Winter brings its personal sense of fashion. Bright shades inevitably sail into our wardrobes to elevate our spirits in the otherwise cold and dry season. Long coats, leather jackets, over-sized cardigans and vibrant sweaters are surely every woman’s friend in the chilly weather, but one elegant and sophisticated piece that invariably finds its way into a woman’s closet is the ever-graceful shawl.
Colourful, floral and relatively warm, shawls have been used as a fashion accessory for eons. They are still quite popular with women today as they enhance their look without having to put a great deal of effort into dressing. Many designers now make shawls a part of their winter collection, and boutiques, garment shops and even roadside stalls begin to display numerous beautiful, multi-coloured shawls once the winter starts.
But have you wondered where these decorative drapes come from?
The tale of shawls
It is said that shawls or ‘Shals’ were first used in the ancient Assyrian times. However, as far as we have the recorded history of shawls, historians agree that they were widely worn in Kashmir, an important place (at that time and even today) through which ancient knowledge, wealth and various utility products were passed to the rest of the world. The shawls were exported too, but were very expensive and had different patterns embroidered on them because of which by the 18th century they became a status symbol for the English and French elite.
Gradually, the demand amplified across Europe and the supply dwindled; so in the early 1780s, England and France began making their own shawls, destroying the exclusivity of the original Kashmiri shawls. Different motifs began appearing on shawls but paisley (mango-shaped design) became a widespread vogue in Europe and is still prevalent there.
During the 1870s, shawls became a prominent part of the folk dress in Germany, Spain, Latin America and the Near East. In the first decade of the 19th century, China too began manufacturing and exporting shawls called ‘China shals’, making this item of clothing very common around the world.
Some cultures still have shawls as a part of their national dress just because they were so commonly used in the earlier times.
Wear a shawl
Seeing women wrapped comfortably in beautiful shawls is a sight not uncommon at winter weddings and outdoors evening parties. One can’t help but admire the fabric, colours and embroidery on most of the shawls. From cashmere to pashminas to loom knits, you can match them with your dress to create that delicate look which wins hearts during the dry, dull, cold weather.
When attending a wedding or any other open-air ceremony, it’s best if you choose an embroidered cashmere shawl instead of those thick sweaters and cardigans. However, bear in mind that your dress mustn’t overshadow or clash with the cashmere. Party shawls are usually fully embroidered with a contrasting base colour; therefore a gaudy dress might not complement your cashmere well. Instead, opt for a plainer dress and wrap the cashmere from behind your shoulders to fully display its gorgeous colours and designs. You can either cross it in front or simply let it rest on your arms.
Otherwise, go for partially embroidered cashmere (with a plain centre) and wrap the ends in front to fully exhibit the mirror work.
Apart from embroidered shawls, plain pashmina wraps deliver fashion statements — the bolder the colour, the bolder the statement. These are ideal for workplaces as they don’t attract much attention, are easy to carry and are available in a large variety of colours. Red, fuchsia, shamrock plain pashminas can be used to sophisticatedly accessorise simple dresses of light colours; for example you can drape a red or shamrock shawl with beige shalwar kameez / trousers or white shirt and brown / black pants. Bright colours would breathe life into your dress and the plainness would add decency.
Apart from long, flaunting shawls, triangle woollen loom shawls are in abundance in shops these days. These looms cover your back and front sufficiently keeping you pleasantly warm even on one of coldest days of the season. Pure white looms are the best. Pair it with a woollen head cap and you’re ready to hit the outdoors.
If you live in Lahore, Islamabad or Quetta, then a cap shawl would do you good. Available in dark and light colours like black, maroon, grey and white, a cap shawl coupled with woollen gloves and cap would keep you extremely warm. But for mild winters in Karachi, a woollen stole or a mixed woollen shawl would be enough. During extreme weather, you can adorn your attire with an embroidered camel wool shawl.
Genuine, high-quality cashmere and pashminas are quite expensive. The price for plain shawls begins from Rs15,000 while that for original hand-made and hand-embroidered pashmina shawls starts from Rs50,000.
Alternatively, plain low-quality cashmere and pashminas costs between Rs3,000 to Rs5,000 while an embroidered one costs between Rs8,000 to Rs10, 000.
Accessorising with a shawl can instantly help a woman look stylish; however, carrying them gracefully is equally important. Drape the soft cashmere or pashmina shawls around your shoulders this winter to embellish your attire gorgeously.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine November 22nd, 2015