Harem Dress


How to say it:  hairuhm dress

Traditional Features: 

Harem Dress


  • draped dress falling in folds to the hem
  • hem is turned under and attached to the lining to create a bubble effect
  • can be symmetrical or asymmetric
  • usually made from a soft, but heavy, draping fabric like jersey.

21st Century Harem Dresses

The Harem dress doesn’t seem to exist on the modern marketplace – at least not under that name. However, there are plenty of bubble hem dresses in draping jerseys that clearly owe at least some of their good looks to the workings of Paul Poiret and his Eastern inspirations.



Kay Unger New York NOMAD

Kay Unger New York, NOMAD


…of the style: The Harem dress, perhaps the lesser known cousin of the harem pant, was apparently also the brain child of designer Paul Poiret. In the second decade of the 20th century, following the success of Ballet Russes production of Schéhérazade, Poiret began to take inspiration from the East, and in 1910 released the hobble skirt – perhaps the first incarnation of the harem dress. In the following years Poiret continued on his Oriental path of inspiration, releasing the harem pants in 1911 and the lampshade tunic in 1913.

Somewhere along this journey, the harem dress also came into being, although I have not been able to find any hard evidence of when the harem dress was released (I did find an image of a woman wearing what looked like a harem dress from 1914, here, so it was most likely around by then).

After Poiret, women’s fashion moved away from Eastern influences and the harem dress was no more. Apparently it is a style that has been revived at intervals since, but again, I wasn’t able to find any hard evidence of this.

In the 21st century, a search for harem dresses online turns up Moroccan looking costumes or harem pants – the harem dress, as a fashion item, does not seem to exist. However, the softly draping hemline, that has been tucked up into the lining, lives on in the modern bubble dress. While many bubble dresses are made from architectural fabrics that cause the skirt to stick out like a bubble, some are made from clinging, draping fabrics that fall and fold in an undulating way towards the bottom of the dress before disappearing underneath. These dresses, particularly when in a bright colour or print, do draw the mind to the East and perhaps Paul Poiret’s harem dress lives on in these styles.

…of the name: The term Harem comes from the Turkish or Arabic word for the women’s living quarters in a house.

Random Facts

  • in America Paul Poiret was known as the ‘King of Fashion’, in Paris he was known as Le Magnifique.

There really isn’t much information available about the Harem Dress. The only mention I found was in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion. For more information on Paul Poiret try Wikipedia, The Met, and FIDM.

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