Paisley: Not Just the Patchouli of Fashion

From Amber at Violet Folklore.
Ah, paisley. There is perhaps no other popular design motif that carries with it such a loaded stereotype as the carefree (irresponsible), free loving (promiscuous), free spirited (directionless), paisley-wearing hippie of the late 1960s and early 1970s. John Lennon, Hippie Icon Extraordinaire, even had his Rolls Royce painted with a paisley design in 1967. It was The Beatles foray to India, in fact, that launched the pattern into the catastrophic popularity that would secure its status as Bohemian Wardrobe Staple for decades to come.
But paisley enjoys a much longer and more interesting history than the annals of American pop culture would have us believe. The design is, in fact, of Babylonian/Persian origin, and dates back 3,000 years. Textile historians conjecture that the shape was modeled after the cypress tree, a Zoroastrian symbol of life and eternity. There are plenty of other possible inspirations mentioned for the shape in the literature- a tear drop, a palm leaf, a kidney, a mango seed, a leech, one half of the Yin Yang symbol, and on and on.
In the early 1700s the East India Company began importing textiles bearing the design into Europe. The name derives from the Scottish town of Paisley, whose weavers produced mass quantities of woolen shawls printed with the design in the early 1800s. A century and a half later paisley migrated across the Atlantic and now hangs in the closets of many a vintage lover, especially those of us with a weakness for boho and 70s styles.
Such as today's oh-so-hip celebrities, among whom paisley seems to be making quite the comeback here in the 00s, as evidenced by these photographs of Sophia Bush, Kate Hudson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones taken this summer and blogged about by Inside The Fashion (I absolutely LOVE Catherine's dress!):
We recently found a luxurious 1970's paisley Oscar De La Renta house robe which will be up for sale soon! And here is another recently acquired vintage piece, a dress, the love of which inspired me to research paisley and post this blog. It is up for sale now at our Etsy shop:
(And you know what? I like patchouli too...)