The Kimono Body

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In the world of costume and fashion, the kimono is viewed as offering a distinctive style of clothing with its unusual sleeves, its flat, geometric outline and oversize. But is the kimono truly ‘tailored’ in the manner of the western garment? Why has the kimono evoked passionate responses from artists and designers of textiles and garments the world over? What is the perception of the body in the material cultural idiom of the kimono? The present essay does not aim to provide answers to these questions but only to raise them against the backdrop of the widely accepted perception of the kimono as a garment that does not ‘fit’ the body. By moving away from its representative relation with the physical body (contouring or lack thereof) to that of its ‘design’ and the body relations therein, this article draws attention to the kimono as a garment within a handcrafted textile, rather than tailoring, tradition. That the kimono is indeed a structured textile, woven as a garment ready for wearing, is strongly evident in the way it is cut and sewn. The present article demonstrates how the kimono is constructed flat – not with reference to the specific proportions of a real body but to a set of proportions corresponding to an abstract body encoded in the very ‘design’ of the fabric employed. It is apparent that the internal ordering of the various visual elements of the kimono is in accordance to a non-corporeal body. This ‘design’ of what is referred to as the ‘kimono body’, is adhered to both at the stage of weaving, printing or dyeing the textile as well as during its cutting and sewing into a wearable garment. It is hoped that viewing the kimono thus would reinstate it into the category of other celebrated traditional textiles of the world like the sari whose ‘design’ is more than just a unique surface pattern.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: August 1, 2002

More about this publication?
  • Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of “fashion” as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses has been well established in a number of disciplines. Until Fashion Theorys launch in 1997 the dressed body had suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Increasingly scholars have recognized the cultural significance of self-fashioning, including not only clothing but also such body alterations as tattooing and piercing.

    Fashion Theory provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the rigorous analysis of cultural phenomena. Its peer-reviewed articles range from foot-binding to fashion advertising.
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