AskDefine | Define shawl

Dictionary Definition

shawl n : cloak consisting of an oblong piece of cloth used to cover the head and shoulders

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /ʃɔːl/, /SO:l/
  • Rhymes: -ɔːl


1662. From (šāl).


  1. A square or rectangular piece of cloth worn as a covering for the head, neck, and shoulders


Extensive Definition

A shawl (Persian شال, Shāl, from Sanskrit: śāṭī) is a simple item of clothing, loosely worn over the shoulders, upper body and arms, sometimes also over the head. It is usually a rectangular or square piece of cloth, often folded to make a triangle, but can also be triangular in shape to begin with. Other shapes include oblong shawls.
The first shawls, or "shals", were part of traditional Persian costume in Achaemenid Persia, worn by both males and females. Shawls were also part of the traditional male costume in Kashmir, which was probably introduced via assimilation to Persian culture. They were woven in extremely fine woollen twill, some were even said to be so fine as to fit through a ring. They could be in one colour only, woven in different colours (called tilikar), ornately woven or embroidered (called ameli).
Shawls are used in order to keep warm, to complement a costume, and for symbolic reasons. One famous type of shawl is the tallit, worn by Jewish men during prayers and ceremonies.
Kashmiri Shawls were high-fashion garments in Western Europe in the early- to mid-nineteenth century. Imitation Kashmiri shawls woven in Paisley, Renfrewshire are the origin of the name of the traditional paisley pattern.
Silk shawls with fringes, made in China, were available by the first decade of the nineteenth century. Ones with embroidery and fringes were available in Europe and the Americas by 1820. These were called China crepe shawls, China shawls, and in Spain "mantones de Manila" because they were shipped to Spain from China via the port of Manila. The importance of these shawls in fashionable women's wardrobes declined between 1865 and 1870 in Western culture. However, they became part of folk dress in a number of places including Germany, the Near East, various parts of Latin America, and Spain where they became a part of gypsy dress especially in Andalusia and Madrid. These embroidered shawls were revived in the 1920s under the name Spanish shawls, a named derived from their use as part of the dress of Spanish Gypsies, also known as gitanas. Their use as part of the costume of the lead in the opera Carmen contributed to the association of the shawls with Spain rather than China.
Some cultures incorporate shawls of various types into their national folk dress, mainly because shawls were much more commonly used in earlier times.
Today, shawls are worn for added warmth (and fashion) at outdoor or indoor evening affairs where the temperature is warm enough for men in wool suits but not for women in dresses and where a jacket might be inappropriate.
The shawls made in Kashmir occupy a pre-eminent place among textile products; and it is to them and to their imitations from Western looms that specific importance attaches. The Kashmir shawl is characterized by the elaboration of its design, in which the "cone" pattern is a prominent feature, and by the glowing harmony, brilliance, depth, and enduring qualities of its colours. The basis of these excellences is found in the very fine, soft, short, flossy under-wool, called pashm or pashmina, found on the shawl-goat, a variety of Capra hircus inhabiting the elevated regions of Tibet. There are several varieties of pashm, but the finest is a strict monopoly of the maharaja of Kashmir. Inferior pashm and Kirman wool a fine soft Persian sheep's wool - are used for shawl weaving at Amritsar and other places in the Punjab, where colonies of Kashmiri weavers are established. Of shawls, apart from shape and pattern, there are only two principal classes: (I) loomwoven shawls called tiliwalla, tilikar or kani kar - sometimes woven in one piece, but more often in small segments which are. sewn together with such precision that the sewing is quite imperceptible; and (2) embroidered shawls--amlikar - in which over a ground of plain pashmina is worked by needle a minute and elaborate pattern.


  • Irwin, John. The Kashmir Shawl. London: HMSO, 1973.
  • Wilson, Kax. "Kashmir Shawls from Europe and Asia." Art & Antiques, January-Feruary 1981, pp. 69-73.
  • Worth, Susannah. "Early 20th Century Embroidered Shawls." Needle Arts, December 1995, Vol. 26, No. 4, pp. 38-41.
  • Worth, Susannah. "Embroidered China Crepe Shawls: 1800-1870." Dress, 1986, Vol. 12, pp. 43-51.

See also

shawl in Danish: Sjal
shawl in Spanish: Chal
shawl in French: Châle
shawl in Japanese: ショール
shawl in Dutch: Sjaal
shawl in Portuguese: Xaile
shawl in Swedish: Sjal
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