Origins of ordinary things: Towels

People have always needed to pat themselves dry after taking a bath. For this, they used different kinds of cloth. This went on until the 17th Century when the Turkish invented a towel. According to Wikipedia, an encyclopedia, the Turkish invention known as a pestermal was a flat and thin hand-woven sheet of linen or cotton. It was very absorbent, light and dried quickly.

It was not originally made for everyday use, rather, for a ceremonial bathing ritual for a bride before her wedding. According to Lid Time, a media company, the bride had a towel for almost every part of her body, such as her shoulders and her head.

According to Esaltex, a textile production company, the thickness of towels increased during the 18th Century when Ottomans started using their carpet-weaving skills to create a new design with double layers. The towels were now known as “havly”, meaning “with loops.” Ottomans also made designs according to demand for sophistication from female members of the ruling family.

Because the towels were hand-woven, they were initially pricy and as such, could only be afforded by the wealthy. That’s why it took about two centuries after they were introduced before their use was commonplace. This is according to Nandina Organics, a green products company.

The increase in production of towels was also fostered by increased cotton trade and industrialisation in the 19th Century. At this point, mass production of towels in different levels of size and thickness increased. They were now catering to more uses than bathing, so that there were hand towels, kitchen towels, bathroom towels and others.

It was also during the 19th Century that towels became common clothing used by housewives for diapering babies. The reason for this was that the diapering towels were easily washable, absorbent and soft to touch. This is according to Made How, a knowledge platform about how products are made.

As the 19th Century unfolded, designers grew interested in creating unique and stylish towels so that users would have a variety to choose from. For instance, multi-coloured towels could be, and still are, in use at the beach while white and cream towels are typically used in hotels.

The design and make of a towel hasn’t evolved much since it was introduced by the Turkish almost 400 years ago. What’s common now is branding. In the leisure and hospitality industry, companies brand the towels under their establishment to add a touch of sophistication.


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