Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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Sustainability: The Kimono and The Haori

by Jennifer Dares and Cecilia Martins Gomes, MA Fashion Students 

The word kimono means “thing to wear” in Japanese; the original word is kirumono (Steele 2005; Milhaupt 2014; ). This paper seeks to analyze what aspects of kimono are sustainable. To answer that question two styles of kimono from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection were examined using the methodology developed by Mida and Kim in The Dress Detective (2015). We will show that the elegant design of the kimono uses zero waste in its creation, allows for alteration and facilitates reuse, and the loose fit reinforces sustainable qualities of longevity.

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Red and pink silk kimono FRC2013.03.007

Kimono are T-shaped robes with long wide sleeves cut in straight lines, and the haori is a variation thereof. Traditionally cut from a single width of fabric, there is virtually no waste in the creation of the garment. Although the wearing of traditional kimono has been in decline, kimono are still worn, but usually for milestone events such as weddings and graduations. Designs have evolved over time to incorporate modern ready to wear features such as zippers and Velcro or the use of washable polyester.

 

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Sleeve detail on kimono FRC2013.03.007

A red and pink floral silk kimono: This red and pink floral silk kimono (FRC2013.03.007) has long sleeves that signal that this garment was intended to be worn by a young woman. The main textile is a colourful printed silk Rinzu (Imperatore et al., 2016), a textile weaving technique similar to jacquard. The printed floral pattern consists of undulating bands of colour in cherry blossom pink, ruby red and sea foam green layered with contrasting disks filled with florals, some of which are bordered with gold thread. The upper portion of the garment is lined in dark red silk and the lower portion in a lighter shade of red silk. The double-layered band collar uses a contrasting textile with a ruby and white floral pattern grounded in pale pink. The sleeves are slightly curved at the lower portion of the hemline. The garment would be held closed with an obi and does not emphasize any parts of the body. This silhouette accommodates various body types and sizes.

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Collar detail FRC2013.03.007

This garment is machine stitched and has been altered to shorten the length and sleeves of the garment using large hand-stitches. The most unusual aspect of this garment is in the form of the alteration using a 3-inch fold that has been hand-stitched with white thread close to the high point shoulder to shorten the sleeve length. This fold extends approximately 8-inches down on both the front and back of the garment. A fold approximately 6-inches deep has been hand-stitched with red thread at waist level to shorten the length of the garment. The location of the alteration was strategic, such that it would be concealed by the obi. These simple and reversible alterations show how the kimono was restyled without cutting the textile and demonstrate the ethos of sustainability.

A burgundy red and black patterned haori: The haori is a short, lightweight coat, with a similar construction pattern as the kimono in a T-shape that is often worn over the kimono to protect it from stains and damage, or to add an extra layer for body warmth in the winter.

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Haori FRC2017.01.002

Originally a men’s garment, during the Edo period (1615-1868) Geishas popularized its use and the haori is now considered a gender-neutral garment (Imperatore, 2016). This haori from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection (FRC2017.01.002) dates to the 1990s, and the donor said she acquired and wore it in Japan. The garment is in excellent condition but has a small, yellow stain on the neckband that is somewhat concealed by the print. The main textile is crepe silk, and the lining is plain weave silk. The print motif is an overlap of three different flower styles probably printed using two processes: silkscreen for the base print and a stencil pattern for the big black flowers.

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Sleeve detail FRC2017.01.002

Like the kimono, the haori does not emphasize any part of the body. The front and back panels are joined by a strip of fabric that make it larger on the sides, probably to provide comfort for the wearer and more room to accommodate the garments that are worn underneath. The uniqueness of this garment lies in the details. The lining is meant to be shown, as it is a characteristic of this type of garment to be worn inside out (Imperatore, 2016) and there is a hand stitching on the base of the lining and sleeves. Another feature is the half-closed sleeve that creates an external pocket. The haori’s neckbands are fastened parallel to each other by a silk cord, that ties together two loops inside each band, but this haori does not have a tie cord. This garment is reversible, which adds to its longevity and options for wear.

Can these garments be considered sustainable?
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals from January 2016 presented a global call to action on issues around poverty, peace and protecting our planet (see https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/). Included on this list of goals was a directive for the responsible consumption and production of garments, and this is demonstrated in multiple ways with the kimono and haori.

Sustainability is demonstrated in the materials, print and finishing techniques used in the kimono and haori. Kimono are typically made with natural fibres such as silk, cotton and wool; and may use natural dyes such as the yuzen technique (which utilizes a natural dye made from rice paste mixed with soybeans and salt). Sustainability is also demonstrated in the styling and cutting of the kimono and haori. The most noticeable element that distinguishes kimono and haori from western garments is the loose fit that allows them to be worn by both genders and many types of bodies (Kawira, 2002). This means that fewer sizes are produced during manufacturing and the garment can be passed down or passed on to others diverting it from landfill. These aspects of its production render it sustainable. As well, the cutting technique of the kimono ensures there is no textile waste, and generally the pattern is woven or printed with the key locations of the body mapped out in advance (Kawira, 2002). Kimono are sometimes recycled by taking them apart, and the fabrics reused often for accessories such as bags, scarves, brooches, quilts, dolls, and other decorative objects and crafts (Yoshimura, 2015). Cut with zero waste and altered in a reversible way, these elegant and timeless garments may be shared between generations, or the lengths of fabric may be reused or restyled into other garments. In this way, kimono and haori demonstrate sustainability.

References:
Antonelli, P., Fisher, M. M., Lowry, G. D., & Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.). (2017). ITEMS: Is fashion modern? Museum of Modern Art.

Chrisman-Campbell, K. (2014), “Kimono for a Modern Age,” Ornament 37, p. 6, 24-27.

Hibi, S. (1989). Japanese detail fashion. Chronicle Books.

Imperatore, C., MacLardy, P., & Turner, T. (2016) Kimono: Vanishing tradition: Japanese textiles of the 20th century (Revised and expand 2nd ed.) Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.

Kawira, Aarti. (2002) “The Kimono Body” Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, Pages 299-310.

Mida, I., and Kim, A. (2015) The Dress Detective: A practical guide to object-based research in Fashion. Bloomsbury Academic.

Milhaupt, T. S. (2014) Kimono: A modern history. Reaktion Books.

Steele, V. (2005) Encyclopedia of clothing and fashion. Thomson.

Yoshimura, A. (2015) An autoethnography of kin-aesthetics: Retrieving family folklore through the wearing of used kimonos.

This blog post was edited by Ingrid Mida. 


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The Language of the Kimono

by Ingrid Mida, Acting Curator/Collection Co-ordinator

Kimonos, long associated with the cultural fabric of Japan, have their own language. For example, ‘Kimono o kiru’ means ‘I’m going to wear kimono.’ Although this loose-fitting, T-shaped garment is worn by both men and women, and generally constructed out of lengths of a standard width fabric, every element of the garment serves to communicate aspects of the wearer’s identity, including age, gender, class and even the formality of the occasion. The type and colour of fabric, the length of the sleeves, the presence or absence of crests, and the type of accessories worn with the kimono can all be read like texts.

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Kimono, silk. ca.1930s. FRC2013.03.005

In 2013, three silk kimonos were donated to the FRC, including this blue-gray silk kimono with padded hem and red silk lining (FRC2013.03.005). The donor indicated that these garments were acquired by her grandparents in the 1930s during a trip to Orient, but it is not known whether the kimonos were purchased to be worn as loungewear or to be kept as souvenirs. The donor was not aware of any associated obi or other accessories that would normally be worn with these garments. Kimonos were collectible items and some versions were made expressly for export to western markets (note 1).

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Detail of textile, kimono ca.1930s. FRC2013.03.005

The radiant colour and pattern of this plain weave silk furisode (long-sleeved) kimono is a signal of youth. As a woman aged, she was expected to wear more subdued colours and patterns would be confined to the hem (note 2). In this kimono, the pattern appears relatively high on the body and depicts a landscape scene with cranes, turtles, flowers, and cherry trees in blossom. Parts of the scene have been over-embroidered with silk thread or gold thread. The red silk lining is visible on the neckband (eri), at the hem and as the sleeves move. The hem is thickly padded (hikisuso). At one time, such padding was associated with “aristocratic ladies and high prostitutes of the Edo period,” but is now often adopted for “the modern version of the traditional wedding ensemble” (note 3). The sleeve-length of a kimono is another element that is linked to gender and age, and these swinging sleeves are mid-length. They do not fall all the way to the ankle and this length is associated with a semi-full dress for unmarried women (note 4). The rounded corners of the sleeve are also markers associated with the garments of a single female.

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Detail of sleeve, kimono FRC2013.03.005

The kimono body (mihada) is atypical in that it has a horizontal seam at mid-body where the patterned material has been attached to the blue-gray silk. There would not normally be a seam here as typically the garment would be shortened by folding the extra fabric under the obi (note 5). This seam suggests that its western owner shortened the kimono so that it could be worn without an obi. The inside lining also shows evidence of unpicked basting stitches would have been used during laundering of the kimono.

This beautiful kimono is rife with meaning. Intended for a young, unmarried woman perhaps for her pending nuptials, we will never know whether it was actually worn for that purpose. Nonetheless, it serves as a primer of kimono connoisseurship.

Note 1: Terry Satsuki Milhaupt, Kimono: A Modern History, London: Reaktion Books, 2014, 234.

Note 2: Liza Dalby, Kimono: Fashioning Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993: 196-197.

Note 3: Ibid: 92.

Note 4: Ibid: 167.

Note 5: Annie Van Assche, “Interweavings: Kimono Past and Present” in Fashioning Kimono. Dress and Modernity in Early Twentieth-Century Japan. London: V&A Publications, 2005.

References:

Dalby, L. (1993) Kimono: Fashioning Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Milhaupt, T. (2014) Kimono: A Modern History. London: Reaktion Books.

Van Assche, A. (ed.), (2005). Fashioning Kimono. Dress and Modernity in Early Twentieth-Century Japan. London: V&A Publications.