The Love Affair that You and Louis the Great Share

It's obvious that tassels are all the rage right now. You can hardly leave the house without seeing someone wearing bright little tufts and for good reason: they are a joyful, sometimes superfluous, addition to jewelry, clothes & accessories.  

But have you ever stopped to think about how and why the tassel trend emerged?  Most trends, especially in fashion and home decor, are cyclical in nature so tassels themselves are nothing new.  Let's take a walk down tassel history lane and explore the evolution of these fringed baubles.

Tassels have long been a sign of luxury and prestige, dating back to ancient empires.  The word "tassel" originates from the Latin word 'tassau' which means clasp, in relation to the neck of a garment. Tassels were originally created as a way to prevent a clothing cord or knot from unraveling.  

When Tutankhamun's tomb was discovered in the Valley of Kings in Egypt, one of the many treasures unearthed was a tasseled necklace, like this beauty dating back to the 18th Dynasty, Egypt.  

 Tassel necklace like Tutankhamun's
Photo credit: Global Egyptian Museum

During the Byzantine era, Emperor Constantine decreed that Christians should always wear clothing. This shift fueled the emerging cloth and tassel industries. Also, Oriental influences over Roman clothing caused embellishments in the form of tassels and trimmings to became prevalent. This style was especially popular among royalty and aristocrats as these decorative elements were very expensive, since all silk came from India or China.

In 551 AD, two Persian Monks smuggled silk worms out of China, and silk sericulture began in the West. This allowed tassels and fringes to be made more affordably in the Western World, and the tassel craze continued to grow.

It was the French though, who we can thank for the evolution of the tassel trend.  Sometime around the 16th century, the Guild of the Passementiers was established, and the art of "passementerie" raised the tassel from a functional need to a fancied art form.  It took seven years of apprenticeship to be trained in this craft. The fruits of labor were reserved for the wealthy since a single tassel cost the equivalent of thousands of dollars due to weeks of labor and valuable materials.

Across Europe during this time, tassels were making their way into not only fashion, but into home decor. Napoleon's imperial throne was covered in a trim of ornate tassels. 
Napoleon III's Imperial Throne, image credit: Pinterest
Napoleon's Imperial Throne from the Tuilleries, image source: Pinterest

King Louis XIV was famous for quite a lot in the 17th century but I bet you didn't know that he helped fuel the current-day tassel craze! According to an article written by Claire Carponen in The Times:

"Louis XIV had a thing for embellishment. A particular focus for his inordinate love of finery was the royal bed at his palace in Versailles, over which hung a canopy suspended by golden cords and decorated with golden tassels. He turned this type of trimming (which was more expensive than the fabric to which it was attached) into a trend which would endure for centuries. and his French Royal Court commissioned tassels to adorn the costumes of royalty and their residences, influencing the whole of Europe as a result."

Whether you have a royal chamber trimmed in gold tassels or not, I'll hazard a guess that you feel as fondly about these tufted adornments as the beloved Sun King did.

Louis XIV, archive photo from Getty Images
Louis XIV, image credit: Buzzfeed, archive photo from Getty Images

For an entertaining read on the subject, check out this blog that I stumbled upon, written by Aurora von Goeth.  She writes about "funny and not so funny things that happened at the court of Louis XIV."  This entry in particular tells the tale of tassels stolen from the King's apartment as a prank. It caused quite the royal uproar!

According to The Times, London based Watts of Westminster has been making trimmings to embellish upholstery, curtains and other soft furnishings since 1874. The fact that they are still in the business of making bespoke tassels and passementerie speaks volumes about the trajectory of the tassel as timeless ornamentation. Fiona Flint, the company’s creative director, says “Once people get into romance of the trimmings, they just love it."

I agree with Fiona, and I most definitely have an ongoing romance with tassels. I'm grateful to the fringe-adorned nobility that came before me, for recognizing a good thing when they saw it, and for promoting a style of exuberance and embellishment.

WomanShopsWorld tassel threads in India
WomanShopsWorld tassel threads from our production studio in India. Photo credit: WomanShopsWorld

Tassels from WomanShopsWorld
Modern tassel style from WomanShopsWorld



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