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Brocade Dress Styles, Fabrics and History

You don’t have to be a fabric expert to know that when something is brocade, it’s fancy. Brocade looks and feels high-end and so brocade dress styles just seem to scream expensive fashion. The truth is, you don’t have to be an A-list celebrity to own a few go-to brocade dresses. However, if you do know a thing or two about wearing brocade dress styles, you will certainly look a lot more like a celebrity every time you slip into a brocade outfit.

Woman wearing brocade dress

What is Brocade?

Brocade is a type of woven fabric that is usually made with satin or twill. The brocade design is created thanks to the raised design, which is often floral but may also be abstract or geometric. This is a somewhat heavy fabric that’s used in high fashion and home fabrics, too. You might find it on upholstery or in draperies, along with other types of fabric.

Brocade fabrics

The distinct pattern on brocade fabric is achieved through a jacquard attachment, which is added using a special jacquard loom that was designed just for this purpose. This type of loom allows for incredible control over individual warp yarns. This is how the raised pattern in brocade fabric is created.

Though floral patterns are common in brocade, this fabric is also made with animal designs, scrollwork and any other pattern you can name. The weaving process allows for literally any pattern to be created. Often, brocade fabric is made with thread in a different color than the rest of the fabric. This makes the intricate design of the weaving pattern stand out. Gold is a very common color for the pattern because it has a rich look and because it catches the light so well, making the beautiful design on the fabric stand out. The pattern is only on the face of the fabric, not the back side.

Types of Brocade Fabric

There are many different types of brocade that create different styles of this fabric. Different types of brocade are created by using different fabrics and weaving techniques to form specific patterns. Brocade is also known as embossed cloth because of the raised pattern.



Cotton brocade is made with cotton fabric and is usually brocaded with cotton. This style of brocade is very common in India. Specific types of cotton brocade fabric include balucar, himru, jamdani and paithani.


Himru brocade is made with both silk and cotton. This gives the material the softness of cotton and the sheen and feel of silk.


Silk brocade is very beautiful and smooth to the touch. The first brocade fabrics were always made of silk, so this is still considered to be a traditional type of brocade.


Synthetic brocade isn’t a type of faux brocade, it’s made with synthetic fabrics. Synthetic brocade is made with polyester or another type of human-made fabric, rather than a natural fiber like cotton or silk.


Zari brocade is made with gold and silver thread. This brocade is often made of silk or cotton fabric. Very fine silver wires and gold thread are used to create the distinct zari brocade designs. This type of brocade makes for a pretty fancy party dress.

History of Brocade

The first brocade fabric dates way, way back in history. This material first appeared in China in 475 B.C.E. The fabric was limited to Chinese use only for many centuries. It could not be worn or sold outside of China. Around the 6th century C.E., brocade spread throughout Europe and the rest of Asia.

Model wearing fancy brocade dress

When the jacquard look was invented in the early 1800s, brocade was much easier to make and became even more widely available. Finally, brocade was not a time-consuming, hand-embroidered material that only the wealthy could afford to have made into clothing. Now, anyone could have brocade items. It didn’t take long for brocade dresses to become popular among everyone from the trendiest celebrities to the mom of four kids stopping to get groceries on the way home.

Types of Brocade Dresses

There are many different types of brocade dress styles and the trend of wearing brocade fabric has only become more popular, not less. Almost any type of dress can be made with brocade fabric, with a few exceptions. Since brocade is a heavier fabric, there are some styles that just cannot be made with this fabric. Silky slip dresses, for example, must stay lightweight and satiny to maintain the style. Sweater dresses are made with knit fabrics, which are not used to create brocade.

However, brocade fabric can be used to make a huge variety of dress styles and often is. You will see it commonly in cocktail gown looks, such as fit and flare styles. It can be used to create professional looks, such as sheath dresses. But brocade is, by far, most commonly seen in evening wear because it has so much elegance to it. This is a popular choice for ball gowns and formal clothing of all kinds.

Brocade dress styles can be made to look like any design. They may also have extras and embellishments, such as sequins, lace or fur trim. Some dresses may even have crystals added to them for increased bling.


Still confused about brocade? How it’s used, what it does, how you can find it in your own wardrobe? There’s a lot to know about brocade and a lot of questions to ask. We’ve got the answers. We looked at the most commonly asked questions about brocade and found out everything you need to know about this amazing historical fabric design.

Woman wearing short-sleeved brocade dress

What type of fabric is brocade?

Nearly any type of fabric can become brocade fabric with the right embroidery placed on it. After all, brocade is about the design and not about the material. However, not all fabrics are used to make brocade because the material needs to be somewhat durable and heavy in order to support all the usual wearing. Brocade is commonly made with cotton, sating, silk, velvet and wool most often when the material is being used in dressmaking. Synthetic and twill blends, mixtures of more than one fiber, are seen as well.

How is brocade made?

Brocade fabric is made with three yarns that are woven together. The three yarns are dyed before they are woven. Today, the jacquard loom has grown even more sophisticated. Patterns are now programmed into computerized looms that recreate the pattern on the fabric. China is still the world’s biggest producer of brocade fabric, with Australia being the world’s largest producer of wool brocade in particular. Brocade clothes and items can be made in any colour or pattern these days and you’ll see it in all sorts of different styles.

What does brocade fabric look like?

Brocade fabric is made with all different materials and patterns and yet it still has a distinct look. Brocade tends to have a slight sheen to it that catches and reflects light. It also has an intricate pattern that appears all over the fabric. The pattern is raised and woven right into the material. This pattern also appears in a different color than the rest of the fabric so that it truly stands out. Sometimes, the colors are highly contrasting so that the pattern is very easy to see. In other styles, the brocade pattern may be a similar shade to the rest of the fabric.

It’s far more common to see brocade done in silver or gold, however, which is a very traditional look for this fabric. Early brocades were made with silver and gold to give the material a truly royal look.

What is brocade fabric used for?

Along with dresses, brocade fabric is used for other garments. You can find it in suits and pants, along with jacket designs. It is also used in home fabrics like drapes and upholstery for furniture. You can even find an occasional brocade accessory from time to time. Brocade material is used to create separates as well, such as blazer designs, skirt styles and other clothing items. Brocade was once highly popular in tapestries and is still used for this purpose, though tapestries aren’t as popular as they once were.

What is the difference between jacquard, brocade, and damask fabrics?

Before the year 1801, all brocade fabric was either hand-woven or created on a draw loom. Creating the intricate pattern of brocade fabric on a draw loom was a truly difficult business that required at least two people.

Joseph Marie Jacquard created the revolutionary jacquard loom that year. This amazing design ran on cards that duplicated patterns from the cards onto the cloth. Best of all, this loom could be run by only one person… even one who was unskilled with weaving. The loom became so popular that other looms were useless by the turn of the century.

The jacquard loom was used for everything, not just brocade. It was also used in damask fabric. However, there are distinct and clear differences between jacquard, brocade and damask fabrics, though all three are made with the exact same type of loom. The jacquard loom can provide many, many types of fabric. Arguably, jacquard, damask and brocade are the ones you will most commonly see in dresses.
Brocade is defined by the raised pattern on the fabric. The word itself comes from the Italian word for the phrase “embossed cloth.” Brocade is embroidered just on one side.

Damask, on the other hand, is fully reversible. The pattern of the damask is visible on both sides of the material. This is a woven design that is made with intricate floral and geometric patterns. It’s often made in multicolor designs. However, damask patterns often appear in the same color as the rest of the fabric, a tone-on-tone design, rather than in a contrasting thread as you see in brocade.

Jacquard fabric is any type of fabric made on a jacquard loom, though it often refers to jacquard knits that have patterns knitted right into them. This includes designs like argyle and herringbone in socks. If it’s not a brocade and not a damask, then it’s a regular jacquard fabric that is highly stylized and made with its own cool pattern.

How does brocade fabric impact the environment?

More people are becoming aware of environmental concerns and the various industries that actually cause harm to the world around us. Many types of textile manufacturing actually have a negative impact on the environment. So how bad is brocade for the health of the planet?

Well, it all depends. Because brocade can be made from so many different types of fabric, its true environmental impact runs the gamut. When it’s made with silk, brocade’s effect on the Earth is very low because silk is the most environmentally-friendly fabric you can possibly use. Silk doesn’t require pesticides, fertilizers or chemicals to produce. It’s made naturally by silkworms that are harvested and processed without the use of any harmful toxins.

Cotton can be very sustainable but it all depends on how it is grown and harvested. Some farms use harmful chemicals to create cotton, such as pesticides and fertilizer that damage the environment. Wool is also sustainable but only to a point. Because wool is gathered from animals, some practices are far less sustainable than others. When wool is harvested through improper land use and animal cruelty, it’s no good for the natural world.

But when it comes to synthetic fabrics, no type of brocade is worse for the Earth. Synthetics do not naturally degrade and contribute to the world’s growing plastics problem. Synthetic fabric is also made with toxins and chemicals that damage not just the Earth but the people involved in producing these fabrics. Recycled synthetics are a far better choice if you’re looking for an affordable brocade when the cost of natural silk is too high.

If you want to stick to brocade dresses that are made in more Earth-friendly ways, look for certification labels. The Global Recycled Standard, Global Organic Textile Standard and Silk Mark certifications all show you that you’re wearing eco-friendly and environmentally-conscious fabric.

Is it possible to find vintage brocade dress styles?

Brocade is used a lot in costumes because this fabric dates back hundreds and hundreds of years. It was worn by queens and kings throughout history and it was used by wealthy and important people to show off their status. But for many decades, brocade has become more and more affordable so that everyone can start wearing it. That means that brocade dresses have been made in just about every style over the years. And if you go looking for vintage dresses, you may just find one made with brocade as a result.

Brocade is a traditional fabric and still a favorite for vintage fashion. It’s used to make modern clothing in vintage designs and it can be found at the vintage and secondhand shops if you make a point to hunt for it. Brocade has been a popular formal wear fabric for generations and it has been used to make a wide range of fashion styles, which means that there are a whole lot of lovely dresses out there that were made in this material.

How do you care for brocade fabric?

Brocade can be made from all different fabrics, so there is no single set of instructions that will apply to all brocade dresses. If you need to clean your brocade dress, look at the label. It’s important to find out the fabric composition so you know whether or not you can try to wash a dress at home or not.

However, you should be aware that brocade often shrinks when it’s wet because of the complicated pattern. Dry cleaning is the usual method for cleaning brocade, even if you have a simple cotton brocade fabric.

If you are going to wash a brocade dress yourself, do it by hand in cold water. Do not twist or pull on the garment or you could do permanent damage.

Lay brocade items out flat to dry, out of both direct sunlight and direct heat. Don’t put a brocade dress in the dryer. This can cause damage to the fabric. You also don’t want to hang up the dress. This can make threads break and ultimately damage the pattern and the garment itself.