is very much a “hatless” culture. I think that many people are afraid to wear hats and headwear, simply because we aren’t used to wearing them anymore, or seeing ourselves in them, thus we have nothing to compare ourselves to. Many people say that “hats don’t suit my face”, but I think this is incorrect. There are different styles of hats and headwear that suit everyone’s face. I think the reason people think that hats and headwraps don’t suit them, is simply because they aren’t currently “in style”, and they’ve never tried wearing them. And I get it- until I became interested in vintage fashion, the thought of wearing a turban in public, was a scary thought! 🙂
So coming from a vintage turban tying newbie (all the history aside) there are so many great reasons why you might try a vintage style turban.
It’s fun. I mean, how can you wear a bow on your head and not be happy? It’s a GIANT BOW!
Vintage turbans instantly add vintage style to an otherwise era ambiguous ensemble.
You can tie turbans in all manner of styles to create a look from practically any era, including historical costuming, such as the 18th century.
They are a great alternative to hats. If you, like me, don’t have a large collection of hats; scarves and wraps are a great headpiece to finish off an outfit.
You can use either a scarf, or a piece of material. Yarn dyed, rather than stamped fabric is best, so that the pattern goes through the material. That way the “wrong” side of the fabric won’t show when you wrap it.
You can add brooches, flowers, bows, fruit. . . whatever you want, to coordinate with any outfit. And no matter what you add to your turban, it probably won’t be as crazily fun as the turbans they wore in the 1940’s!
They cover up bad hair. (Like when you accidentally dye your hair green. Not that we have experience with that . . .)
On days when you are too lazy to style your hair; cover it up. All you have to worry about is (maybe) your bangs if you have them.
Recognize that every time you tie one, it will be unique and different. When you tie one on the day you aren’t going out, it will look perfect, and the day you are going somewhere special you will fight with it every step of the way. Do not fear bobby pins- use them as the lifeline they are to secure your wrap!
It takes a bit of bravery to wear a headwrap if you have never done so before, but as someone who was always a bit too scared to try it, I can testify that it’s a lot of fun! And especially as I am growing out my pixie haircut now, I feel like turbans are going to be a common sight in the days to come. As I said, “the lifesaving powers of vintage turbans”. 😉
Well, that was my short history on the turban. Of course this is from a European point of view, as that is the extent of the knowledge I have on the subject. And, of course there is somuch that I haven’t even covered at all! If you want to learn more about turbans, or the history of other hats and headdress, the two books I have read on the subject are, “The Mode in Hats and Headdress” by R. Turner Wilcox, which is a fabulous book about headdress from ancient times up to the 1950’s, and the other is “Hats and Headwear around the World” by Beverly Chico, which I have only read small sections of. Another person who is super in the know about turbans, and has inspired me is Emileigh of Flashback Summer.
So, do you think you’ll try a headwrap? And, did you learn anything new about turbans you didn’t know before?