More Alike Than You Might Think

This week my friend Tomoko and I searched out a tiny vintage kimono shop in Shimo-kitazawa that was featured in Yamato Kimono-hime, the magazine from which I scanned the fabulously styled photo on the left. That article made me think differently about kimonos, and I got to thinking about how Kalico Delafay’s Dollymop designs made me think differently about a western garment that historically defined female beauty: the corset.

Every culture has its idea about how The Ideal Woman should look. In Japan, it’s all about choosing the many bits and pieces that make a kimono into a statement about personal style, using the body as a canvas to display the artful concoction. Every woman, whether she’s thin or not, young or not, photogenic or not, is transformed into a beauty when she puts on a kimono. The tightly wrapped obi smooths every body type into the ideal form, the long sweep of breathtakingly dyed cloth suggests the arms and legs beneath are of perfect, graceful proportions, and the color combinations have nothing to do with this year’s trendy palette, which always seems chosen to make last year’s colors obsolete rather than to make the wearer look good.

In the West, we’re not so lucky. The standard of beauty is all about body type and youth, and Western fashion tends to accentuate imperfections rather than concealing them. Except for corsets. Long the standard-bearer of cheesy, naughty undies and/or a symbol of keeping women painfully in their place, a few designers like Kalico Delafay are now bringing the corset out of the closet. By changing the fabrics and detailing, she transforms this most maligned of garments into gorgeous daywear. And just like putting on a kimono, no matter what size or shape you are, women put on a Dollymop corset and look in the mirror and think DAMN! I LOOK GREAT!

I love that in both Japan and America, people are reinventing traditional clothing by wearing it in new ways.

In the photos above, the vintage kimono with modern Harajuku-style accessories is from a spread in Yamato Kimono-hime magazine; the corset, skirt and hat on the right are a custom order from Kaliko Delafay’s Dollymop line, sold through Dark Garden in San Francisco.


Jonelle Patrick is the author of the Only In Tokyo mystery series. This is the princess-style kimono worn by part time English translator Yumi Hata in Nightshade.


Jonelle Patrick is the author of  four novels set in Tokyo

A young woman dressed as a Gothic Lolita is found dead in a car with two strangers. But the more Yumi Hata learns about her friend’s death, the more she’s convinced it was murder…read more