The following photographs provide glimpses into some of the radical changes that have marked the past century.
At the opening of the Meiji era in 1868, only the few Europeans and Americans living in Japan wore Western dress. The kimono, which literally means “thing to wear,” was – and had been since the thirteenth century – standard dress for all Japanese. Elaborate time-honed conventions determined everything from color and pattern to sleeve length, and signified social class as well as marital status. With the Meiji emperor’s call for “Civilization and Enlightenment,” the old order-including the nuances of traditional dress was thrown into chaos. At first men wore bowler hats with kimonos as a tangible demonstration of their patriotic attempts to modernize, while women donned high -buttoned boots with updated Japanese garments: loose-fitting hakama-trousers dating from the twelfth century-which were adapted to wear over kimonos.
Upper-class and noble women were the first to embrace Western dress from head to toe, wearing elaborate gowns at government balls. Men soon abandoned kimonos for trousers and jackets. Public schools required uniforms – shorts for boys and skirts for girls – like those worn by students attending mission schools. As women ventured out more into society, trendsetters chose Western clothes, which not only offered greater freedom of mobility but were also vastly easier to put on than kimonos. By the late 1920s a new woman emerged, known as moga, the Eastern counterpart of the Western flapper. With her bobbed hairdo flying in the face of the age-old belief that a woman’s long, black tresses were her most prized possession, she exuded an up-to-date, stylish confidence.
As more women began working as teachers, nurses, and office workers, Western clothes became the norm at work, although Japanese dress was still preferred at home. After the American Occupation following the Second World War, Western wear became firmly entrenched. The kimono, which had already been waning on the fashion scene, was worn only at important rites of passage, such as marriage. Women increasingly took their cues from international trends, although often with a Japanese spin. In the 1960s young Japanese began to define their own street-inspired fashion trends-the latest version of which is a ganguro, deeply-tanned women sporting high platform shoes who frequent Shibuya nightclubs and bars.
In 1868, at the opening of the Meiji era, Japan’s capitol moved from Kyoto to Edo, which was renamed Tokyo. As the country began to modernize, Tokyoites were at the center of fashion. The kataage, or tuck at the shoulder of the kimono, signifies that this woman is a minor.
1883 marked the opening of the Rokumeikan, an elegant Italianate building designed for official government functions as well as balls and receptions. There society’s upper crust-wives garbed in Western dress included-mingled and met foreign dignitaries. This upper-class woman poses in daytime dress, complete with imported fan and gloves.
In 1885, at the suggestion of the Japanese army surgeon general, beaches were opened to the public for the first time in order to promote physical fitness. Swimsuits appeared around 1897. Made of cotton-knit fabric, they were nicknamed shimauama, which means zebra, after their stripes. This style remained popular until the end of the Taisho era (1912-1926).
This woman wears her hair in the hisashigami style, which developed in parallel to the American Gibson Girl look and was popular in most social classes until the end of the Taisho. In the 1890s, the early days of the style-which was achieved by inserting a hairpiece-the front and sides were not as pronounced, but they gradually became more flamboyant. Most importantly, the hisashigami style liberated women from the laborious efforts required for traditional Japanese hairdos.
Hiroko Suehiro, age 16, became the first Miss Japan in 1908. Her photograph was chosen from among those of young ladies from respectable families. Suehiro placed sixth in the Miss World Competition organized by the US Tribune.
Around 1897, hakama, loose-fitting trousers-revived from an earlier period-were modified into a skirt worn over kimono and adopted by students and teachers alike as a symbol of female education. This student wears her kimono sleeves short to make it easier to exercise. Long gloves like these, which are fingerless and ornamented with glass beads, were worn at the beginning of the Taisho era.
After an infatuation with Western clothing, styles shifted with the end of the Meiji era and a new period dawned in which foreign influences were disdained. This young woman wears her hair in a variation of the popular, classic hisashigami style. This particular version was named nihyakusan kochi after a battlefield in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).
First introduced at mission schools in the Taisho era, Western-style clothing was adopted at public schools as the uniform for female students. It eased travelling to school and engaging in sports activities, and curbed the tendency towards flashy dress. The sailor uniform, the most typical schoolgirl style, persists to this day.
This young woman sports the trendy mimikakushi-literally “covering-the-ears”-hairstyle of the 1920s. After gaining popularity in the U.S., the style hit the shores of Japan in 1922 and soon became a classic. Until this time, Japanese hairstyles had been relatively unaffected by world trends.
In 1925 a new hairstyle appeared-the shichisan takamage, with hair parted on the side and drawn up high in a chignon. Like its mimikakushi predecessor, this style was popular with women of all professions and ages. The virtues of one style over the other were hotly debated by fashion critics at the time.
In 1904 the use of a higher quality of cloth popularized the wearing of uniforms at women’s practical training schools. The introduction of the employee smock by Mitsukoshi department store in 1926 had a similar effect on employees and office workers throughout companies in Japan.
The early Showa period (1926-1988) saw the emergence of a new type of Japanese woman, the modern girl, called moga in Japanese. With their short hair and Western-style clothes-often seen in the Ginza-moga were Japanese counterparts of American flappers. At first, this style of dress was limited to public wear, as is the case here.
This bathing suit style, a one-piece made of pure wool with two layers around the hips and an open back, remained fashionable right up to the end of the Second World War.
As more Japanese women entered the workforce, Western-style clothes became the norm for businesswomen. Hemlines, which had, like those in the West, dropped nearly to the ankle in 1930, rose again, becoming the highest ever in 1937.
As Western-style clothing gained in popularity, the freedom it afforded won acclaim. Slacks appeared soon after the introduction of dresses, but were worn more often for leisure.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Red Cross nurses donned armbands, said goodbye to their loved ones, and worked alongside Japanese soldiers in unprecedented numbers. Nursing-along with teaching, office work, and telephone company employment-was one of the first professions open to women in Japan.
In 1937, as hostilities spread and Japan engaged in incidents with China, measures were introduced to prepare the country for war. Baggy trousers adapted from those worn by rural Japanese women-known as mompe-became compulsory everyday wear for all women, symbolizing their frugality and patriotism. Ideal for wartime use, mompe were easy to put on, kept their shape, and came in dark colors that prevented detection by enemy planes.
With the end of the war, the American Occupation, and the gradual easing of wartime shortages, the Japanese people turned to leisure activities. Clothing came on the market again, and resortwear made its debut. The summer seaside provided a stage for casual clothing to take its first steps into the fashion world.
In 1955 the House of Dior presented its A-line, a sequel to its H-line of 1954. In the face of increasing Westernization of dress, kimono designers introduced innovations to make the garment more appealing to women for example, by increasing functionality with features such as shorter kimono sleeves. The term chabaori was coined to express the beauty of women wearing this style.
Fashion continued to take its cues from European and American trends. From the “new look” and “long-line” skirts, the trend gradually evolved toward shorter hemlines. Petticoats gave skirts a fuller, puffier look.
Miyuki-zoku-groups of young women who frequented bar- and cabaret-lined Miyuki Street in Ginza-favored baskets made of bamboo, rattan, or straw instead of cloth handbags. Inside were their school uniforms, toiletries, and other necessities for staying over with friends, behavior that was considered outlandish at the time.
Geometric patterns influenced by Op Art-as seen as these miniskirts-were extremely popular, as were large round sunglasses and wide hip-slung belts. During this era of rapid economic growth-marked by Osaka’s 1970 Expo, entitled “Progress and Harmony of Humankind”-the Japanese were looking ahead into the future. © Bunkagakuen Fashion Resource Center
In the mid 1970s Harajuku, Tokyo, became a mecca for youth and youth fashion. Groups of teenagers called takenoko-zoku convened on the streets-which closed on weekends, becoming a pedestrian paradise. Takenoko-zoku dressed up in garish clothes and danced to the music booming out of their portable cassette players.
The area around Parco department store in Shibuya, Tokyo, teemed with fashion model wannabes. Dressed completely in black, they were known as karasu, or crows, after the birds that are a common sight in Tokyo. Few accessories accompany this stoic style. Both women carry small wallets instead of purses, imitating models on work breaks
Inspired by hippie and early ’70s fashion, recycling style employs secondhand and homemade garments worn with clogs-a departure from the traditional Japanese disdain for wearing used clothing. Most of the items worn by this young woman-which are all coordinated in natural colors-are either homemade, handed down from her parents, or found in flea markets, which were becoming very popular in the early ’90s.
Go-go gals dancing on a club platform: tight-fitting dresses, go-go gals’ favorite clothes, became more and more risqué in the 1990s. Dancing to exciting music, brandishing their fluffy fans, and showing their panties, go-go gals became the talk of the town. Attempting to diminish their intractable power, Juliana Tokyo, a famous disco, got rid of its notorious platforms
A fashion style combining cute and kitsch is often seen today on urban streets in Japan. Many young women aspire to remain childlike and cute instead of being elegant and adult-as is evident not only in these girls’ dress but also in their speech and behavior
This young woman wears in a cowboy hat, a long blond wig, a fur coat, short shorts made partly of lamé, and platform shoes, which are reputed to have injured many young wearers’ ankles. She enjoys her own style, free from designer-brand obsession, by simply combining her favorite fashion items.
In the late 1990s, darkly tanned skin came back in vogue, giving the ’60s trend a new twist. Instead of adopting a natural look, women called ganguro, literally face-that-is-black, wear dark foundation on their faces and paint white circles around their eyes in homage to hip-hop culture. Other inspirations for the style include Barbie Dolls and Japanese pop singers. Accessories include a big wig, a scarf, long false eyelashes, white lipstick, and thick jet-black eyeliner. The trend is fueled by the belief that black skin makes the face look smaller.