One of the most well-loved decorative designs is the paisley. Named for a village in Scotland (more on that later), the paisley claims roots in many cultures: India, China, Middle East and Europe. One legend I read reported the paisley shape as the oldest print design because it resembles a clenched fist pinkie side down. Others describe the basic shape as a pinecone, a date palm, a cashew or a teardrop. Whatever the “true” derivation, this traditional shape has been present in prints for several centuries. The Kashmiri shawl was woven meticulously by hand from cashmere yarns. First the shawls were plain, often natural white, with colorful borders using the designs that evolved into the paisley patterns we know today. Then as fashion dictated, the design became all over. Each shawl could take up to five years to complete. Once this luxurious handwork reached Europe, there was a huge demand for a more affordable version. Industries sprang up weaving similar designs using a blend of wool and silk. Paisley, Scotland became the hub of the production and thus the name became associated with the design.
In the late 19th century the shawl became obsolete on the fashion scene in part due to the introduction of the bustle in European women’s fashion making a full length shawl unwearable, and also due to a famine in Kashmir which wiped out their shawl industry. The design returned with vigor in the 1960’s. By then designers were using it in prints and in textures. As fashion trends look back to the sixties and seventies for inspiration, we’ve seen a resurgence of this classic pattern. To wear the paisley trend today, you have many choices. Find the interpretation that works best for you and wear the trend.