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Dilute to taste: Kimonos for the British market at the beginning of the twentieth century

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This article investigates the significance of the kimono in British fashion at the beginning of the twentieth century and clarifies who was active in promoting its popularity throughout Britain. It also examines the colour trends that developed for kimonos made for the British market. In the early twentieth century, large numbers of kimonos specially designed for the western market were exported to Britain by Japanese manufacturers, such as Takashimaya, where they were sold in shops and department stores in and around London. This made it increasingly possible for anyone to easily obtain kimonos, in contrast with the nineteenth century when collectors were the primary consumers of kimonos. Thus, in British fashion history the phenomenon of the ‘Japan craze’ was most notable in the 1900s–10s. Not only does archival evidence allow the export of kimonos to be tracked, it also demonstrates how changes to the garment to suit foreign markets came about. According to documented reports, the colours of kimonos needed to be ‘subdued’ for the British market. This change proved to be a highly effective ‘translation’ in design as the kimono moved from Japanese culture to the very different cultural language of British society.
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Keywords: Britain; Japan; Japonisme; cross-cultural history; fashion history; kimono; modernism; twentieth century

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Osaka University, Japan

Publication date: October 1, 2017

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  • The International Journal of Fashion Studies is a scientific peer-reviewed journal that fosters the worldwide diffusion of Fashion Studies. Fashion Studies is an interdisciplinary field of research that has been producing an extensive repertoire of theories, analyses and enquiries.
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