The Japanese: Fashion, Culture and Identity
Mary F. Hayes
ANT 101 Cultural Anthropology
Ms. Christine Compton
December 1, 2008
Fashion is an important means used by the Japanese to express individual identity. It is seen both as an act of individual choice and self-expression. Japanese fashion spans time and ranges in depth from modern to traditional with many variations in between, giving credence to the saying you are what you wear.
The Kimono, which means something that one wears, is the traditional garment of Japan. The word kimono was once used to describe all types of clothing but has since come to refer only to full length garments worn today by Japanese men, women and children. Kimono styles have changed significantly from one period of Japanese history to the next. While the kimono comes in a variety of colors, styles and sizes, men mainly wear darker or more muted floral patterns, while women tend to wear bright colors and pastels along with more complicated patterns. The formal kimono is usually worn in several layers with the number of layers, visibility of layers, sleeve length and choice of pattern dictated fully by both social status and the occasion for which the kimono is being worn. The cut, color, fabric, and decorations of a kimono may also vary according to the sex, age, and marital status of the wearer as well as the season of the year.
The history of the kimono in Japan is one that spans many periods and has changed over time to reflect the society and culture of the current period. During the Heian period 794-1185, the custom of elaborate layers of colored kimono robes became popular with Japanese women (Hoffman, 1998, p. 70). Frequently, twelve unlined robes showing the different shades of both the sleeves and collars of each kimono were worn. The royal court sometimes wore up to sixteen kimonos in the same manner showing the different shades of both the sleeves and collars of each kimono.