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Not Always Vintage: Finding Freedom in Your Style

I'm Not Always Vintage in Style, the artyologist

I honestly love each and every one of the clothes in my closet. I routinely evaluate what I have, and if there is anything that I don’t like anymore, out it goes. Life is really too short to wear clothes you don’t love! I’ve been wearing vintage style for several years now, (as I have mentioned before- sorry for being a broken record) and I would say that most of the clothes I have are vintage inspired, though I do have some “hold overs” from my pre-vintage days, which are still hanging in my closet because I like them.

Sometimes I just really love certain things, even if they are not “vintage” in style. I absolutely love fashion, and am inspired by so many different things. I love to watch the runway shows of designers like Valentino and Zac Posen (although both of those designers do tend to have more romantic styles anyways). I read the blogs of several non-vintage fashion and sewing bloggers, because I am interested in fashion as a whole, not just the vintage niche. I am always inspired by cultural and ethnic fashions around the globe. I read Vogue occasionally, and find their editorials to be so interesting and beautiful, even if I wouldn’t wear the clothes they choose. And in all of these fashion interests, I love to seek out the vintage details and inspirations in those things, whether they are a silhouette, a fabric choice or a special little detail.

You can often pick out the details inspired by past eras in the fashions we see on the runways and the stores today. Even the 1950’s styles, if you look closely, drew a lot of inspiration from the 1800’s with the corseted/waist cinched silhouettes, full skirts, and sometimes even floor length skirts that give more of a historical look. The 1930’s was another era that took inspiration from previous eras, with the rise of the “southern belle” style that gained popularity with the release of the movie “Gone with the Wind”.

However, when it comes right down to it- a lot of the fashions we see around us, just don’t fit into the 21st century idea of “vintage” which generally encompasses the years of the early 1900’s to the 1970’s (although technically the 1980’s and 1990’s are now vintage, though I wouldn’t class them as such in my mind, but I leave that up to you to debate over!) Fashion is constantly evolving though, so it just makes sense that we would be inspired by a wide variety of fashion styles, not only vintage styles.

Sometimes I think that, because I like vintage styles, I have to wear them all the time. I have to “vintageify” every outfit I wear, and always ensure that the period details are correct. But lately, I have come to realize the obvious: there is no need to feel that because you love vintage style you can’t branch out and wear other styles too. The fashion police aren’t holding you to a specific style 24/7!

In fact, I believe that if you love each and every garment you own, even if it doesn’t fit into a specific “style niche”, it will be an expression of your own unique style.

For me, the majority of my wardrobe takes cues from eras past, but sometimes, along comes something that just doesn’t fit in with the rest of my wardrobe. This African Dutch wax dress is one such garment.

Not Always Vintage In Style, the artyologist

This dress is not really vintage in style. Well, it does have a bit of a “prairie” style (hence the wheat field background for these photos!) but the African fabric print totally turns the “prairie” look on its head. It doesn’t look very vintage to me at all- and yet, it is still feminine in it’s shape and pattern. I like it because it is fun, bold, ethnic and colourful. I picked it up at the thrift store a few years ago, and when I got it, the entire bodice was smocked with elastic, including the sleeves. Some of the elastic had broken over time, and it got to a point where it was too unraveled to wear, so I unpicked the entire thing to redo it. I pressed the pieces, and discovered that it had not been cut from a pattern originally, but was actually draped and cut in place, which left some very wonky and crooked pieces! There was a lot of fabric, though, so I was able to recut a new peasant style bodice, smock the waist, and gather the top edge and sleeves with elastic.

Every time I wear this dress, I think to myself, “I could really use a whole bunch more of these” (though I haven’t sewn them yet!!), as this dress is now my go-to for days when I want to be comfortable, or just run around in fields getting my hem “6 inches deep in mud”. I love the long length of this dress, and it is so fun to wear a casual long dress, rather than saving long dresses only for fancy occasions. Because seriously most of us just don’t have enough occasions to wear a dressy chiffon and satin floor length dress, but we definitely do have enough occasions to wear a cotton floor length dress!

The colour choice of this dress is so vastly different from everything else I own. I don’t actually like orange. As in, it is actually the last colour I would ever choose for anything (unless it is a mustard hued orange). I don’t think I own anything else that is truly orange. (Ok, I just went and checked- and the only other thing is a vintage granny square scarf with a touch of 70’s hued orange in it!) So, it is really strange to me that I have this dress, and yet- I love it! It is one of my favourite dresses, and it is in constant rotation in my wardrobe. This kind of dress is one that speaks for itself. I just add some easy flats, and some jewellery and really that is all it needs. It doesn’t need a hat or a scarf, though of course I could add that if I wanted to. So, does this outfit look very vintage? No, not really. But is it still “me”? Yes, definitely.

Contrasts are OK in fashion. Fashion is always changing, and we ourselves are always changing. What we love one moment, might not be what is inspiring us in the next. That is the nature of fashion, as it always has been. Today, we have the choice and the ability to decide what our own personal style will be! My hope for you is that you won’t ever feel “boxed in” by fashion, but will feel the freedom to dress in a way that makes you feel most like “you”- whatever that may be, and even if it changes day to day.  🙂

So, what garments in your closet don’t really ‘fit” with the rest of your wardrobe? Do you struggle to dress in one style all the time, or do you branch out and try new things? Do you tend to lean towards more true vintage looks, or more modern. . . or neither?

Outfit Details:

Dutch Wax Dress: Thrifted

Necklace: A gift from a friend years ago

Not Always Vintage In Style, the artyologist

Not Always Vintage In Style, the artyologist

Not Always Vintage In Style, the artyologist

Not Always Vintage In Style, the artyologist

ps. I would like to assure everyone that no wheat fields were harmed in the making of this post 🙂 This is our neighbours field, and I did not tramp down an area to stand in- it was already squashed flat from the day before when he was out in the field in his sprayer. Also, I wore this long dress, and boots, to make sure that I wouldn’t get any potential chemicals on myself 🙁 And, in case you have ever wondered what it would be like to run through a field of wheat in a long prairie styled dress, let me assure you that it looks a lot more romantic than the reality actually is. In reality, it is nearly impossible as the wheat is planted so close together, that you actually just end up tripping and stumbling around. Oh, well. The pictures turned out nice! 😉

Harem Pants: A Most Interesting and Scandalous History

Harem Pants: A Most Interesting and Scandalous History The Artyologist

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.

Three Persian Ladies in Traditional DresdsThree Persian Ladies, Source

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.

arabian moorish clothing, the artyologistFrom Mode In Costume, by R. Turner Wilcox

Algerian Lady in Traditional DressAlgerian Lady in Traditional Dress, Source

Costume of Persian Women's FashionTraditional Persian Clothing, Source

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.

Costume for Idame in the Orphan of China18th 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.

Image of Amelia BloomersAmelia Bloomer’s Turkish Dress, Source

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.

Amelia Bloomer CostumeMid 19th Century, Amelia Bloomer. Source

House of Worth Fancy DressHouse of Worth, c. 1870. Source

Bicycling CostumeLate Victorian Women’s Cycling Bloomers. Source

Enter Paul Poiret.

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.

Poiret's Harem Pants 1002 NightOne 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 Girl Illustration

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1910's Harem Pants

Poiret's 1911 Harem PantsSource

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.

Jacques Fath Canasta DressJacques Fath’s Canasta Dress, Source

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.

1960's Harem PyjamasSource

Harem Pants 1960'sSource

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”.

1990's Harem Hammer PantsSource

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!

Harem pants two ways- The Artyologist

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.

harem pants with a vintage style blouse the artyologist

  • 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.

harem pants styled with a button up shirt the artyologist

  • 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?

harem pants with tie front shirt the artyologist

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. 

A couple of web articles about harem pants:

Understanding the Difference Between Thai Pants, Harem Pants and Sarouel Pants

The Evolution of Harem Pants

Every Day is Dress Up Day

every day is dress up day the artyologist

So continuing on the theme of Tuesday’s post, I’ve been thinking lately about the term “dress up”.

A few weeks ago, someone (and not in a negative way at all- but in a simply curious way) asked me whether I was going somewhere special that day, because I was all “dressed up”. When I had gotten dressed that morning I had chosen a rather casual outfit for the day, since I knew it would be spent mostly at home. I was wearing a t-shirt, a cotton pleated skirt, some sparkly earrings, and flat shoes. This was not an outfit I had taken a great amount of effort on: I had simply grabbed the most comfortable garments I had to wear. However, in the eyes of many people (at least where I live) since I wasn’t wearing jeans and a t-shirt I had to be going somewhere special, and the question threw me off a bit, since I have gotten so used to dressing this way everyday.

The question started me thinking about how my own personal perception of the phrase “dressing up” has changed so much in the past few years, since I started wearing vintage, and how I now view clothing.

When I was in Grade 1, my mom made me a fuchsia satin dress for my birthday, It had a sweetheart neckline, puffed sleeves and a full gathered skirt. Quite simply, it was an amazing dress, and a dream come true for a 6 year old. I wore it that day to school, and many other occasions as well. I’m sure that people smiled at the sight of a little girl at recess, or grocery shopping in a satin pink dress, but I was completely oblivious, and to me it was completely normal. (Really who wouldn’t want to wear a fuchsia satin dress if they had one?) I was lucky that, growing up, my mom sewed for me, as my closet was never lacking in the wonderful clothes she made for me.

Somewhere along the way though, I guess I decided that dresses just got in the way and I entered a season in my life that lasted many years. Jeans and t-shirts were the everyday staples of my wardrobe up until my late teens. I did, however, still love the fashions of yesteryear, and Victorian and Regency fashions were my favourite eras. I loved historical fashion, but I never integrated those styles into my everyday wardrobe so I resigned myself to wearing casual, “modern” styles, and the styles of yesteryear were relegated to “costumes” only.

And then, a few years ago, I discovered Vintage. I’m not really sure how I found it; probably link hopping on sewing blogs until I found a vintage sewing blog, which then led me to the online vintage community.

Finally I felt like I had come home. I had dabbled a bit with vintage sewing before for costumes (as many of the pattern companies were reissuing their vintage patterns) but I had never met anyone who wore those clothes as daily wear. Suddenly I was faced with the idea of wearing those styles. . .  everyday. It had never occurred to me that that was possible, but with the discovery of vintage blogs, suddenly a whole world opened to me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t personally know anyone who dressed like that- I knew that there were people out there in the world who did- and I could join them!!

So I embraced vintage. I didn’t start out with gloves and hats and petticoats the first day- it was a gradual shift to where I am at in my style today- where almost every item is, either true vintage, or vintage inspired reproduction, and vintage appropriate (to use a term coined by Jessica).

When I embraced vintage dressing, my outlook on clothing changed as well. Or maybe it just reverted to what I thought when I was six: Clothes are fun, and are a great expression of who you are.

The main thing that I have discovered about dressing in an alternative style (which I definitely think Vintage is) is that it is not dictated by trends the way modern fashion is. It is in fact outside of the trends. (Although you definitely see more “popular” vintage styles- rockabilly, 50’s etc) If you want to wear trousers that is great. If you want to wear dresses that is great too. Wear a pink satin dress to school if you feel like it.

vintage is as varied as the people who lived before us the artyologist

Vintage is as varied as the people who lived before us.

One day you can be Dior’s New Look of the 50’s, the next Rosie the Riveter of the 40’s, and the next a Bright Young Thing of the 20’s. Or maybe you want to be all three at once. Who’s to stop you? You can have absolute freedom to express and create who you want to be. Fashion can reveal so much about the person you are and what you want to portray to the world. And I think that in a society that has become increasingly and extremely casual, vintage lovers stand out; not only for wearing a very different style, but also for the fact that we dress up.

By the term “dress up”, I don’t mean that we are literally wearing dresses, or even wearing dressy fabrics, every day, but that we are putting effort into our fashion choices, and curating a particular “look”. In a society where sometimes people seem to be looking for any excuse to dress down, rather than dress up, I think it is so great that an entire subculture of people has decided to rebel in our own little way, by specifically choosing to be different. We are putting effort into our fashion choices: it could be vintage denim or a velvet cocktail dress- but there is one thing in common: intentionally choosing to express a different and unique style.

So really. I said that dressing up doesn’t refer to costumes, but don’t you think “dressing up” really does after all? I say, Everyday is Dress Up Day- who do you want to be today?

who do you want to be today the artyologist

The Lifesaving Powers of Vintage Turbans

the artyologist image of vintage turbans

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.)

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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.

1920's turban

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Image of Doris Kenyon, source

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Image of Dorothy Sebastian, source

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.

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Greta Garbo, via

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!

loretta youngImage of Loretta Young, via
IMG_9414rev1941 Vogue turbans, via

the artyologist image of vogue magazine february 15 1941

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.

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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.

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1970s wrap

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! 🙂

the artyologist image of vintage headwrap

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.

  1. It’s fun. I mean, how can you wear a bow on your head and not be happy? It’s a GIANT BOW!
  2. Vintage turbans instantly add vintage style to an otherwise era ambiguous ensemble.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. They cover up bad hair. (Like when you accidentally dye your hair green. Not that we have experience with that . . .)
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. 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”. 😉

the artyologist 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 so much 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?