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Oriental Style (Enter the New Woman #AtoZChallenge 2022)

O (AtoZ Challenge 2022) Enter the New Woman - Oriental Style

The history of the relationship between the Asian and Western worlds had always been simultaneously problematic and fruitful. On the one hand, the two worlds idealised each other in ways that had little to do with reality. On the other, the pollination between the two worlds and their different cultures created incredible artistic achievements. 

The Near and Far East always exerted a great fascination on the Western World, particularly Europe. Since the Medieval times, Asia was the place of magic, mythic creatures, manly warriors and women of exquisite beauty. 
Colonisation intensified this feeling, which soon turned the Eastern World into a fairyland rather than a real place. In Western consciousness, the Orient burred into a generic oriental image that didn’t match any real culture but was an aggregation of ideas and fascinations residing in the Western’s imagination.

This fascination created a demand for Asian items that increased during Colonialism and became almost a craze after the 1850s, when Japan, a nation that had been unreachable by any Westerner for centuries, finally opened itself up to international trade. 
Japanese artefacts, stories and information about Japan, reached the West, and the West fell in love with it.

Enter the New Woman #AtoZChallenge – The Oriental Style became extremely popular in the first decades of the 1900s and inspired everything that could be designed, including fashion #ArtDeco #WomenFashion Share on X

The New Woman and the Oriental Style fashion

Fashion certainly didn’t stay out of this. 

Europe had imported textiles from Asia for many centuries. Many textiles – like Chinese silks and Indian fabrics – were produced and dyed with more advanced techniques than in Europe.
In India, dyes created beautiful, deep colours that European technology could not replicate. Indigo produced an intense blue, turmeric brilliant yellows, and alizarin bright red unapproachable by European dying techniques.

1900s Oriental Style

But at the end of the 19th century, the Western World started to import more than just textile from Asia. 

Cloths in many Eastern countries were far less restricting than in Europe, especially for women. 
As the New Woman revolution advanced and women started to demand more comfortable clothes, designers looked East for inspiration. Soon many clothes the New Women wore were heavily inspired by East fashion. 

Paul Poiret was one of the first designers to take inspiration from the East. He was who introduced the tunic and the harem pantaloon into French fashion. The harem pants – which were full in the leg and gathered at the ankle – were among the first trouser-like garments women started to wear for fashion rather than activism. Another couturier, Mariano Fortuny, designed clothes influenced by Moroccan djellaba, Arabic abaya, Coptic tunics, and Indian saris, and especially Japanes kimonos.
Sashes, tunics, scarves, and turbans became very fashionable. 

When in 1922 Carter discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb, people went crazy for anything Egyptian, and fashion found a new venue of inspiration. Dresses started to feature beaded necklines that recalled an ancient Egyptian broad collar. Pleated skirts echoed the ancient Egyptian style. Jewellery replicated the beautiful designs found in the tomb.

Paul Poiret

Paul Poiret

Paul Poiret was an innovative French couturier who dressed Paris’ finest before World War I. He epitomized Art Deco fashion and is credited with freeing women from corsets as well as introducing new silhouettes like the hobble skirt, harem pants, and lampshade tunic. 

Much of modern fashion was born with Paul Poiret, from the spectacle of the runway to the idea of fashion brands as a means to promote a luxurious lifestyle. Influenced by the sleek lines and draped constructions of the Japanese kimono and Middle Eastern caftan, Poiret also introduced a new dramatic palette and unprecedented combinations of colors to fashion design, elevating the status of couture to an art form. 
(Artland Magazine Online)

Was the Oriental Style unpatriotic?

Pinterest pin. The text reads, "Enter the New Woman - Oriental Style". The picture shows a young woman, probably from the 1910s, standing in front of a wall decorated with flowers, wearing an Oriental Style robe and a tiara.

But the Oriental Style fashion also faced a lot of criticism.
First of all, it was generally deemed improper. Even if it was a couturier designing it, many of these Asian inspired dresses included trouser-like garments and discarded any form of corsetry. Which, of course, was improper and masculinised women.
And it was unpatriotic. After all, the style was based on foreign fashion, some of which came from colonised countries. 

Yet women didn’t seem to care. The less restricting fashion became increasingly popular. Although trousers remained semi-taboo for the rest of the New Woman historical arc (only in the 1930s they started to be acceptable), tunics, turbans and sashes flooded women’s fashion, especially in the Art Deco time. 
Besides, this fashion was perceived as exotic and erotic, like the fabled women of Asia, and therefore plaid into the New Women’s sensuality.


Eabinovitch-Foz, Einan. Dressed for Freedom : The Fashionable Politics of American Feminism. University of Illinois Press, Champaign, Illinois, United States of America, 2021

From Fetish to Fashion: Japanese Style as Commodity in 19th and 20th Century Britain by Rebecca Schmiegel (PDF)

Flashback Summer – International Vintage: Orientalism of the 1910s- 1920s
American Duchess – Orientalism in 1920s Fashion
Bellatory – Orientalism in Western Costume
Fashion-Era – Orientalism in Dress 1910s Fashion History
Artland Magazine Online – Paul Poiret: Life and Designs of the King of Fashion

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  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 18, 2022 at 01:40

    This reminds me of how popular mah-jongg became in Europe during the 1920’s. Perhaps it was from the same fascination with Asia?

    • Post Author
      Posted April 18, 2022 at 18:03

      I believe so. Though I heard the version which became so popular in Europe and American was far simpler than the original.

  • Damyanti Biswas
    Posted April 18, 2022 at 02:17

    Absolutely fascinating–such wonderful details. Tweeted it out.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 18, 2022 at 18:04

      Aww, thanks so much Damyanti. I’m happy you liked it 🙂

  • Kristin
    Posted April 19, 2022 at 02:38

    I looked up Poiret and saw a quote that was something like “Yes, I freed the breasts, but I imprisoned the legs.” That is what I thought of the hobble skirt, a prison for the legs.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 19, 2022 at 09:07

      That’s quite true. I think he was the one who first designed it.

  • Pradeep
    Posted April 19, 2022 at 09:57

    Gradually, now the perception is changing.
    O = Oxford comma

    • Post Author
      Posted April 20, 2022 at 21:59

      I think we are all becoming more aware of diversity.

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 19, 2022 at 17:07

    Maybe because men yelled that it was unpatriotic and masculine, it took off and became so popular. LOL.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 20, 2022 at 22:34

      LOL! May be. Though it sond so strange to me to think at a dress as unpatriotic only because is had a foreingn inspiration.

  • Kalpana
    Posted April 22, 2022 at 12:52

    Thank you for the plethora of photos. Imagine calling comfortable clothing for women unpatriotic?

    • Post Author
      Posted April 27, 2022 at 21:12

      I know, right? It sounds so odd and out of place.

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