Evening wraps or shawls are a widely accepted garment across the world. It has been used for centuries. In essence, a shawl is a woven rectangular piece of fabric that you can wear or drape loosely over the shoulders, upper body, arms or head. It entails utilitarian purposes and much significance. It provides warmth, is used in costume and national dresses, and carries a symbolic meaning in a few religions and cultures. Today, it is also used as tapestry, sofa throws and even tapestries. Of course, in its earliest recorded history, this garment wasn’t just restricted to evenings or necessarily donned in the same way it is now. In fact, its initial use in Persia (1420-70 AD) was as a girdle around the waist. Coincidentally, there have been historians who claimed that the shawl existed in India in that time period too and since been credited as the “Home of the Shawls” because this garment officially became world renowned after its manufacture from Kashmir.
In the late 1600s, Kashmir was a gateway that connected the teachings of Ancient India to the world. The shawl took center stage as far as export was concerned. The nature of weaving a shawl required a loom and the duration for making one shawl would take up to 18 months. Around this decade, the Naksha was introduced in Kashmir. It was a Persian device similar to a Jacquard loom, which enabled the weavers to create sinuous floral patterns and creeper designs in brocade. These designs were highly intricate, woven like tapestry on fine wool fabric that could rival brush-painted designs. And as a result, evening shawls first began to gain popularity amongst the elite women in France and England in the 1700s. They would wear shawls like evening scarves over their dresses for warmth and as exotic feminine adornments. But in the early 1800s, the productivity of shawls in Kashmir took a massive hit as its supply was falling short of its demand and imitations of this garment began emerging in England. By 1870, the Jacquard looms were brought to Paisley, Scotland and were used to produce ladies evening wraps. Paisley became a major manufacturing hub as their patterns and motifs were authentically imitating Kashmiri ones. The Paisley motif, heavily used in shawls, was actually a nature motif from the Tree of Life designs in the Moghul Era, commonly referred to as the Mango. But the archetypal curved tip was an illustrative evolution that took place in Paisley and henceforth became its name.
In present day, Kashmir may not be the hub but is known to specialize in a wide variety of evening wraps shawls. Each one has its unique signature style and manufacturing process. The Kanikar shawl sports intricate woven designs with local motifs like the Chenar tree leaf, apple and cherry blossoms, roses, tulips, almonds, pears and nightingales in deep soothing tones of maroon, gold, yellow and brown. The Jamiavr is a beautiful brocaded wool or wool-cotton blend wrap which also reflects in its cost. Dourukha has a fascinating origin as the “Do Shalla” created by Emperor Akbar by combining to 2 silk evening wraps back to back with gold and silver fringes. After its evolution in the making, it is woven with a one-sided, multicolored pattern as the other side is hand embroidered tracing the pattern-outlines in darker shades of the same colors. The Shatoosh is the most expensive shawl as it is made from the beard hairs of the Ibex. It is claimed to be so fine that it can be pulled through a small finger ring. The Pashmina evening scarf is the most commonly produced Kashmiri shawl. At its finest quality, it is woven from the underbelly hairs of the wild Asian mountain goat called Pashm. It’s available in solid colors or with needle work embroidery that showcase formalized nature motifs in rich colors. There are lower qualities and techniques also found in Pashmina that use regular goat or Kerman wool. The patchwork techniques that exist, while beautiful and highly specialized use patterns weaved individually and then sewn together seamlessly onto one central fabric.
Styles and Trends in Evening Wraps
Shawls are accepted and used across the world as a staple fashion accessory. Now commonly used as fashion statements rather than a need, it is widely produced by top global design houses and sported in all seasons and occasions. Whether they are worn as casual scarves over Western wear, formal covering layers on sarees or as evening wraps for dresses, there is an appropriate style to suit every purpose. For highly formal Indian occasions, it’s advisable to wear a high quality Pashmina or Dourukha and for supreme novelty, the Shatoosh. The more ordinary Pashminas in solid neutral colors are perfect to wear casually with tunics and salwars.