How Cashmere Made Paisley An Unlikely Fashion Hub

How Cashmere Made Paisley An Unlikely Fashion Hub

When people think of cashmere clothing, they often think immediately of luxury, fashion and comfortable warmth all rolled into one garment.

In terms of locations that are associated with cashmere, one that people may not necessarily expect is Paisley, the largest town in Scotland that despite not having city status has been part of several unique moments in history.

It is perhaps best known today as the town where the “Bottled Snail Incident” happened, which led to a landmark court case that is still cited to this day.

A century before this, however, Paisley was on the lips of every fashion-conscious person in Europe, and the reason for this comes down to the power of cashmere.


By Any Other Name

Cashmere comes from cashmere goats, which themselves were named after a region best known for its high-quality Changthangi goat wool, Kashmir.

However, for several decades in the early part of the 19th century, Kashmir shawls were known first as pine and cone, and later as paisley shawls, and the reason for this is due to the unexpected rise of a town that up to that point was best known for the Renfrewshire Witch Trials of 1697.

The Industrial Revolution revitalised several smaller market towns into industrial hubs, but whilst the stories of Manchester and Preston are more commonly told, Paisley had a reputation for producing high amounts of high-quality textiles such as silk.

Once silk fell out of favour in 1790, the next step was to create imitations of the Kashmir shawls that had started to enter the country and had risen prominently in popularity thanks to a young Queen Victoria wearing them.

The imitation Kashmir designs quickly became immensely popular to the point that all shawls of that design, including the originators of the style, became known as paisley shawls.

This would eventually reverse, with Queen Victoria’s notable preference for traditional Kashmir designs making them a status symbol amongst the upper class, with paisley shawls becoming a symbol amongst the middle class.

Part of the reason for this change is a mix of supply and materials. Whilst Kashmir shawls were made with exceptionally light cashmere wool, paisley shawls quickly moved to use the far cheaper fleece.

Whilst fleece is still a warm, comfortable material, it is cheaper, thicker and lacks the breathability that makes cashmere comfortable to wear.

As well as this, the increased demand meant that rather than having elaborate hand-loom designs, weavers followed set patterns which decreased the artistry and desirability, and would contribute to paisley’s decline in the 1870s.

Part of the problem was that changes in women’s fashion meant that a shawl would cover a lot of decorative clothing items such as the bustle, and the inability to import shawls thanks to the Franco-Prussian War and cotton shortages thanks to the American Civil War reduced the availability of cashmere even more.

Both cashmere and paisley styles would make a comeback, the latter most notably in the 1960s when it became associated with the Summer of Love.