Paisley is sort of my signature. Whenever I’m going to a special event at work or elsewhere I like to wear a paisley shirt. Once when I was going out with some friends they were waiting in their car and I came out wearing a paisley shirt and one of my friends said, “Where does he find those wonderful shirts?” If I remember correctly that particular one was from a secondhand store because a lot of paisley gets thrown away, and I’m okay with that because if paisley isn’t popular then I don’t have to worry about anyone stealing my style. I didn’t even tell my friend my secret, although if he reads this he’ll probably figure it out, but that’s another story.
For my birthday and Christmas, which come close together, my wife bought me a bunch of paisley shirts and she said the store had so many of them she had to limit herself to just the ones she really liked which was good news because it meant I now have several new shirts and possibly bad news is paisley is becoming so popular everyone’s going to start wearing it. And I beg you: please don’t.
Anyway it got me wondering about the pattern’s origins; it turns out paisley has a pretty colorful history. In India the pattern was called boteh, a word meaning “flower”, where it was used in ceremonial robes given as rewards for various favors. In the 18th century it was imported to Europe, specifically to the town of Paisley, Scotland, hence the name, and the difficulty of producing a paisley pattern prompted the adoption of the Jacquard loom. The town of Paisley became an important manufacturing area and paisley shawls took off in popularity. There were even legal battles over copyrighted paisley patterns although the Persian and Indian weavers who produced many of the designs that Europeans copied never got a cut.
In the early 20th century cheap cotton bandanas with paisley prints made their way across the American west, but the pattern fell out of vogue until the psychedelic Sixties. John Lennon had his Rolls Royce painted with paisley designs, a bit of a callback to its regal history, and it’s probably not a coincidence that the antihero of Roger Corman’s A Bucket Of Blood, in a not-so-subtle jab at coffee shop culture, is named Walter Paisley.
And that’s a brief history of the paisley pattern and why it’s one that I’ve picked.