A craze for the east
Victorians loved ‘Indian’ designs, which were produced all over Britain
Victorian fashion was heavily influenced by India – thanks to the use of Indian fabrics, including cotton and silk, in the making of British clothes. Britons also adopted and imitated Indian patterns, style, motifs and even garments – such as pyjamas and the Kashmir shawl.
British women had worn the Kashmir shawl – to provide a little extra warmth over short-sleeved, lightweight dresses – since the mid-18th century. Soon it had become a symbol of status, respectability and fashion, but one that was well out of the reach of all but the wealthiest women.
However, in the
mid-19th century everything changed. By then, the demand for the shawl had reached such a crescendo that mills in Norwich, Edinburgh and Paisley, near Glasgow, began producing imitations. Suddenly women of limited means could acquire shawls that, to the untrained eye, appeared to be made in India.
Several emporiums opened in London to cater to the demand for both British and Indian-made shawls, among them the Liberty department store. Opening on Regent Street in 1875, it had soon expanded its range of Indian goods to stock not just shawls, cloaks, scarves and jewellery to adorn the body, but Indian fabric, furniture, carpets, rugs, incense burners and brasses to decorate the home.
A woman wears a Kashmir shawl in c1810, before mass-produced imitations flooded the market