Developing Something That One Wears Cultural Studies Essay

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What is fashion? Fashion can be interpreted in many different ways. According to Merriam Webster, fashion is defined as a "prevailing custom, usage, or style during a particular time period" ("Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary" 455). But, if one were to ask a group of individuals what fashion means to them, one would expect a wide range of varying answers. Although fashion is difficult to define, many people agree that fashion and culture coincide. Consequently, fashion is a huge part of the artifacts, behaviors, values, customs, and beliefs that are passed down to subsequent generations. Seen as an act of individual choice and self-expression, fashion is an important means used by the Japanese to express individual identity. Ranging in depth from traditional to modern, Japanese fashion has been a dynamic indicator of a changing culture.

      The Kimono, which means "something that one wears," is the traditional garment of Japan ("Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary" 687). Once used to describe all clothing types, the word kimono was but has since come to refer only to full length garments worn today by the Japanese. Kimono styles have drastically changed from one era 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 colors, while women tend to wear bright colors and pastels along with more complicated patterns" ("Brief History of Kimono"). "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" ("Culture of Japan"). In addition, the cut, fabric color, and decorations of a kimono may also vary according to sex, age, and marital status of the wearer as well as the season of the year ("Culture Exhibits").

     Continuously changing since the 8th century, the history of the kimono reflects the society and culture of the period. During the Heian period (794-1185), the custom of layering elaborate colored kimono robes became popular with Japanese women (Dalby). These "extremely elegant and highly complex" kimonos were referred to as junihitoe and were only worn by court ladies ("Encyclopedia"). Literally meaning "twelve-layer robe," the junihitoe consisted of twelve unlined robes showing the different shades of both the sleeves and collars of each kimono were worn (Leiter 144). 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 ("Japanese Kimono").

In 1185, after years of conflict between the Minamoto and Taira families, eastern Japan was chosen as the seat of the shogunate (Yamanaka 35). During this period called the Kamakura period (1185-1333) rising influences of the samurai class rendered a change in daily attire necessary. As a result, the traditional kimono style used in Kyoto, Japan (the location of the Imperial Court) evolved to a more simplified version called the kosode (Yamanaka 35). Meaning "small sleeve," the kosode combined both the style of previous versions of the kimono with the practicality called for by the changing times (Yamanaka 36).

      During the Edo period 1603-1876 Confucianism was adopted and hierarchy became the guiding principle where citizens were ranked based on their class (Millward, 2006, p. 20). People began to define their status and the greatest artistic accomplishments were made with the kimono during this period in time. In the year 1853, the US Navy sailed to Tokyo, Japan marking the beginning of the opening of Japan's commercial industry to the western world. The Japanese would continue to wear the kimono exclusively for the next 100 years but changing times would soon prevail.

      During the Meiji period of 1868-1912, women began working outside their homes and required different clothing to accommodate their work (Karamura, 2006, p. 784). It is during this time that the Japanese developed techniques to compete with machine woven cloth available in the West and cloth from other parts of the country were brought in to make the kimono and other clothing.

      During the Showa period 1926-1989, the Japanese government curtailed silk production by taxing it to support the military buildup (Rimer, 1990, p. 265). Kimono designs became less complex and more affordable. This allowed the kimono to be produced in greater quantities and also conserved material. Although the fashion ideas prevalent in both Europe and America have greatly affected kimono designs and motifs, the shape of the kimono remains the same. To sum up, the colors still change with the seasons, the age and status of the wearer of the kimono.

      Next, there are many different kimono styles. Formal kimonos can be defined into two main categories based on age and marital status. Similar to other coming of age events in various world cultures, young unmarried Japanese women participate in a ceremony called "Hatachi" for their twentieth birthday. At this age they (young unmarried Japanese women) formally become recognized as adults and are permitted to wear a furisode. Representative of this event in the young woman's life, a furisode kimono features long sleeves, vibrant colors, and complex patterns. Most importantly, the furisode is an unspoken advertisement that the young woman is single and available for marriage. After marriage, women wear a tomesode. Usually worn to wedding ceremonies of close relatives, the tomesode kimono is more conservative than the furisode in the fact that it features short sleeves, smaller designs (only under the waistline), and either solid or subdued colors. Literally meaning "formal dress of a married woman," the tomesode quickly became popular among married women because the shorter sleeves allowed women to work in the kitchen more freely.

      Other informal kimono's can be broken down into many categories. The Homongi which means visiting wear can be worn by married or unmarried women. This kimono is usually worn to formal parties and is characterized by the patterns flowing over the shoulders, seams and sleeves. The Tsukesage is worn by married women and is characterized by the small patterns covering the lower waist region of the kimono. The Iromuji is a single colored kimono worn by both married and unmarried women. They are mainly worn to tea ceremonies, usually of dyed silk and have no differently colored patterns. The Komon is a casual kimono that has a small repeated pattern throughout the garment. It is informal and worn by both married and unmarried women. It is usually worn around town but can also be dressed up for dining out. The Uchikake is a very formal kimono worn only by a bride or at a stage performance. It is heavily brocaded and is to be worn outside of the actual kimono. It is heavily padded along the hem and is supposed to trail along the floor. The Uchikake is usually white or extremely colorful with a red background. The Susohiki is worn by geisha's or performers of traditional Japanese dance art. It is longer than a regular kimono because the skirt is supposed to trail along the floor. Men's kimonos are very simple including long sleeves which are attached to the body of the kimono. The distinction between men and women's kimono's is the fabric. The fabrics are usually matte and the colors are usually subdued dark browns, greens, dark blues and black. Men's casual kimonos may come in lighter purples, greens and blues. A formal men's kimono would be black and consists of five designs on the chest, shoulder and back, while an informal kimono would only have three designs. In short, the kimono is the traditional dress of the Japanese culture and as so not only details the sex, age, marital and social status of the wearer, but also the occasion for which it is being worn.

A popular Japanese trend among young women is known as Kawaii, which means cute or pretty. This style is characteristic of wearing clothing that seems to be made for young children or clothing that accentuates the cuteness of the person wearing them. Ruffles, pastels, bright clothing, oversize toys and bags are also symbols of the kawaii style.

     In closing, everyone no matter where they are in the world has a desire to look good on all occasions. Top fashion is rich with color, elegant styles and trends. Japan stands tall in the race for a coveted spot as a forerunner and trendsetter of fashion.