Kimonos were among the most highly sought-after export wares produced for the Western market after Japan’s 200-year-long isolation policy ended in 1868, opening its ports to trade. In Britain, kimonos gradually became embedded in mainstream fashion from 1900 onwards. Kimonos were, then, very feminine, domestic garments normally worn indoors. Surviving kimonos from this period show British and Japanese cultural, political and industrial characteristics through each other’s eyes.
Conversely, British commentators disapproved of the Japanese adoption of European clothing and the perceived abandonment of the kimono. Although the adoption of European dress in Meiji Japan was intended to unite people during a period of rapid social transition and mark the country as an equal player on the world stage, this explanation was largely ignored by foreign observers. To Britain, the kimono symbolised a decorative and quaint culture – even childlike, or sensual and feminine, and in need of guidance, clearly indicating a power relationship between the countries.
In this talk, Elizabeth Kramer and Allie Yamaguchi will discuss the British response to Japanese dress during the Meiji period. They will demonstrate the cultural relationship between Britain and Japan through dress with extant examples to show how Japanese kimonos became a strong visual trope representing a British understanding of the culture and people of Japan in the Meiji period.