Japanese clothes, fashion and cosmetics explained

Why are kimonos never padded, despite the cold winters?

Peasants did wear padded kimonos, but all the traditional clothes that are still popular are high status upper class ones

Why do kimono have those squares that hang under the arms?

Although you can use them for pockets, it is mainly just a result of the way a kimono is made, from 4 rectangular sections of equal width cut from the same long piece of cloth.

Why is the obi (belt) worn so high?

“[It] gives the illusion of a silhouette with longer legs”  Kimono by Sophie Milenovich

Why do formal kimonos have such long sleeves?

 As “so as not to be hampered in their movements,peasants and fishermen in the old days wore working kimonos with sleeves tapered round the wrist” (Kimono by Sophie Milenovich) , the impracticality of the long sleeves makes a point about the specialness of the occasion and the wealth of the family that can support a daughter who doesn’t work, however temporarily

Why long sleeved kimono for unmarried women and short sleeved for women?

The possibilities are: the impracticality of long sleeves in contrast to the work-like short sleeves is a way of looking lady like and showing your status, or unmarried women needing to cover themselves more

Why are obi (帯- kimono belts) tied at the back?

It proves you can afford someone to tie it for you, and it further demphasizes curves

Why are kimonos still popular? Second attempt

The fact that there are strict rules and someone at the hairdressers or kimono shop to explain them to you means it’s a safer choice with less chance of faux pas than, for example, a dress

Why would a group of fashion obsessed teenagers want to call themselves”yamamba”(old mountain hags)?

Why was it specifically Louis Vuitton that the Japanese went so crazy for?

Why did some geta (下駄-wooden clogs) have only one thin “heel” like stilts?

It made walking in mountains easier

Why do Japanese construction workers wear baggy trousers? Don’t they get in the way?
 
Apparently that is the point. By being unwieldy and easy to catch on things they are supposed to make the people wearing them move more carefully.
 
Why are multi toed socks (like gloves for your feet) popular in Japan?
 
It’s a fairly obvious step from traditional tabi socks- worn with just the big toe separate to make it possible to wear them with geta (wooden sandals). It also ties in with the unabashed Japanese love of comforting stuff like cute cartoon characters, heated kotatsu tables and “healing” music

Why do the Japanese reuse their brand goods paper carrier bags?

It’s an Asian thing, but not sure why.

Why do the Japanese wear such dull business clothes?
 
It’s partly not wanting to stand out and partly a class- even more than other countries bright colours and flashy clothes are restricted to the mafia and nouveau riche and their wannabes.

Why have kimonos stayed popular when other traditional clothes such as monpe pants have disappeared or become restricted to folk festivals?

Monpe pants, for example, were a sign of poverty and are particularly associated with the restrictions of WWII and the post war period, so people got rid of them as soon as they could afford to. Kimono, in contrast, have always been a status symbol like tatami, Japanese gardens etc. In fact many working class families have not been able to afford to buy real kimono for non-ceremonial occasions until quite recently.

Why did the samurai topknot hairstyle disappear?

Apparently the first impetus to cut off the topknot (just the same as the start of wearing Western clothes and eating Western food) came from the Meiji period conscription army that replaced the samurai class. As the topknot would not fit under western-style military hats and helmets it had to be cut off. This was spread slowly to the rest of the country by a government campaign to get rid of all traditions (also spitting, mixed bathing etc) that could make foreigners think the Japanese were “uncivilized” and so extend the amount of time the Japanese had to suffer under the indignity of the same “unequal treaties” on trade that the Japanese had forced on the Koreans.

Why do young Japanese guys have such girly haircuts etc?

Just like the UK in the 70’s, when macho guys started wearing high heels and make up, the main male fashion leaders in Japan are gay but not out.

Why are there so many hair care products for men?

It could be because other parts of a school kid’s or businessman’s appearance is so standardized that it is the only part they feel they can express themselves in. There is also the factor that looking older than your age with grey hair etc. in a seniority-based system can make it look like you have been passed over for promotion.

Why do some men hold handbags?

While this is well passed its peak (in one survey in the bubble years “office ladies” voted it the single most annoying thing about their male colleagues), you do still see it amongst those who haven’t realized the 80s is over yet. The fashion reasons were copying everything that happens in Italy and many of the male fashion role models being gay and (needless to say in Japan) not out. The practical reason could be that it is rude to carry a big bag like a backpack in a busy train, and absolutely taboo to leave it on your back.

Why do some middle aged guys still wear white fluffy socks and slip on shoes long after the 80′s are over?

The slip on shoes do have a practical purpose, seeing as you have to take them off several times a day at home, in Japanese style bars etc, but the main reason could be that the Japanese, Chinese and Indian factories that were making these products for the European market in the 80′s are now flooding the Japanese market with very cheap ones now that it has died a death in the UK etc. (they are also east to spot in India and Korea).

Why has the kimono stayed popular while other traditional clothes like monpe baggy pants or jimbei jackets have disappeared or been limited to summer festivals?

In fact, for many Japanese families the years since the amazing growth of the economy is the only time they have been able to afford decent kimono, so it is a real status symbol to wear one.

Why did Japanese women blacken their teeth and why did they stop doing it?

Showing your white teeth was thought to be like showing the white of your bones. The blackening liquid was also thought to preserve the teeth. The practice was outlawed in the Meiji era in order to not offend foreign visitors or more generally to gain their acceptance as a Westernized and therefore equal nation.

Why is facial hair so rare in Japan?

Some Japanese guys have problems growing a full beard, but it is more a case of image. For example, bushy beards are still usually a sign of radical politics if not actual communist party membership

Why do Japanese esute beauty parlours offer young men depilation of their stubble?

It could be the influence of Photoshop (photos from Europe are retouched again to make the skin look ultra smooth before they are used in Japan), or it could be because so many “stylish” male celebrities are gay but in the closet, a New Mannish attempt to get popular with the ladies, a way of showing they are looking after themselves and therefore are available, or a reaction against their gruff macho fathers. Or the Marxistish version is that is simply shows off their ability to afford it.

Why are bright colours for clothes such a no no in Japan?

If you check which train the girls in the brightly coloured clothes are coming off you will easily see that it is mainly a lower class- traditionally summer festival yukata are always blue. The most common word for brightly coloured things is hade- gaudy, a totally negative expression.
 
Why do most Japanese women dye their hair?
 
Although it might have started off as wanting to be different, nowadays if an OL doesn’t dye her hair her female colleagues will ask her why not. If they reply that their boyfriend prefers it that way most people could quickly guess that he is foreign.Dyed hair is considered akarui- bright, cheerful- also one of the most important personality traits in Japan.

Why is it okay to wear a tiny mini skirt or hot pants but not stomach, shoulders or cleavage?
 
Maybe they get used to tiny skirts at school. Legs are also not a big erotic focus in Japan

Why do Japanese women shave their faces?
 
Why do some Japanese guys pluck their eyebrows, have electrolysis on their beards etc?

Why did Japanese women paint their teeth black? Second attempt

“in order to magnify the brightness of their snow-like complexions” Geishas, Berenice Geoffroy-Schneiter, pg 11

Why are some Japanese women so precious about their white skin?

Just as in Europe since the middle ages, having white skin has been a sign that you are rich enough to not go out and work in the sun. As the sign of wealth is becoming being able to afford to take tropical holidays instead, this is gradually changing.

14 Comments

  1. nikkou said,

    March 6, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Why do young Japanese guys have such girly haircuts etc?

    Just like the UK in the 70’s, when macho guys started wearing high heels and make up, the main male fashion leaders in Japan are gay but not out.

    Why do Japanese esute beauty parlours offer young men depilation of their stubble?

    It could be the influence of Photoshop (photos from Europe are retouched again to make the skin look ultra smooth before they are used in Japan), or it could be because so many “stylish” male celebrities are gay but in the closet, a New Mannish attempt to get popular with the ladies, a way of showing they are looking after themselves and therefore are available, or a reaction against their gruff macho fathers. Or the Marxistish version is that is simply shows off their ability to afford it.

    SERIOUSLY these answers concerning the importance of looking good, caring about hygiene, having hairless faces, and having murses (man purses) in Japan are not “explanations” of Japan as you so pompously claim.
    Accept it you are an idiot American whose strictures of gender make European and Asian men look gay. Admit your lense and CHANGE your website to OPINIONS ON JAPAN.
    NO bias or useful explanations have you offered toward the stylish and fashion sensitive Japanese pop male.

    For more look into the Host Clubs you will see these kinds of men that are more heterosexual than you because they can control women and make them pay to just HANG OUT with them.

    • Charles said,

      July 9, 2011 at 4:36 am

      Hmm, some of your accusations are not backed down. But I can understand your outrage at wanting another representation of male japanese style. However the caps make your comment unbelievable as a whole, I actually had to read twice to make some sense of it because of the prejudice against caps.

      Insults also diminish your credibility to almost zero (since it is a well studied and dissected social phenomenon to protect the ego by portraying the other subject as inconvenient for mating), I would have taken this as random trash info were it not for the spot-on approach at the complain of the judging of Japanese males. But remember this is “japan explained” (for foreigners) if you want another approach more attune with your beliefs, go look elsewhere. To me this site was incredibly helpful.

  2. alexcase said,

    March 7, 2009 at 1:30 am

    Again, the use of capitals and phrases like “more hetrosexual” suggest I am maybe wasting my time trying to argue with you, but as you quote me saying that Japan now is just like Britain in the 70s, surely you can see that the explanations are an attempt to find a way of accepting something that first of all seems weird when you see it. And yes, it comes from a particular viewpoint and is not a serious piece of sociological research- something I would do if I ever won the lottery, but till then I am reduced to reading any sociology books on Japan that are in English and I can afford. The use of obviously biased language like “girly haircuts” is an attempt to point out the starting point of most foreigners when they arrive in Japan, and the explanations are attempts, limited by time and lack of money to take an MA, to show how that starting position could move a little. But mainly, I write the site because it’s fun, and that is why most people read it.

  3. Paige said,

    July 28, 2009 at 12:51 am

    do they shave their faces???? what about their backs???

  4. Little Bitch said,

    March 1, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Why do Japanese men where such “gay” clothes?

  5. ducky said,

    August 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    “Why did Japanese women blacken their teeth?”

    Back when God knows how long ago, they used charcoal to blacken their teeth and only the rich could afford charcoal. Therefore it was a symbol and wealth, and apparently also beauty.

  6. Riv said,

    November 11, 2010 at 4:45 am

    Why are there slits in the shoulders of traditional japanese clothes in animes and sometimes in real life?

  7. crella said,

    November 16, 2010 at 1:57 am

    If it were charcoal, which is water soluble, it would have come off their teeth every time they ate or drank. It was not charcoal but-

    “The main ingredient was a smelly dark-brown colored liquid made of an acetic acid called kanemizu (かねみず) with iron dissolved in it. Gallnut powder and tannin powder were blended in, turning it non-water soluble. When the liquid combined with the tannins, it would turn black. Coating the teeth with this liquid helped to prevent tooth decay and enamel decay. The dye had to be applied once a day or once every few days.”

    Who and when they blackened their teeth changed with the era.

  8. Amelie May said,

    March 19, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    –Why would a group of fashion obsessed teenagers want to call themselves”yamamba”(old mountain hags)?

    It’s not just any group of fashion-obsessed teenagers. It’s one substyle of an alternative street fashion called Gyaru, or ‘Gal’. The look is based on being extremely heavily tanned with bleach-blonde, often brightly streaked hair, bright contact lenses and extremely heavy makeup, and wearing very bright clothes. Gals try to look cute, sexy and sometimes quite bizarre, and always somewhat garish.
    It is not, as is commonly thought, a way of mimicking western teenagers, not in the least (that’s western vanity for you). It’s a protest against the idea of the ‘yamato nadeshiko’, the traditional ‘perfect Japanese woman’, who is pale and quiet and demure, attracts no attention to herself, and wears dark, modest clothing; of whom it’s expected to marry and raise children and look after the housework while her husband has a salary job.
    Gyaru is, as you might guess, a really shocking style in Japan, though the Yamanba and Ganguro looks are a bit passe now and the style is much more toned-down and mod these days. You’d be extremely lucky to find a Yamanba walking around Shinjuku.

  9. Shah said,

    January 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    This has got to be one of the most racist articles, I have come across over the internet. Where a cultural gap is disparaged with ‘gay’ comments about hair-styles, and what not.

    I you want people to take you seriously dude, rethink your whole approach, because this is as insulting as you can get. The whole world doesn’t need to be like the West. In fact, I don’t see any reason for it to be that way. Thank God for that.

    • peppy said,

      August 30, 2012 at 1:29 am

      I was thinking the same thing. This articl is extremely pretentious and pompous and sounds like it was written by someone who spent two weeks in Japan and decided anything that wasn’t like the west was grounds for ridicule. This is an extremely offensive, racist site.

  10. crella said,

    January 6, 2012 at 10:02 am

    You mean that you want him to delete comments? Is censorship what you’re asking for? Those remarks weren’t made by the blog owner.

  11. alexcase said,

    January 10, 2012 at 3:57 am

    Shah

    Like crella, I’m a bit surprised by your comments. To start with, it’s not actually a cultural difference, as all societies go through periods of more or less dandyish style for males, e.g. 1970s/80s and the Restoration periods UK. I have mentioned gay fashion leaders in Japan as one possible reason for this (as it was in the UK in those two periods I mentioned), but for me gay is simply a statement of sexuality, not an insult.

  12. kate said,

    November 15, 2012 at 12:38 am

    Why do the Japanese reuse their brand goods paper carrier bags?

    Because high fashion is especially expensive in japan. So even if you buy from a regular shop, if you place your product in a Louis Vuitton bag, everyone will think thats where you’ve been shopping. This phenomenon is not limited to Japan.


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