Kabul Sews Vogue Patterns

Image via the Polyglot.

I recently discovered The Polyglot, writer Alex Aubry’s blog about fashion and the Middle East. One post, “When Afghanistan was in Vogue,” gives a fascinating perspective on Vogue Patterns in pre-revolutionary Afghanistan.

Aubry describes how, in the late 1950s, Jeanne Beecher, an American woman living in Afghanistan, established a dressmaking school in Kabul where women could learn to sew the latest Western fashions. Beecher, the wife of an airline executive, conceived the idea in response to demand for Western fashions among Afghan women. She approached Pan American Airways’ Technical Assistance Program for help obtaining sewing patterns and supplies for her school, and the Vogue Pattern Service donated two hundred sewing patterns to Beecher’s school in response to Pan Am’s call.

Young Afghan women in Western fashions, 1967
Young Afghan women standing outside Kabul’s International Airport in the latest Western fashions, 1967. Image via The Polyglot.

After a few months, many of the school’s students were ready to model their new clothes in a fashion show. Aubry credits Beecher’s school both with kick-starting Kabul’s fashion industry and spurring the adoption of Western dress there. One of the things I find interesting about this phenomenon is how the Afghan women who learned to sew using Vogue patterns were after the same thing as Vogue’s Western customers: up-to-date fashion.

4 thoughts on “Kabul Sews Vogue Patterns

  1. What a great blog discovery! One of my dearest friends left his home outside of Vancouver in the early 70s to hit the hippie trail for a couple of years and spent a lot of time in Kabul. He fell in love with the culture that was blossoming at the time. So much has changed… an eye-opener to hear what was happening then.

  2. Wonderful post! A good example of capitalism reaching around the world post-WWII, and in doing so, influencing different cultures. I wonder how many Afghan women who were interested in ‘Western” fashion ultimately stayed in Afghanistan, and how many of them ended up flying off on Pan Am to live permanently in a Western culture! Maybe that’s why Karzai is such a clothes horse…

    1. It’s interesting how this episode involves a number of hybrids, to use a term from postcolonial theory. There’s charitable capitalism, Pan Am’s community outreach benefiting the middle and upper class Afghan women who used Vogue patterns to make the clothes they wanted. And the Afghan women could be seen as colonial subjects, caught between two cultures. For me, their sewing complicates narratives of Western cultural imperialism since they were active producers of fashionable Western dress who chose to incorporate the new fashions into their (middle to upper class, urban) Afghan identities…

  3. You know, we often only see the world though our own eyes but it’s great to acknowledge the influences from around the world that affect our lives today. Thanks for this

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