Journal Article

Cherry-Picking Sartorial Identities in Cherry-Blossom Land: Uniforms and Uniformity in Japan

Nicolas Cambridge

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 24, issue 2, pages 171-186
Published in print May 2011 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online May 2011 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jdh/epr005
Cherry-Picking Sartorial Identities in Cherry-Blossom Land: Uniforms and Uniformity in Japan

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This article documents the role of uniforms in Japan’s project of modernity and beyond, building on research that has identified prescribed modes of dress as fundamental to the politics and poetics of a highly regulated society. A thematically organized account begins with a brief introduction to the indigenous apparel system prior to adoption of European versions of formal and military dress as the ‘uniform of civilization and enlightenment’. The discussion next considers the use of liveries as the private sector spearheaded a burgeoning commercialization of metropolitan life in the early twentieth century. A flexible interpretation of the term ‘uniform’ is taken in order to examine the referencing of traditional dress forms by Japanese designers through object analysis of the creative outputs of the fashion industry and visual analyses of imagery culled from the canon of fashion representation. The youthful self-fashionings of identity currently occurring in Japan are addressed for their contributions to current popular culture and the conclusion suggests that debates concerning the embodying of power relationships in dress might benefit from critical refraction through a prism able to accommodate the ubiquity of uniforms in Japan.

Keywords: cultural interaction; dress; fashion; Meiji; modernity; national identity

Journal Article.  8919 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Art ; Art Forms ; Industrial and Commercial Art ; Art Styles

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