Harlequin Print History: Italian Style Made American

Harlequin Print History: Italian Style Made American

What are the first looks that come to mind when you think of mid-century American fashion? Red lips, cat-eye glasses, and boldly printed fabrics in bright colors will probably be at the top of your list. After polka dots, one of the fabrics most closely associated with 1950s and 1960s style is harlequin print.

Harlequin print gets its name from Arlecchino, a comedic character in the Commedia dell’ arte, or Italian comedic theater. These entertaining plays became popular in Italy in the late 16th century. Always seen in a mask and brightly colored costume, Arlecchino’s role was similar to that of a Jester, a poor servant who provided comic relief. The multi-colored costume was originally meant to be made of the scraps of random unwanted fabric.

How does this late renaissance character relate to mid-century fashion? We see a lot of harlequin print in vintage reproduction fashion today due to its popularity in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Employed in both colorful and monochromatic versions, the bold diamond print fit right into the mid-century trends of streamlined modern design, bright colors, and general post-war optimism.

Harlequin print pants in 1950s sears catalog

Harlequin print was seen in both high fashion and mass-produced clothing. One of the most famous fashion photographs of the 1950s was taken by Irving Penn, showing Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn wearing a black and white harlequin print dress designed by Jerry Parnis. This iconographic photo was first published in American Vogue in April of 1950. On the more affordable end of the style spectrum, a  page of the 1950s Sears catalog offered pants in a bright harlequin print as well.

This retro print has enduring popularity. The bold, crisp look is both playful and classic. Want to get some for yourself, but keep striking out when searching for vintage pieces? Here at Heart of Haute, we are happy to have a heap of harlequin options for you. Our best-selling Estelle blouse, polished Monique dress, comfortable Getaway skirt, and adjustable Maybelline sundress are all available in a bold, colorful harlequin print. Featuring bright blues and reds on a white background, this authentic 1950s print comes to life on our vintage-inspired clothing, in sizes XS through 2X.

1950s harlequin print blouse by heart of haute


Back to blog