Japanese Fashion Designs - Part VIII


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June 10, 2010

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Edo Period (1600 - 1868)

During this period, commerce and industry developed rapidly; consequently merchants began to have more power than the Samurai and this period's clothing is what the modern person would think of when asked about "traditional Japanese clothing". Consisting of basic pieces such as the Kimono, Obi, and Hakama, Japanese clothing is as remarkably simple as it is complex and elegant.

In 1615, military leader Tokugawa moved the capital of Japan from Kyoto, where the emperor resided to Edo, the present day Tokyo. Confucianism was adopted and hierarchy became the guiding principle where citizens were ranked based on their class.

The Edo period reflects a socially stable and economically prosperous time for Japan. Tokugawa shoguns held control of Japan for over 250 years during which they enforced isolation from the rest of the world by forbidding foreign literature, art fashion, and outgoing travel to western countries. Japanese fashion designs developed independently of other countries which is apparent as their traditional clothing remained in widespread use until post World War II.

Prior to and during these times, fabric use was very class orientated. It was an extremely status-conscious time in Japanese history. Style fashions were, as always, important, but subject to much greater regulation. Age, social status and gender all played a part in the appearance of the Kimono. For example, a married woman would wear a Kimono made out of darker fabric and with shorter sleeves than a young unmarried girl. Children wore brighter colours than their adult counterparts. Fashion practices, based on rigid social hierarchy, were reinforced by law.

Silk was reserved for the upper classes (Samurai) while other plant derived fibers as hemp, ramie and cotton (which cultivation began to emerge during 18th century) were of obligatory use by the common person. The art of weaving these textiles was a skill that women made at home passing down such abilities from mother to daughter. It was very common to have a weaving loom in a house. Better dyeing techniques were developed. In some cases the yarns used to make fabric were dyed over 40 times to achieve the intensity and quality of colour needed for a final garment. Eventually the "Yuzen" dyeing technique (a dye-resist dyeing process) was developed and became popular because any colour could be used and could dye many different complex patterns such as flowers and birds. In fact, dyeing emerged as an art form in its own right during this period. They often created new forms with bold images that were intricate in their subtle nuances decorating fabrics via woven patterns such as damask or satin or by using dyed yarns, stenciling and embroidery. The decorative motifs they created included family crests, animals symbolic of Japanese folklore and natural elements like bamboo branches and flowers. During the Edo period, people began to define their status by their kimono clothing.

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