Harem Scarum

Pucci dice: affascinate lo sceicco (Sheikh) - Vogue Italia editorial photographed by Gian Paolo Barbieri
Pucci tunic and harem pants, Vogue Italia, January 1968. Photo: Gian Paolo Barbieri. Image: Pleasurephoto.

The early ’90s are back—and so are sarouel, or harem pants. Here’s a look at vintage patterns for this distinctive trouser style.

Like caftans, sarouel originated in ancient Persia. Persian sirwāl became Turkish şalvar, entering the Western fashion vocabulary via Ottoman culture and the early modern vogue for turquerie.

Tilda Swinton in 18th-century Ottoman dress in Sally Potter's Orlando
Tilda Swinton in 18th-century Ottoman dress in Sally Potter’s Orlando (1992) Photo: Liam Longman. Image: Pinterest.

Şalvar were introduced to Western women’s clothing in the 19th century as part of the Rational Dress movement: Amelia Bloomer conceived her eponymous trousers as “Turkish pants.” (On cycling bloomers see Jonathan Walford, The 1890s Bicycle Bloomer Brouhaha.) Couturier Paul Poiret is usually credited with making “harem” pants fashionable in the period before World War 1.

Bert Green illustration "The Harem Girl," 1911
The Harem Girl. Bert Green for Puck magazine, 1911. Image: Wikipedia.
Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) in her new harem ensemble. Downton Abbey, season 1, episode 3
Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) on Downton Abbey, Season 1 (2011). Image: Pinterest.

1960s

In the mid-’60s, harem pants enjoyed renewed popularity as glam loungewear. (I Dream of Jeannie started airing in September, 1965.) This Vogue pyjama with matching, dolman-sleeved overblouse has a cuffed trouser option:

1960s pyjama and overblouse pattern Vogue 6435
Vogue 6435 (ca. 1965) Image: Mermaid’s Purse.

Pucci’s interest in harem pants predates the jewelled version at the top of this post: a short, blue harem ensemble was part of his 1965 Braniff flight attendant uniform. These high-waisted palazzo pyjamas also have a cuffed, harem option, as worn by Editha Dussler:

1960s Pucci palazzo pyjamas and jacket pattern Vogue 1692 feat. Editha Dussler
Vogue 1692 by Pucci (1967)

Anne de Zogheb modelled these Pucci harem pyjamas, which feature an intriguing self-lined skirt with side openings:

1960s Pucci harem pyjama pattern Vogue 2094 feat. Anne de Zogheb
Vogue 2094 by Pucci (1969)

1970s

Bouffant knickers are a variation on the harem pant. This gold brocade, coat-and-knickers ensemble from Yves Saint Laurent’s Winter 1970 haute couture collection evokes the hippie trail. The model is Viviane Fauny:

1970s Yves Saint Laurent haute couture coat and knickers pattern Vogue 2501
Vogue 2501 by Yves Saint Laurent (1971) Image: Vintage Pattern Wiki.

From 1976, this Kenzo pattern includes a cuffed harem pant option. (A copy is available in the shop.)

1970s Kenzo pattern Butterick 4793
Butterick 4793 by Kenzo (1976)

Hot pink harem pants catch the eye on this Very Easy Vogue pattern, which also includes palazzo pants and a maxi skirt:

1970s maxi skirt, harem or palazzo pant pattern Very Easy Vogue 9633
Vogue 9633 (ca. 1977) Image: Etsy.

1980s

This gold satin pair, from Krizia, has no side seams:

1980s Krizia pattern - harem pants detail - McCall's 7307
McCall’s 7307 by Krizia (1980) Image: PatternVault shop.

In the early ’80s, the dropped-crotch, Zouave style of harem pant came to the fore. This Simplicity pattern includes Zouave pants in two lengths:

1980s Zouave and harem pants pattern Simplicity 5538
Simplicity 5538 (1982) Image: Etsy.

The trousers in this Versace ensemble evoke the harem silhouette, with draped volume tapering to a fitted ankle (see my Versace post for more photos):

Early 1980s Gianni Versace tunic and draped pants pattern Vogue 2702
Vogue 2702 by Gianni Versace (ca. 1981) Image: PatternVault shop.

Very Easy Very Vogue got on the dropped crotch bandwagon with three styles of Zouave pants—view C with side drape:

1980s Zouave dropped-crotch pants pattern Very Easy Very Vogue 9591
Vogue 9591 (1986) Image: Etsy.

1990s

By the early ’90s, hip-hop musician MC Hammer had made so great an impact on popular culture that his characteristic trousers were known as “hammer pants.” Simplicity’s official MC Hammer unisex pants pattern came with not one but two iron-on transfers. (See envelope back here. There was even a doll clothes pattern for the MC Hammer action figure.) Drop-crotch pants could also be found as Butterick Classics and a unisex costume pattern.

Hammer time! 1990s official unisex MC Hammer pants pattern Simplicity 7455
Simplicity 7455 by MC Hammer (1991) Image: Vintage Pattern Wiki.

Issey Miyake designed these lowest of the low dropped-crotch pants, as worn by Phina Oruche:

1990s Issey Miyake pattern including dropped-crotch pant Vogue 1328 feat. Phina Oruche
Vogue 1328 by Issey Miyake (1994) Image: Etsy.

Recent patterns heralding the return of the sarouel include McCall’s 5858, Kwik Sew 3701, and the unisex Burda 7546. If the trend continues, perhaps we’ll see a pattern for Rachel Comey’s Pollock trouser…

Dancers from the robbinschilds company (Pollock sarouel pant), Rachel Comey Resort 2016
Dancers from the robbinschilds company, Rachel Comey Resort 2016. Image: Vogue.com.

Early Sixties Chinoiserie

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love (2000)
Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) Image: WWD.

This year’s big Costume Institute exhibit, China: Through the Looking Glass, broke the attendance record previously set by Savage Beauty in 2011 to become the Met’s most-visited costume exhibit. (See WWD.) Andrew Bolton’s catalogue, illustrated with original photography by Platon, is available from Yale University Press.

Andrew Bolton, China: Through the Looking Glass. Fashion, Film, Art (2015) Image: Yale / Google Books.

One of the show’s major draws was Wong Kar-wai’s art direction, with styling by William Chang Suk-ping. (See Rosemary Feitelberg, “Chinese Arts Examined at the Met” or read the press release here.) Like Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men and mid-century American dress, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) and 2046 (2004), with costume design by William Chang, have virtually defined the image of mid-century Hong Kong fashion.

It’s possible to find vintage sewing patterns showing a Chinese influence, especially cheongsam patterns, from about the 1950s on. The earliest Vogue patterns I’ve found that show a Chinese influence date to the early 1960s.

Two circa 1962 Vogue patterns I’ve had in the shop got me thinking about early ’60s Chinoiserie. One is for a cheongsam and pants, the other for a cocktail dress and sheer cape or ‘Ming’ stole:

1960s cheongsam and pants pattern - Vogue 5571
Vogue 5571 (c. 1962) Cheongsam and slim pants. Image: PatternVault shop.
1960s Ming stole and dress pattern - Vogue 5648
Vogue 5648 (c. 1962) Cocktail dress with ‘Ming’ cape stole. Image: PatternVault shop.

Interestingly, although Vogue 5571 is clearly a pattern for a cheongsam or qipao, the envelope text says nothing to identify the garment as Chinese. Vogue 5648, on the other hand, calls its voluminous coverup a ‘Ming’ stole—a garment for which I can find no evidence whatsoever.

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) is known for its voluminous clothing. Vogue 5648’s Ming stole has deep, two-piece sleeves and back fullness released from gathers at the neckline. Here’s the back view:

Back views, Vogue 5648 dress and Ming stole
Back views for Vogue 5648 (c. 1962)

The back neckline detail recalls this Balenciaga evening wrap featured in an earlier Costume Institute exhibit, Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western Dress:

1950s pink Balenciaga evening wrap in the collection of the Costume Institute
Balenciaga evening wrap, 1954-55. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

By contrast, the instantly recognizable cheongsam or qipao is a product of the modern period, a hybrid garment with a complex history traceable to Manchu dress in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Vogue Patterns’ mid-century Chinoiserie seems inseparable from the context of the Cold War. In 1962, it had been just over a decade since Mao’s 1949 proclamation of the People’s Republic of China. The Hollywood films Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955) and The World of Suzie Wong (1960) had helped popularize the cheongsam in the West with their depictions of love affairs between an American man and a qipao-clad Chinese woman in mid-century Hong Kong.

Poster for Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing Jennifer Jones wearing a cheongsam
Jennifer Jones wears a cheongsam on the poster for Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955) Image: Wikipedia.
Poster for The World of Suzie Wong starring Nancy Kwan
Nancy Kwan wears a cheongsam (upper left) on the poster for The World of Suzie Wong (1960) Image: IMdB.
Nancy Kwan on the cover of Life magazine, October 24, 1960. Photo: Bert Stern for Paramount Pictures. Image: Google Books.

For more on the cheongsam/qipao see Juanjuan Wu, “Reinvented Identity: The Qipao and Tang-Style Jacket,” chapter 6 of Chinese Fashion: From Mao to Now (Berg 2009).

For discussion of the exhibit see Holland Cotter, “In ‘China: Through the Looking Glass,’ Eastern Culture Meets Western Fashion” and Susie Bubble, “Through the Chinese Looking Glass.”

Happy Labour Day, everyone!