Floral prints have been around in the fashion industry for quite some time now. It can be found everywhere regardless of where you’re from. When we think of floral prints and fabrics, we usually associate this idea with women or feminity.

Fortunately, we live in an age of diversity and open-mindedness, where the charm of flowers can entice anyone of all genders. Floral motifs represent a sophisticated beauty that is beautiful in all colors, styles, and textures.

To really appreciate the beauty of floral, it’s important to take a look at where it all came from.

Before there was floral

Before floral prints came into existence, flowers were stylized in garlands, wreaths, and centerpieces for banquets and processions in Ancient Egypt. Flower arrangements were available but were often only enjoyed by royals and nobility due to their high value.

pyramid of egypt floral history

The flower arrangements in Ancient Egypt were done in a simple and orderly manner. It didn’t have any qualms and was usually repetitive in the patterns displayed. They were arranged in flower vessels in a manner that hid the flower’s stems and blossoms. The choice of flowers included acacia, jasmine, lilies, and lotus blossoms with the lotus blossoms regarded as sacred in those times. It was also used to decorate burials and was also used as a symbol of beauty.

Fast forward a bit to Ancient Greek and Roman times, fragrant flowers were used as headdresses by women and as decorations by men. The Greek flower design was associated with the garland, wreath, and cornucopia, with the wreath made by florists. Contrary to other cultures, the colors of the flowers were not given much importance as to their fragrance and their symbols.

flower arrangement in greek floral history
Painting by Lawrence Alma Tadema via Google

Freshly picked flowers were then used to decorate clothing in the form of bouquets and brooches. This gave outfits a personalized look and a subtle floral scent completing the whole attire. As time went by, they eventually became part of textiles and fabrics.

The floral age in Asia

The origins of the floral print can also be traced back to Asia. Here, flowers are prevalent in culture, seen as something hugely significant, this is particularly in the three countries Japan, China, and India. Aside from the aesthetic value that flowers give, the people at that time gave considerable symbols and meanings to flowers. Based on these meanings, they created the floral prints around this, adding more significance to each design.

As far back as the 12th century, wherein the Chinese people embroidered their clothing with flowers and beautiful natural sceneries. They wove these into rich fabrics such as silk or incorporated them in detailed embroideries. Floral motifs in China included peony, lotus, and carnations.

The peonies, for example, were dubbed as the ‘king of flowers‘ in China, representing riches and honor. The peonies were delicately printed on silk to give added vibrancy and brightness. An interesting note to take is that before these peony floral prints were exported in the West, no one had actually seen it there.

peony rose floral history

Another interesting note about floral silks is that whilst they were highly popular in the Tang dynasty in China, they only became popular in the West during the 19th century when there was a surge in the interest in floral prints from the East.

From China, it soon grew to other parts of the world mainly in Middle East and Asia, and by the end of the century. Furthermore, the Japanese incorporated them into their kimonos. The flower Chrysanthemum is the one often used and is considered as the symbol of the royal family.

chrysanthemum japan floral history

Additionally, India also has a rich history with floral designs. The Chintz is one of the most popular fabric designs that have connected the East and West. It is a textile wherein it’s printed with colorful floral designs and other patterns in a light background. Upon importing them from India in the 17th century, this eventually grew to become highly popular in the West.

From the East to the West

There are many events that led floral prints in Asia to be imported to the Western world. From the very first Western traders who brought over the intricate patterns from China to the Italian traders that exchanged textiles with the Ottoman Empire during the late Middle Ages, man has been trading flowers and floral print since for centuries.

The floral design exports from the Ottoman Empire comprised of tulips, pomegranates, and vine floral prints woven in velvet. With this birthed the floral lace which is used to adorn plain garments for both men and women. As time went by, they were then used by commoners in the late 16th century.

red tulips floral history

With the boom of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, fabric that contained floral print was now able to be mass-produced at very low prices. What was once the work of skillful craftsmen would be easily produced in the thousands.

In the 18th century, European flowers were in full bloom in the textile industry. Flowers like daisies and carnations adorned silk brocades and floral designs in printed cotton eventually became popular.

During the Victorian Age, visionary poet William Morris helped popularize the sunflower motif in the fashion world. It was soon incorporated into tiles, wallpaper and fabric. Eventually, this trend began to catch on and soon enough, floral design would appear in fashion, which is a common pattern we see on clothes even now.

Today and beyond

Today, the fashion industry is still influenced by the floral motif in one way or another. It has been stylized in countless ways and some have even made their way into becoming iconic fashion looks.

They’ve been incorporated in headgear, footwear, and tons of major floral movements have occurred throughout the ages. As we move closer to an age of sustainability, focusing more on surrounding ourselves in nature, the floral design sees no signs of slowing down.

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