The Rise and Decline of the Afghan Coat 1966-197?
The Afghan coat made its debut appearance onto the London fashion scene in 1966, as the swinging city began to turn its attention towards all things of Asian influence. They were first imported by Craig Sams, who then sold them on through various boutiques such as Granny Takes a Trip on the Kings Road, where the popularity of the coats soared overnight after the Beatles had been photographed wearing their recent purchases. The original imports from the Ghazni province situated between Kabul and Kandahar were incredibly beautiful, and elaborately decorated with hand embroidery by the local artisans. However, as demand increased globally, they could not keep up a steady supply and eventually crude imitations from other areas began to flood the market...and these were the ones which gave the Afghan coat its undeserved bad reputation, mainly due to the fact that the skins had not been cured properly. This in turn apparently caused the coats to permeate the air around them with an extremely undesirable odour—more often than not it was combined with the added aroma of Patchouli oil favoured by hippies, which to this day, seems to linger on in the memory of anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in close proximity to someone wearing one.
Having said that, regardless of the odour, they continued on to become more than just a fleeting trend. And even though their general popularity is now long gone, they have left an indelible mark 0n fashion history, and will forever be associated as an integral part of the iconic look of the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s. I can't say for definite when their reign as a popular item of clothing officially began to decline, without a doubt the advent of Glam Rock followed by the emerging Punk Scene pretty much killed them off from the mainstream, but I'm sure that there were still a few hippies happily wearing their Afghan coats until the end of the seventies. Apart from a brief entry on Wikipedia, I couldn't find any other relevant information online at this point in time, but I have included several photographs in this post to give you some idea of a timeline demonstrating their continued popularity over a six year period from their initial introduction in 1966 through to 1971.
It's also interesting to note that they seem to have been favoured as suitable wedding attire by the male peacock/rock stars of the era, with both David Bowie and Eric Burdon choosing to wear Afghan coats on the 'big day'. Apart from the coats and jackets in the 1968 Eye Magazine feature below, I haven't found any other colour photographs in my personal collection of books or magazines so far, but i'll take another look when I get more time and add them in due course. In the meantime, I've photographed my own Afghan coat which I purchased in the mid 1990s, I haven't worn it in a long time but still can't bear to part with it, it's a really lovely one, in great condition too considering its age..and it is most definitely not afflicted with the curse of the aforementioned Afghan odour, otherwise it would have been offered up as a candidate to the gods of room 101 long ago.
"You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive," said Holmes to Watson..By intricate process of deduction, Sherlock Holmes laid claim to this note-worthy fact about Dr. Watson the first time the two met. Dr Watson later recorded in his journal that he was astonished by Holmes' perception. He need not have been. Besides his tropic tan, haggard face, injured left arm, and military-medic air, all of which Holmes claimed were dead give-aways, Watson probably was wearing an Afghan coat. (Holmes' whole train of thought didn't take more than a minute which is very suspicious if Watson wasn't wearing a coat). Today, one need not sojourn in Afghanistan to possess an Afghan coat. Without risking a haggard face or injured arm, you can find an authentic assortment in this country. Afghan coats are richly embroidered on the sheepskin side : the fur is worn on the inside. All from Mallory. Coats, $215; jacket $145. Left to right, under the coats: Peter's turtleneck, Himalaya $17; striped jeans, $7, Brick Shed House, NYC. Handcraft scarf. Candy's skirt, $35, Mallory; Crepe blouse, also Mallory, $35. Boots, Golo. Jim's paisley shirt, Michael Webb for Carlyle, $10; corduroy pants, $7, Limbo, NYC. All jewelry, Odyssey Shop, NYC. (Eye Magazine - August 1968, photograph by Richard Davis). I had a quick look to see what the median/mean income of the average unmarried male was in the United States circa 1968, and according to the census source, it worked out somewhere between $7,132- $8,185 per annum. So, these particular jackets (photographed above) were definitely not cheap throwaway fashion items, when you consider the fact that they cost over a weeks wage!
|My own Afghan coat.|
|Close-up detail of my own Afghan coat.|
|Embroidery detail on the back of the coat.|
Afghan coats and waistcoats on display in the window of Dandie Fashions, 161 King's Road, 1967.
Newly-weds David and Angie Bowie on their Wedding day at Bromley Register Office, 20th March 1970.
Bill Wyman, his girlfriend Astrid Lundstrom and his son Stephen (wearing an Afghan jacket) on their way to Sweden for a skiing holiday, 31st December 1970.
Teenage pupils from Holland Park school in London get the 1971 look with Afghan coats, wide sleeved tunic shirts, basket weave bags and jeans.
All images scanned by Sweet jane from the following publications: Eye Magazine August 1968. Seventeen Magazine September 1967. Boutique London A History: King's Road to Carnaby Street by Richard Lester. Wild Animals: The Story of The Animals by Andy Blackford. David Bowie Moonage Daydream by Dave Thompson. The Rolling Stones Unseen Archives by Susan Hill. Decades of Fashion The Hulton Getty picture collection by Harriet Worsley. Afghan Coat photographs taken by Sweet Jane.