Japanese Fashion Designs - Part V

June 10, 2010

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To protect against high humidity, buildings had elevated floors made of tatami mats. An important part of the life style fashion was the convention of sitting on the floor. The Chinese clothing fashion of rich brocades for ceremonial robes changed for the most part to an attire of heavy layers of kimono stiffer and more voluminous. For ceremonial occasions the ladies of the court would wear complex, gorgeous kimonos that were called a Junihitoe which meant "twelve layers" (although as many as twenty layers might actually be used).

The word kimono simply means "things to wear" in Japanese.

These juni-hitoe ceremonial robes weigh about 44lbs or more; therefore, those women had a hard time to walk. The multiple layers also helped in staying warm in winter. Men wore Sokutai as their formal clothes; it is a complex dress that was only worn by courtiers, aristocrats and the emperor. The sokutai is still worn by imperial court members in rare occasions such as weddings and enthronement ceremonies.

Although these fashion designs were based on clothes in Chinese Tang Dynasty, due to the relationship they maintained with this country, naturally they changed an important part of the original Chinese fashion designs, developing the always maintained native appreciation of colour and its subtlety to a higher level.

These were ceremonial clothes, which the courtiers did not always wear in their daily life. Men's court clothing fashion was still regulated by rank, but in spite of this, a man in casual dress Noshi or Kariginu showed his refinement and sensitivity by pairing colours according to the season, the occasion, or his mood.

In fact if Heian men excelled at this practice with colours, Heian women were masters. Aristocratic ladies and court ladies ordinary clothes were Uchiki, which dress was a few-layered robe. Less restricted by rank colours than men, a Heian lady could make or break her reputation with her choice of colours to wear in combination. Indeed, the mistress of the household (that is, the principle wife) was responsible for all the dyeing that went on. Even her servants' clothing reflected upon her.

The layered colour pattern reflected many things including seasons, directions, virtues, and elements of the earth as they related to spirits of nature and to their moods, showing just how closely the Japanese were attuned to the world of nature around them.

As time passed by the colour combinations (called kasane no irome in Japanese) became standardized, each one of them assigned a name. The Heian period came to an end, but it left its trace and this love of colour resurfaced again and again throughout Japanese costume fashions history.

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