Patterns: Fashion or Culture?


Patterns and prints are everywhere in the fashion world. Up until recently, I never took much interest in pattern names or where they originated from. To be honest, it never really mattered. I mean if it looks good, I’m wearing it.

This changed when I visited the city of art; Isfahan. A local resident we became acquainted with on our trip was showing us around the Naqsh-e Jahan Square markets that are jam-packed with Persian art and culture. Each pattern was a piece of art on its throne that had its own prologue, triumph, and epilogue. It held decades’ worth of folktales and historical treasures. It was then I realised how much we devalue historic prints by placing them all in one basket, dubbing them ‘tribal prints’ or ‘ethnic prints’.

So I embarked on a mission to familiarise myself with some of these patterns and listen to the story they have to tell.

I have chosen 5 of my favourite patterns to share with you guys.

Aztec: This is the print I am wearing in my feature image. Originating from central Mexico by the Aztec people, they were the group that housed the Tenochtitlan Empire. Their art was known as toltecat. Common people were generally not allowed to own toltecat unless it was for trading purposes. It was reserved for the upper class. Aztec art features a lot of bright, rich colours, adorned with jelwery and feathers, with an appreciation of insects, animals, birds and fish. It is said that the emperor never wore the same clothes twice.

Islamic art/calligraphy: Calligraphy is the hallmark of modern Islamic art, partly due to its artistic and sophisticated look, but mostly due to the deep meaning its words hold. Arabic is a poetic language, and is known to be one of the most concise- so you can portray a lot by using one word. During the Islamic era the art of linguistics reached its heights and Arab poets would gather for improvised poetry competition events as villagers watched on for entertainment. Nowadays Arabic calligraphy features in modern fashion as decades of poetry seeps through its calligraphic letters.


Meander: This pattern may remind you of the Versace logo. Though Greek in origin, “Meander” acquires its name from the twisting and turning path of Maender River. It emerged during the Geometric Period. Its hard edged repetitive pattern is what makes it appealing. Some think it perhaps symbolises ‘infinity’ and ‘unity’.

Batik: Using resist dyeing is one of the most fascinating techniques still used till today. A wax or a paste is commonly used to prevent the dye from reaching all the cloth. Sometimes a series of waxing, dyeing, drying, & dewaxing can be achieved, creating colourful prints and patterns. Resist dyeing was a technique that already existed in ancient Egypt, however it was the Indonesian Batik print that garnered fame. It became an essential part of the Indonesian culture ast it represented a strong source of identity for crossing religious, racial, and cultural boundaries, such that each race, religion, and class had their own unique prints.


Shibori: A Japanese tie-dying technique that traditionally used indigo as its main dye. It involves twisting, folding or compressing the cloth, with each technique resulting in a unique shibori ranging from concentric circles to striated lines. This technique is one of my favourites because you could easily experiment with your own dress or cloth at home following some DIY steps. Though don’t be fooled by its simplicity, master shibori artists can create some spectacular and sophisticated patterns that would blow your mind!

However, the well known fashion debate remains: Is the use of patterns in fashion cultural appropriation or appreciation? #foodforthought


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