Of Pashmina and Cashmere

According to the fashion of the day, different styles of wearing cashmere/pashmina shawls were in vogue at different periods in the 19th century.  After 1815-20, the high-waisted straight-skirted silhouette gave way to a more natural outline, the waist returning to its rightful position and its slenderness emphasized by the wider swirling skirts and leg-of-mutton sleeves.  To complement this look, square shawls folded diagonally often seemed more appropriate than the running drape of the rectangular shawls.  This could be the time when a lot of long kashmir shawls  (doshalas) belonging to aristocratic women were cut down into turnover shawls and 'chales boiteux'.

Queen Victoria, who acceded to the British throne in 1837, loved long shawls and naturally the elite and fashionable followed suit.  After 1847, Her Majesty received every year the "Treaty Shawls" as was the provision in the Treaty of Amritsar.  It is said that she distributed most of them as wedding presents to her staff or relatives in the royal houses of Europe.  She herself preferred to wear Paisley shawls in order to patronize the home industry of shawl weaving in Paisley.

The widely exaggerated skirts of 1850s and 60s could not be combined with any kind of coats.  They needed a wrap or shawl that was voluminous in width and length.  This need was filled by the  shawl weavers in both Kashmir and Paisley.  Though by now, these two places did not have their monopoly in making beautiful  shawls, they had competition from Spanish mantilla and Chinese shawls in heavily fringed silk.

The wraps and shawls continued to hold their sway on western fashion scene till 1870s.  Around 1880s, the demand from the West went down sharply.

Janet and Rizvi write in their book Pashmina, "in 1881,  the Fall opening event at Stewart's, there were no shawls...".  The beautiful cashmere shawls were cut and stitched into coats and dolmans, with trimmings attached to them.  Other stayed in the drawers and cupboards of the rich and aristocrats till the passage of time turned them into collectors' items and they were to be auctioned   later!

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