From India to the World: Cotton and Fashionability

by Prasannan Parthasarathi & Giorgio Riello


Since at least the nineteenth century, cotton has been the most important textile fibre in the world. In 1913, cotton accounted for 80 per cent of global fibre consumption: cotton consumption for textile uses was about 4 billion kilograms, while that of wool, the second most important fibre, was about 700 million kilograms. In 1990, even after the rise of synthetic fibres, which accounted for 38 per cent of global fibre use in textiles, cotton accounted for 48 per cent of world fibre share and wool had slumped to the low proportion of 4.9 per cent. The appeal of cotton lay in its fashionability, which was often associated with the exotic, the hard to get, the item that came from afar. Cotton textiles, many from the Indian subcontinent, satisfied these fashion desires for the rare and the unusual. This article explores cotton and fashionability in India. After discussing cotton textiles, it looks at the diffusion of Indian cottons in Africa and Asia, as well as in Europe and the Atlantic world.

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