Along with your classic stripes, checks and spots, there’s probably no pattern in menswear as noticeable and distinguishable as paisley. You would have no doubt seen it adorning ties, pocket squares, bandanas and general mens and womens accessories, to waistcoats, the linings of suit jackets, hats and much more, probably for most of your life. Rikesh Chauhan takes a closer look at this classic menswear print and its origins in our latest journal entry.
- Where the paisley pattern originates from
- The colours that work best for a paisley pocket square
- What is a traditional paisley pattern?
- Paisley in modern day menswear fashion
- What suits work well with a paisley pocket square
The paisley pattern itself, which often looks like a teardrop or leaf with a curved end, are either immaculately placed or loosely scattered in varying sizes and designs, speckled with beautiful touches of colour. It’s one of the widest ranging patterns due to its ability to be manipulated and recreated, and forms a perfect opportunity to introduce flair, colour, character and personality into your ensemble and wider wardrobe.
So where does the paisley motif originate? Whilst the exact idea behind the creation of the paisley pattern is not known for certain, the paisley, or buto, pattern hails from 11th Century India, and specifically, Kashmir. Items such as silks, raw materials, spices and luxury commodities were often traded, gifted and traversed from East to West through the expansive Silk Roads and the Kashmir shawls, which were predominantly adorned with this print, certainly proved popular amongst the elite in Europe and the wider West, who were searching for the finest of luxury goods.
The boom in paisley in the West came during the post-Mughal period — around the 19th Century onwards. In addition to the British Empire taking material and physical goods through openly questionable methods, the techniques used in the East to create such garments were also taken and adapted in order to eventually increase popularity, meet demand, and — importantly — reduce production costs. The Scottish town of Paisley, where most of these printed ‘Kashmir shawls’ were produced, eventually gave its name to the motif.
Fast forward to the modern day, and paisley hit its peak in the United Kingdom (as well as across the pond in the United States) around the 1960s and ‘70s. This was around the time where the psychedelic art and music scene was all the rage. Perhaps even considered de rigeur at this point, paisley and its vivid colours, swirling designs and sweeping slopes were seen on clothes, on stages, campervans, in concerts, in videos, absolutely everywhere in new age media.
It represented a vibrant, peaceful, positive youth culture and a middle finger to conventionality, uniform, and of course, war. You’ll have no doubt seen John Lennon’s famous yellow Rolls-Royce Phantom V almost pimped out, for a lack of a better term, in psychedelic paisley and floral paint. And if you haven’t, I’d highly recommend a quick Google when you get a second — after reading the rest of this article, of course.
In the following years, palettes and patterns became a little bit more refined, a little more subtle. One could even say subdued. Certainly, there’s no shock factor or overuse of colour in today’s scene — peacocks aside. Way, way aside, entirely out of picture if at all possible.
Additionally, over the last ten or so years at least, paisley has become a bit of a catchall term for anything loosely resembling the paisley teardrop, but more so floral patterns in general, for that matter.
The rule of thumb to adhere to, however, is that any pattern which loosely weaves in one of these teardrops (no matter how subtle or infrequent) can constitute paisley. Otherwise it’s just floral. You’re most likely seeing these motifs on ties and pocket squares today, for the sheer fact that screen printing often works best on plain silks, of which most ties and pocket squares are composed.
A plain silk is usually preferred for designed prints, whereas textured or jacquard ties specifically would feature patterns that are likely to be handwoven. The possibilities are endless when it comes to creating paisley motifs, and especially for pocket squares and scarves. The dimensions of such items makes the perfect blank canvas for patterns to come alive, lustre and all.
Today, some fashion houses employ creative designers to solely dedicate themselves to pocket square, scarf and tie designs, in the format of seasonal and capsule collections. Pocket squares first became en vogue around the same time as the Kashmir shawls themselves and also followed the same path as the goods amongst the Silk Roads.
The pocket squares and neckerchiefs went from cotton and linen pieces for functionality, to being made from more luxurious fabrics such as silk which was another way to showcase status and wealth amongst society. It makes sense, therefore, that the more intricate the design and embroidery, the more wealthy one would assume you to be.
The paisley motif and the pocket square are pretty synonymous with one another today, and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. There is however, only so much the pattern can be recreated and manipulated, which may be why the term paisley is so significantly broad today.
The positives to this is the sheer abundance of choice to find the perfect paisley pocket square for your ensembles — be it an everyday look for work or the weekend, to black tie, weddings and other formal occasions. The art of colour matching plays a big role when it comes to selecting the perfect accessory, and there’s a fine line between finding the perfect pocket square to complete a look, and something that looks too matchy-matchy.
I’ve mentioned this in a previous article for Rampley & Co., but you should never, at any point, choose the same colour and pattern for both your pocket square and tie. Leave the ‘sets’ in the past and keep them there for everyone’s sake.
The beauty of a dark navy suit is that the majority of colours will work in terms of pocket square. If you’re looking for something subtle and tonal, opt for a darker colour, such as a different shade of blue, or dark green and purple. Or all of the above, like this one.
I always love pocket squares with flecks of gold or mustard as a perfect choice for a little contrast against the navy, such as this patterned iteration. One thing to note in terms of a quality pocket square is when it’s hand rolled.
Rolled hem, rolled edge, or rollover stitch; no matter what you choose to call it, the neat finishing edge found on only the most luxurious and well-made pocket squares requires skilled artisans to carefully roll the silk hem into an immaculate rounded edge. The process produces a plump cushioned edge that in our opinion offers a finish that is far superior to a machine-sewn hem.
When you're choosing to buy hand-rolled pocket squares, you are buying a product that has a little bit of a unique feel to it as no two edges will be sewn exactly the same way. For us, it’s really important that we produce the most beautiful squares we can and therefore all our silk squares are hand rolled to provide an exquisite finish.
A hand rolled pocket square features a rolled hem or rollover stitch. It is found on the most luxurious and well-made pocket squares, as it requires artisans to carefully roll the silk hem into an immaculately rounded edge, offering a far superior finish to the machine-sewn alternative. These rolled hems will also provide texture depending on how you decide to style and fold your pocket square.
Anyway, I digress. Returning to the paisley pattern and to the point I made earlier regarding its multiple iterations and reinterpretations, a great example is the selection of Rampley & Co.
Persian Flower paisley pocket squares. Using the traditional paisley outline, the teardrop envelops a Persian flower in the centre, and forms a tessellating pattern. The use of colour here is particularly impressive, too. It’s very easy to over complicate already-intricate designs, but the matching here is sublime.
Whether you wish to go for the ivory monochrome version which lends beautifully to black tie, the bronze, teal and burgundy version that would perfectly accentuate a tobacco linen suit adorned in the Mediterranean during the summer, or even the gold, charcoal and ivory pocket square which would work great with a cream sports jacket or suit, you’re pretty spoilt for choice.
While I have offered these suggestions, the pocket squares (and the patterns in general) are surprisingly versatile, so why not experiment with your wardrobe and see what takes your fancy? The only thing I would suggest now when it comes to picking your perfect paisley is to make sure the pattern isn’t exploded.
That is to say, isn’t too big or loud. It gets harder to implement into ensembles when they are too in-your-face. The same way you probably wouldn’t wear giant polka dots in primary colours in fear of looking a little, well, clown-ish, the same principle goes for paisley. I may have come across negative in my earlier connotations of today’s paisley, but I do in fact appreciate the subtlety of it all.
The beauty of these pieces is that they were once designed to stand out: as a means of status and being well-refined. Today, being well-refined, having societal status and wealth is not something we outwardly look to showcase. In fact, it’s often the quietest people in the room that have the best stories to tell.