The Evolution of Japanese Fashion

Kimonos are considered traditional Japanese dress.
Kimonos are considered traditional Japanese dress. (Image: Images)

Japanese fashion involves more than the well-known kimono. Literally translated as "thing to wear," the term "kimono" came about between 1878 and 1912 by the Japanese in an attempt to describe their style of dress to Westerners. However, the term fails to include Japanese designers' innovative use of fabrics, experimental designs and foreign influence.

Chinese Influence

Ancient Japanese fashion was heavily influence by China beginning in 200 B.C. Adopting traditional Chinese garments, Japanese men and women closely looked to China for everyday fashion. Even the "Yoro Code," a Chinese stipulation that robes must be crossed left over right, was adopted in Japan as the acceptable way to dress.

Breaking Away From China

It wasn't until 894 A.D. that what is considered "straight cutting" turned Japan's attention internally for fashion inspiration. This technique involved fabric being cut into straight lines and then sewn together into a garment without the aid of body measurements. The process of making garments was simplified, as personal fittings weren't needed with this style.

The kimono consists of two pieces of straight-cut fabric sewn together.
The kimono consists of two pieces of straight-cut fabric sewn together. (Image: Images)

A Step Towards Western Culture

Curiosity and admiration for foreigners saw Japan adopt Western-style suits in the 1880s. Aristocrats led the way by tailoring their clothing to meet Victorian style expectations. Women compressed their frames into corseted bodices and floor-length skirts, while men wore the three-piece suit -- vest, trousers and jacket. It wasn't until the 1920s that the rest of the population followed suit and swapped the traditional kimono for what they saw the rest of the world wearing. Later, when occupied by the allies after World War II, Japan saw another influx of Western style staples implemented into their everyday wardrobes -- jeans and tee-shirts.

Unisex Clothing

Since the 1980s, more than one designer has risen to fame from Japan for their avante clothing or innovative design methods. Designers such as Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto have their country's traditional garments to thank. Eschewing nipped-in waists and body-hugging fabrics popular in Western countries, they offered the fashion world asymmetrical designs and over-scale looks that ushered in a new way of thinking about clothes. While Western dress typically focused on genders, these designers embraced their history by favoring unisex clothing instead. Originally dismissed as sexless and unflattering, the fashion world eventually took note and a cult following developed. In 2010, New York's Fashion Institute of Technology dedicated an exhibition to these pioneering designers from Japan whose influence can be traced from the runways of designer Rich Owens to the urban streets of New York.

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