Japanese Fashion Through the Ages: From Heian to Heisei Period

“Fashion is what changes fashion.” Through the ages, aesthetic concepts, technological innovations, and social norms constantly affect fashion. With a new era in Japan, we would like to look back and analyze how Japanese fashion has changed over the centuries.

Period before 1600

Japanese clothing was initially simple and practical, fitting a population of hunters and gatherers who later became farmers and artisans. During the Heian period (794-1192), the kimono, the most popular Japanese clothing, was introduced.

Women from upper social classes used to hide their skin under several layers of silk. In the case of the women of the imperial court, they used an ensemble called junihitoe It consisted of 12 or more layers, and had a weight of 20 kilograms. Later, the nobility began to wear kosode, a simple gown that was accompanied by a skirt-like trousers, called hakama.

Edo period (1603-1868)

When the military rule of the Tokugawa shogunate came to power, Japan entered a period of peace and stability that would last 250 years. The samurai class became the bureaucracy, and with it they exchanged armor for more presentable garments.

The growing demand for elegant kimonos led to this traditional Japanese clothing becoming an art form, which was dressed to show power and status. As wealth began to be distributed in the merchant class, arts and culture, including fashion, also spread.

Developments in manufacturing and weaving incorporated colorful designs, large motifs, and asymmetrical designs that were inspired by outlandish theatrical garments and famous artists. New trends in this era are baggy kimonos, wider obi ribbons, almost three times the size, and long sleeves, commonly worn by single women.

Meiji era (1868-1912)

After the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese empire was restored with the consolidation of the political system under the emperor. The country emerged as a powerful and industrialized nation. With the opening to foreign trade, Western ideas also flowed and were integrated into Japanese aesthetics. Government officials and their wives wore western clothing for work and formal events; the emperor himself cut his hair short and grew a mustache. The rise of the yokufu (Western clothing) reached all social classes. He kimono it was accompanied by new accessories such as hats, scarves, gloves, umbrellas and bags.

Taisho era (1912-1926)

As the empire continued, modern life came to Japanese society. Radios, magazines and cinemas inspired fresher styles, with decorated collars and new patterns in kimonos more accessible to people. East and West began to share trends, and by the 1920s women’s fashion caught up with the rest of the world, favoring a slimmer line, vertical dresses, gowns and skirts. However, most adult Japanese women were still inclined to wear traditional clothing, and rather experimented with the haircut. The children began to wear pants, shirts, skirts, and dresses. Meanwhile, the men got used to wearing coats, suits and hats.

Showa era: 1926-1989

The Showa era under the reign of Emperor Hirohito lasted from the beginning to the post-world war stage. The restrictions of the war made the flashy garments disappear, favoring more modest clothes.

After 1950, new trends developed accompanied by the economic boom. The kimono was reserved for formal events, and Western clothing became popular. The postwar pacifist constitution allowed younger generations to embrace popular culture and entertainment, as well as the fashions and trends of the time. Showa’s style still had certain Japanese elements, but was largely inspired by American and European styles, such as the era of the swing, or fashion hippie.

Heisei era (1989-2019)

The rise of new media led to fashion, arts and music intertwining, allowing people to follow fads en masse, or to connect with people who share the same niche. Furthermore, the hyper development of Japanese youth who look to the West, but who have been raised in a homogeneous society that still maintains traditions, has caused the rise of unique Japanese fashion tribes. Many of them now influence world fashion by mixing the old with the new, the East and the West. Currents like visual kei, gyaru, cuts style host club, lolita, decorate, cosplay, otaku and kawaiias well as the Harajuku fashion style are some of these aesthetic contributions.