7 min read
Blankets represent warmth and comfort. The picture that most people conjure up about blankets will typically be associated with keeping warm and comfortable at home, either on the couch or in bed, however, blankets go far beyond this picture of private home use.
Although wearing blankets is as old as the hills, contemporary home décor and fashionable garments fashioned from blankets fabrics sport functionality and purpose with breath-taking designs, styles, textures, warmth, and comfort.
It’s not surprising to see why blankets have maintained their presence in different cultures around the world, from Mexican ponchos to Basotho signature blankets, to Russian shawls, to trendy baby wraps, blanket garments are here to stay.
Contemporary wearable blankets are flaunted on catwalks across the globe with leading designers in the fashion industry showcasing their masterful and daring creations that give credence to the long history of blanket wearing.
We look at how “blanket fabrics” have made their way into everyday attire and point out the many benefits of wearable blankets.
The poncho is said to have been originally introduced to the west, specifically the Spanish during their early exploration and conquest of South American territories.
It was worn by the indigenous people who lived along with the Andes Mountain range that stretches for about 7000 km along the western side of South America from Argentina right up to Venezuela.
A poncho is simply an outer garment fashioned from a blanket with a hole in it to fit over the head and rests on the shoulders, draping over the body as a sleeveless cloak. The original ponchos worn in Argentina and Chile were made from alpaca wool and provided warmth and comfort for these mountain nations.
To give you an idea of aged traditions, mummies found in Peru that date back to about 300 BC were wrapped in elaborate ceremonial ponchos, however, the history of ponchos dates back to about 500 BC.
The poncho grew in popularity, both as a protective outer garment and as a status symbol worn by clan leaders and other high-ranking figures. It slowly moved north and each tribe or nation kept the purpose but added their cultural significance to the poncho.
The poncho reached the Mexican people hundreds of years later. Being extremely colorful people, their cultural values were incorporated into the poncho to make it a symbol of the Mexican people.
Western movie fans may recall Clint Eastwood wearing a poncho in the "Dollars" trilogy that began with “A Fistful of Dollars” and ended with “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. Constant media showcasing of the poncho increased awareness that prompted the designer to get a bit more creative and flaunt the benefits of blanket wearing.
What defined the early ponchos were the simplicity and versatility of the garment. It transformed from a warm outer garment to a raincoat in the American civil war and is still used as a raincoat to this day. Elsewhere in the world, blanket fabrics were used to make outer garments but with different names.
Quechua people wearing contemporary weavings, Sucré, Bolivia
Cloaks have been worn since man began wearing animal skins. It is essentially a loose-wearing robe with no fastening and only a hole for the head. Cloaks were worn by common people in early European history and served as a blanket at night and a garment during the day.
The fabric and size of the cloak were largely determined by the climate; the colder it was, the longer and thicker the fabric was.
Early or primitive designs were made from a single piece of fabric that was possibly circular, rectangular, or square.
It was only in the 16th and 17th centuries that cloaks and capes were used more as outer garments and were styled, sewn, and lined. They became a fashion statement of the more affluent, yet common people still depended on them as a means to stay warm.
Roman soldiers wore capes that were pinned at the shoulders and used for warmth while on the march. Greek mythology depicts cape or cloak-wearing heroes where the cape symbolized power and strength.
This makes you wonder about the history of the poncho and how it influenced the Spanish. Seafarers wore cloaks but the type that had to be fastened at the shoulders and secured to the body with a cord while the poncho was simple, requiring no fastening and offering freedom of movement. It was also a great way to conceal weapons.
African tribes and nations also wore cloaks and capes made from animal skins and later used fabrics. Here too, the wearer would be identified as a powerful authority by the style and unique patterns of their attire. The more accessible fabrics became, the fewer dependent nations became on animal skins and furs.
The Basotho people of Lesotho wear complete blankets mostly made from Merino wool with a limited cotton blend that is pinned at the shoulder and form part of their national identity.
Two dapper Sotho gents from the highlands of Lesotho wearing their traditional Basotho blankets
Fast forward to the 1960s and the flower power revolution that was cemented into history with the Woodstock music festival. The hippies of this era chose sandals and long loose robes, probably fashioned from the poncho as their main item of clothing. This allowed them to peacefully rebel while exercising their freedom of movement and choice.
From this little snippet of history, we can see how wearing blanket fabrics developed out of need, and not one nation can claim to be the origin of blanket wearing. The need to keep warm is feathered with comfort and this is a universal human desire.
Hoodies are currently a big hit and wearable blankets have become a home-based fashion item that sports a hood to keep your neck and head as warm as the rest of your body. Although you can easily fall asleep wearing a long hooded sleeved blanket, they are designed more for the awake hours.
Synthetic fabrics leap ahead of the pack because of their comfort and extreme softness with great heat retention properties. Finely woven polyester fabric is not very porous and will trap your body heat within the fabric keeping you warm and snug while you watch a movie or get up to speed on social media.
Viscous bamboo is synthetic as the chemical process has neutralized its natural benefits. Yet viscous bamboo is a great fabric for the fashion industry when it comes to softness, durability, and warmth. The more viscous bamboo is washed, the softer it becomes and the added benefit is that it is fairly stain resistant as well.
Natural fabrics like wool offer the benefits of warmth on a more regulated basis but wool is also naturally fire-resistant where many synthetic fabrics aren’t. Having said this, not all-natural fabrics are fire resistant but most have great moisture-wicking properties and are more breathable than synthetic fabrics.
Choosing the best fabric and blanket garment style is a personal choice that may be influenced by price and availability. Size is not an issue because there are only really two sizes; adults and children. The adult size fits both men and women from petite ladies to overgrown basketball hunks.
A very popular blanket piece is the hoodie, made from ultra-soft flannel fleece and warm Sherpa fleece. You’ll have to look far and wide to find something as comfortable and inviting to wear. The Oodie is like an oversized gown fashioned off a poncho but it has sleeves, a hoodie, and a kangaroo pouch across the front for your cell phone or even to hold a box of popcorn while you binge on movies.
Some wearable blankets are reversible and you can decide which side will better reflect your mood. Because wearable blankets use less fabric than a conventional blanket, they are a lot easier to pop into the washing machine.
The fabric used predominantly to manufacture blankets is also used to manufacture garments but because clothing is style and size-specific, they are not considered wearable blankets. Shirts are made from blanket fabric and they look just like normal shirts but made from thick warm material. These shirts are more commonly known as blanket shirts.
The TOG value measures thermal insulation and is a term used in the textile industry. It focuses on baby blankets and sleeps garments.
Overdressing a baby for sleep can result in overheating which could trigger SIDS, so it is a very real threat.
By observing the TOG value of a sleep sack or wearable blanket, parents can get a good idea of how warmly their little one should be dressed for sleep.
There is a safe thermal range for babies and the TOG value must be considered for each layer of clothing as well as the value of a sleep sack or blanket. All the values are added up to give the sum TOG value.
You may notice that Organic and 100% pure cotton are the preferred fabric for baby sleep merchandise.
This is because it has great moisture-wicking properties, is breathable, and regulates temperature fairly well which all control and prevent overheating. Be sure to look out for the TOG value on baby sleep ware.
Blankets are an integral part of our lives that cater to our warmth and comfort needs. Whether we spread them over our bed or around our body they will feed our needs for as long as we wish.
Compartmentalizing blankets makes it easier to relate to their specific functions but there is a grey area where blanket fabrics also cater to our clothing needs; blanket shirts are a good example.
Wearing blankets has to be the longest-lasting fashion trend the world has ever witnessed. This is because blankets cater to our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. They bond us to others and to the earth itself.
Blankets carry traditions forward and are valued in cultures past and present. Wearing a blanket reveals the vulnerability of people but also proclaims authority and power in the same breath.
Get your traditional wearable blanket here at Thula Tula the only place in the United States to get your traditional Wearable Basotho blanket
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