Taffeta (formerly sometimes spelled taffety) is a crisp, smooth woven fabric made from silk or synthetic fibers. The word is Persian in origin, and means "twisted woven." It is considered to be a "high end" fabric, suitable for use in ball gowns, wedding dresses, and in interiors for curtains or wallcovering. There are two distinct types of silk taffeta: yarn-dyed and piece-dyed. Piece-dyed taffeta is often used in linings and is quite soft. Yarn-dyed taffeta is much stiffer and is often used in evening dresses. While silk taffeta has been classically woven in Italy and France and until the 1950s in Japan, today most silk taffeta is produced in India. Originally this was produced on handlooms, but since the 1990s, it has been produced on the most modern looms in the Bangalore area. From the 1970s until the 1990s, the Jiangsu province of China produced some fine silk taffetas. They were less flexible than the Indian mills that now dominate production. Other countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East are weaving silk taffeta, but not yet either at the quality or competitiveness of India. The most deluxe taffetas are still woven in France, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
Taffeta was also used to make medieval Noble Ladies dresses.
On November 4, 1782, taffeta was used by Joseph Montgolfier of France to construct a small, cube-shaped balloon. This was the beginning of many experiments using taffeta balloons by the Montgolfier brothers, and led to the first known human flight in a lighter-than-air craft.
The fabric has been known since at least the Renaissance period. William Shakespeare mentions it in Twelfth Night (Act II: Sc IV), before the Clown's exit: "Now, the melancholy god protect thee; and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very opal!" It is also mentioned in Henry IV Part I (Act I: Sc 2), when Prince Hal compares the sun to "a fair hot wench in flame coloured taffeta."