Imagine a world where there are flowers everywhere, everyday, in all forms and sizes and colors of the rainbow. Imagine their beautiful smell in the air. There is something romantic about flowers. Just think about the cornflowers we picked for Mom on our way home from school, the red roses on Valentine’s day, the daisies knotted to to a headband. Thus, especially women with Romantic Style as primary or secondary style personality are drawn to floral-clad garments. This post reviews the rendition of blossoms on clothing over the centuries. Humankind’s dream of an eternal warm season paradise-like garden in full bloom made possible by new weaving and printing techniques.
- Flower-embellished garments originated from Asia
- The medieval age (410–1485)
- Islamic influence
- Colonies, cotton and new print and production technologies
- The peak of floral clothes in the 19th century
- The 20th century
- Contemporary flower-inspired motifs
- May Stylish Monday linkup
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post.
Flower-embellished garments originated from Asia
Fashion historians believe that floral prints originated in Asia. During the Tang Dynasty(618-907 AD), the first floral fabrics came from China to Europe via trade routes. Peonies and other exotic flowers as well as birds were hand-printed or painted on silk fabrics. Some fabrics had flower embroidery or were woven to feature blossoms (brocade).
The medieval age (410–1485)
From the 6th century, borders and embroidery embellished sleeves. Linen clothing trimmed with borders gained popularity over time. As the import of luxury silk fabric increased over time, exotic painted or woven fabric entered the fashion of the wealthy and nobility.
In the 12th century, European merchants brought the fabrics in larger amounts to the Old World market via trade with Ottoman traders. Here these expensive fabrics were turned into clothing for the aristocrats and the wealthy upper class, who could afford them. The discovery of new maritime trade routes broke the monopoly of the Ottoman Empire. Eventually, the Italians figured out how to create the luxury velvet. The ornaments were very stylized versions of the vines and pomegranate motifs.
In the 15th century, floral lace was a big thing. Elaborated lace as a trim or decoration was welcome on women and men attire alike. Bruxelles lace featuring the motif was famous and in high desire until the late 16th century. During this time, Tour and its outskirts were the silk-weaving industry center in France. Later, Lyon that had been the center for import of luxury fabrics took the place.
During the 15 and 16th centuries, Venice and Florence were famous velvet fabrics with gold and silver threads and large floral patterns. The pomegranate was an often used motif.
During the Islamic period, clothes with tulip, vines and pomegranate embellishment woven in velvet were in fashion among the rich and wealthy. Such fabric often came from Persia via merchants of the Ottoman Empire in the early 17th century.
Colonies, cotton and new print and production technologies
In the 18th century, carnations, rose and daisy brocades were trendy. British and Dutch merchants imported cotton fabrics with block prints from India. Exotic blossoms appeared on cotton. By the mid 18th century, British designers developed more botanical patterns that differed distinctively from the generalized flowers designed in France.
In 1759, British designer figured out how to produce the chintz in mass production at affordable prizes for the masses. Slaves were bought in Africa to be sold in America. There the ships were loaded with cotton which then was spun into fabrics. Typically, the background was white, in pastels, yellow, red, or brown.
Tiny blossoms in bright colors on cotton were It at the end of the century.
The peak of floral clothes in the 19th century
The romantic time made the print popular for all classes. While the working class bought the printed cotton clothing, the demand for Chinese and Japanese silk floral attire peaked among upper class women. At this time, also the first copies were made in the Western World making the desired patterns more affordable for the upper class. However, not only blood and money nobility, but also high-class prostitutes wore the oriental luxury fabrics. Some fashion houses even collaborated with these high-class escorts to advertise their clothes. Thus, these women became fashion icons of the upper class wives in France.
During the Victorian Era, sunflowers were the first choice for fabrics, tiles and even wallpaper. At the end of the century, artists re-discovered Oriental motifs which then initiated again a trend of Orientalism in fashion. This trend lasted until the beginning of WWII.
The 20th century
In the roaring 20s, silk floral straight down or drop-waist dresses and kimonos were fashionable at day in the streets and at night at home. The 1920’s fashion, prepared the way for the petite, dainty all-over floral prints of the ’30s. WWII let to rationing of fabrics and other required materials for making clothing. Thus, simpler cuts and solids became popular.
The 50s were all about Dior’s New Look. This means cinched waist, full skirt. Florals looked very much like their natural inspiration. Floral dresses were for girls and young women. My great-grandma nevertheless wore the most bright and bold dresses of this kind, but always was criticized by friends and family for wearing what she liked. She was in her late 60s. During that time only dark solid dresses were deemed acceptable for that age group.
In the 60s, pop art influenced many fashion designers. Bold, bright, vibrant large floral prints became fashionable especially on A-line mini dresses and head scarves in mainstream. My German readers may remember the funny Pril flowers stickers that were on the back of this brand’s dish liquid bottles.
In the Flower Power tribe, the pattern were taken from worldwide ethnic clothing and embroidery. Flowery accessories were a Must. Do you still remember Scott McKenzie‘s hit San Francisco? “… we sure to wear flowers in your hair.”
The 70s brought more subtle, romantic floral prints. In the 80s, floral clothes were bright and bold, but the motifs and cuts distinctly differed from those of the 60s.
Contemporary flower-inspired motifs
Today abstract, stylized, exotic and fantasy flowers are popular on all kind of background colors. Floral dresses with sleeves are among the favorites of women in midlife to cover saggy upper arms. The motif occurs on all clothing items from bras, over skirts, shirts to even down coats. Accessories like scarves, bangles and necklaces as well as earrings featuring flowers are popular among women with Romantic or Bohemian Style. Even bags and shoes are decorated with them.
The above OOTD features fantasy blossoms in yellow, tan, pink and red on black background on silk. The look is spring business casual. The large scale of the print and dark background in combination with the classic top and cardigan diminish the association with romantic or naive or girly. You can find a post dedicated how to look ageless in floral prints over 40 at the link.
May Stylish Monday linkup
My blogging friends and I are hosting a May Stylish Monday linkup party. Each of us features fresh flowers in her post and outfits. Note that the looks in the collage below are inspirations and not necessarily the outfit ideas featured in their posts. Thus, make sure to visit Julie Augustyn at Fashion, Trends and Friends, Suzanne Bell at Ask Suzanne Bell, Andy Schwartz at Pearls and Pantsuits, Emma at Style Splash, Nancy Baten at Nancy’s Fashion Style, Cindy Scurry at The Middle Sister Style Blog, Michelle Clark at @seechele_styles and Nina Bandoni at Sharing a Journey.
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Döbler, Hannsferdinand, 1972. Kultur und Sittengeschichte der Welt – Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, München, Germany.
Robinson, Julian, Calvey, Gracie, 2015. The fine art of fashion illustration. Francis Lincoln Limited. London.
Watt, Melinda. Textile Production in Europe: Silk, 1600–1800. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
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