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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.

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The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon!

“A great read!” —Liza Dalby, author of Geisha and The Tale of Murasaki

For three hundred years, a missing tea bowl passes from one fortune-seeker to the next, altering the lives of all who possess it…read more

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly newsletter Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

Jonelle Patrick View All

Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!

4 thoughts on “More Alike Than You Might Think Leave a comment

  1. it may seem by observing the shape of traditional Japanese dress, that women somehow have it “easier” in Japan in regards to their looks and body type. However the truth is that the Japanese along with other East Asians place a ridiculous amount of emphasis on looks, more so than even western cultures do. Most Japanese women would not even dream of setting foot outside without layers of meticulously applied make up and perfectly coiffed hair. If you look a day over 16, weigh a smidgen over 100 lbs, and have less-than porcelain white skin , you are pretty much considered average in the looks department.

    Eating disorders are commonplace and women spend INSANE amounts of money on clothing, makeup, and hair and nail salon visits, more than most western women would even consider. It is even worse in Korea – where on top of the fashion of having unrealistically flawless skin and being rail-thin, you are expected to look somewhat tall, sexy and model-like as well. Atleast in Japan you can get away with some less-than-perfect idiosyncrasies (like crooked teeth or short legs), as long as it’s “cute” and you still look fairly young. I think people in the west have somewhat more realistic standards, even if they are a little high in general.

    • You’re right about the insane amounts of money/effort women put into their appearance here in Japan, although I’d like to say that this is in pursuit of a modern Western-style ideal, rather than the traditional Japanese one represented by kimonos. And in Korea things have gone even further than the picture you paint – a surprisingly high percentage of women AND men have plastic surgery to chase an ideal that few are born with.

    • Yes, she’s amazingly talented! I can’t even imagine how she turns out one-of-a-kind gorgeous corsets and hats and skirts every day, each more beautiful than the last. I can’t go to Dark Garden very often, because I always fall in love with whatever her latest creation is. That’s one of the things that is similar to kimono – the form remains the same, but the variations are endless.

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