I recently finished watching the very excellent BBC television series War and Peace, which I loved for many reasons, one, the compelling lead actor Paul Dano and two, the shawls.
They were simply splendid. I think there was a shawl in every scene. I rewatched the entire series just for that (oh and the men’s linen shirts).
The costume department deserve top marks for giving the shawl as much, if not more, screen time than the gorgeous army uniforms.
Given it was set in 19th Century Russia, a beautiful shawl was pretty much required for every conceivable activity – going outside to wave someone off to battle who would later die horribly in the snow, in the parlour to add some primness to a low cut bodice, over a nightgown to mitigate the chill and potentially consumptive night air, around the head because it looks so fetching by candlelight, over the knees in the coach or draped over a velvet settee.
They even headed straight to folding shawls when the Napoleonic army was almost upon them and they had to flee.
I’ve always loved the romance, the history of the shawl. It’s biblical.
Remember the pashmina pandemic of the 1990s, when a pale blue or a pale pink cashmere pashie was the height of chic? At the peak of the frenzy, I often spotted women wearing two at once.
I’d never worn anything even resembling a shawl before then, but once you started, you realized how damn practical they were.
Just the right amount of warmth, around your neck, around your shoulders. Perfect to carry on a plane. Great to drape over yourself while you take a nap. Excellent at the theatre or ballet, when the air conditioning is unpredictable.
It felt so feminine and romantic to clutch one around your shoulders. The cosy, reassuring weight of a shawl is in fact the most perfect solution for the often tricky Australian climate.
I always loved, and still do, traditional Indian pashminas and even contemplated buying a luxurious Shahtoosh (highly prized in Pakistan, as the shawl is so fine it can be easily pulled through a ring) until it became known that the poor antelopes were being killed and were now endangered.
Then, all of a sudden, the pashmina was out. It was considered so bourgeois. As fashion is wont to do, one of the best, and most wearable items it has ever offered us, was now a no go.
My babies were little, and so I reluctantly moved my pashmina’s over to cot blankets. That decision would come back to bite me when my three-year-old son told me he didn’t like to sleep under a normal wool blanket or duvet and why weren’t all our blankets cashmere?
So as I watched War and Peace I decided I’m going to embrace the shawl. I’ll have to watch how I do that. Like anything as you get older, it can’t be too literal, otherwise you run the risk of looking like Grandma in Little Red Riding Hood.
You have to keep the base modern, and then throw on a beautiful shawl, raw or fringed, over a white shirt, or a black sweater, with jeans or linen pants and flat sandals.
A photo posted by Kirstie Clements (@kirstie_clements) on
I found the most divine photograph of Jackie Onassis in Greece, in which she was wearing a long black tiered skirt, jeweled sandals, dangly earrings and a patterned shawl, hair scraped back in a ponytail. I’ve found my shawl role model.
Now excuse me while I light the fire and fetch my quill pen, for night it doth approach.
Watch War and Peace on BBC First, Sundays at 8.30pm.