The Body Politic: Victorian Fashions in Meiji Japan

Last summer I began to work on the fashions of Meiji Japan (1868-1912).  This is a rather unique period in fashion history when the Japanese sought to impress the threatening Western powers by a program of rapid modernization and Westernization.  This included the use of Western Victorian fashions by the emperor, empress and their court.  They required the use of Western fashions for all court functions and encouraged their use outside of official functions.  These efforts were met with both positive and negative responses from both Japanese reformers and Westerners.

Above: Examples of Victorian Gowns by Charles Fredrick Worth. Notice the rising sun pattern on the gown on the Left.  Japanese influences were also felt on Western dress.  (Currently held by the MET)

The social and political implications of these changes had far reaching effects for Japan.  Japan was able to hold off colonization by Western Powers, to enter to the World Stage on a strong footing and to strengthen its economic standing. Not all of this, of course, can be attributed to Victorian clothing.  Rather clothing was an outward symptom of deep inward struggles in the Japanese culture.  By the end of the Meiji period, the kimono had returned to prominence, more structured than previous Edo fashions, and a growing sense of nationalism swept the country fueling a new passion for a visual national identity.  New social roles for women also shaped the future of kimonos. As a result of the Meiji experiment with Western dress, a new sense of nationalism and new roles for women in Japan, the kimono clad Japanese woman became the visual representation of a patriarchal Japanese society.

Above: Japanese Meiji Era Woodblock Print Set showing men, women and children in
Western style dress.

I hope to share more of this research with you in the future but I need to wait until I know if my paper has been published.  If it is not then I will be able to show you more of it.  Thanks for understanding.

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