The haori: everyday wearable art from japan
photos: lois barnett
Enacting dialogues between old and new in its very fabric, the Japanese haori can only continue to evolve as truly wearable art, albeit largely under the radar of artistic and fashionable recognition worldwide.
The words ‘Japanese fashion’ immediately evoke one image in the popular imagination: the flowing, straight lines of the kimono. However, there is another garment, most commonly worn alongside the infamous kimono, that is equally worthy of our attention. The haori, a kimono-sleeved overjacket, usually made of silk, and patterned using a variety of techniques, has been featured in the artworks of Japanese and European artists for centuries, and has more recently been emulated on innumerable catwalks worldwide by multinational fashion houses – the popular beach and evening cover-ups commonly touted as ‘kimono’ on the high street have far more in common with the haori than their supposed namesake. However, the specific garment itself has remained largely undetected in the popular and arts spheres, overshadowed by its more well-known sister. With their vibrant and varied colour schemes and motifs, alongside the garment’s vivid history, these beautiful jackets are more than worthy of closer inspection.
The haori began its life as a practical overcoat, worn solely by men and commonly over hakama, a widelegged trouser which is secured by tying at the waist. Its shape is evocative of the kimono and comprises the same practical elements; it is ‘T’ shaped, with long sleeves which act as pockets, and it is comprised entirely of straight rectangles of fabric, meaning that it can easily be disassembled for cleaning and then sewn back together. This is also a highly economical means of cutting a garment; all pattern pieces may be cut quickly and easily from a single bolt of silk with no wastage, and due to the loose fit there is no need for fitted tailoring – one size generally fits all. A common characteristic amongst examples of haori today is a vibrantly patterned lining, particularly the panel in contact with the wearer’s back. This is a throwback to the jacket’s history as a solely masculine garment – during the Edo period (1603-1868), the Shogunate outlawed ostentatious clothing following the exuberances of Osaka merchants, who shamelessly displayed their wealth sartorially. A densely patterned haori became a visual shorthand for signifying the wearer as being from the merchant class – one example is a Japanese woodblock print by Utagawa Kunisada (1786 – 1865) dating from 1852, which depicts a scene from the popular kabuki play “Koi Goromo Karigane Zome”, or “The Five Men of Naniwa” (an older name for Osaka). The play was based upon the true story of five outlaws of the merchant class who were convicted of murdering the samurai Noda Kakuzaemon and were consequently executed. Rather than being portrayed as villains, the play presents the merchants as freedom fighters who vanquish an oppressor and are unjustly killed by the state – the men are portrayed as positive characters in order to appeal to a largely merchant-based audience. In the print, the central figure, an actor portraying one of the five men, is wearing an eye-catching haori which is adorned with multiple repeating patterns in different shades of grey, allowing it to be visually extravagant whilst remaining conventionally ‘masculine’ in colour scheme.This is an example of the haoribeing used as an artistic device to signify not only the wearer’s class but a also rebellious spirit intended to be admired by the print’s purchasers – woodblock prints such as this were mass-producedand largely purchased by the wealthy merchant classes.
Following the ban on ostentatious clothing for merchants enforced in 1683, men were made to wear simple black haori adorned only with very discreet details, with more extravagant styles limited to artistic depictions (such as the Kunisada print) and stage costumes. This did little to perturb the merchants, who resorted to incorporating elaborate hidden linings, often involving expensive silks, bold colours and metallic thread, concealed beneath the coat’s dull black exterior. The spectacular lining would be revealed to the wearer’s peer group when the coat was removed to an interior space (frequently during business meetings) and existed as a status symbol and an act of defiance. This became part of a trend amongst the merchant classes known as iki, which focused on subtle and elegant details. With the Shogunate’s dress reforms long gone, haori can now be produced in many different colours; however, men’s haori still largely remains a conventional black with a vibrantly patterned or decorated lining.The role of the haori’s lining as a status symbol endured even with the popularisation of Western clothing amongst men during the 1920s and ’30s, when they would be worn over a Western-style business suit and with accessories such as bowler or Homburg hats. Other than its colouring, the key feature which marks a men’s haori is the construction of its sleeves; women’s haori have open sleeves, derived from the kimono, while men’s examples are enclosed, allowing the wearer to utilise them as a pocket.
The more colourful examples we see today are largely produced for women; however, the female adoption of the garment similarly holds a rebellious history. During the Edo period, similar dress restrictions prohibited common women from wearing haori jackets of any kind, although elaborate styles were sported by geisha as a masculine fashion statement, their own reference to the iki trend. Geisha embodied the height of fashion by virtue of their occupation, and were seemingly exempt from the Shogunate’s dress reforms as a result. However, following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which deposed the Shogunate and reinstated the Emperor, women began to adopt the haori for themselves as a practical overcoat, mainly as a layer of warmth and to protect the kimono from the dirt of the modernising cities. In a complete reversal of the women’s haori’s prohibitive relationship with the Shogunate, the Meiji authorities actually encouraged the wearing of the haorito the extent that it was advocated as part of the new school uniform for girls, along with hakama trousers, which were also initially the preserve of men. This promotion of conventionally ‘masculine’ attire for girls was a popular development amongst the girls themselves, who welcomed the bodily freedom and practicality which suited the new school curriculum (this was the first time that girls were compulsorily educated), which included physical education. Haori were also adopted by female university students in a more risque way – known as jogakusei; these young women wore them as masculine-style fashion statements alongside other conventionally male elements, such as cropped hair, as a means of asserting their difference from the previous generation of women and equality with their male counterparts. It is here that the vibrant external patterns featured on women’s haori begin to arise; male commentators of the period speak with abhorrence of these women wearing examples incorporating bold, unapologetic stripes. Despite criticisms however, the haori gradually became increasingly popular amongst all women, and by the 1930s the garment had become a mainstay of everyday women’s fashion, and was particularly popular amongst moga, or “Modern Girls,” Japan’s equivalent of the Western flapper.
The Modern Girl held an intriguing position in the popular imagination, and was equally admired for her style and freedom and despised for her flagrant denunciation of male authority. Modern Girls had their own source of income, largely being employed in cafes and department stores, and thus were active and independent participants in consumer culture. Just as men hybridised their business attire during the 1920s and ’30s by wearing Homburg hats with their haori, Modern Girls frequently wore a combination of Japanese-style clothing with otherwise Western outfits, cosmetics and accessories, and the haori existed as a convenient and practical outer layer for these ensembles, particularly as these young women spent much of their lives out and about in the city. Portraits of Modern Girls frequently aligned their appearance with the technology which surrounded them both at work and at play, and the haori becomes an effective signifier of the adaptation of conventionally Japanese attire within these ensembles. Yamakawa Shuho’s
(1898 – 1944) woodblock print Autumn, produced in 1927, presents a modern twist on the conventional bijin-ga print, a form of portrait depicting a beautiful woman, usually with a seasonal theme. The print retains the conventional framing of a woman with an emphasis on her face and a seasonal setting, signified by falling autumn leaves; however, her dress and appearance wholly complicate this representation. Her hair is arranged in tight twin buns on either side of her head – this is not a conventional Japanese hairstyle, and instead exists as a visual reference to the radio or telephone headsets frequently worn by the Modern Girl at work. Similarly, the woman is depicted as wearing a kimono, which would suggest a conventional beauty portrait; however, closer examination reveals a plain red shawl concealing not only a vibrant kimono, but a haori brightly patterned with hearts, clubs and diamonds – gambling iconography. Her haori becomes a reference to the duality of the Modern Girl’s popular persona; like a casino card game, she may be initially exciting and enticing, but also potentially dangerous. Full-length depictions of the Modern Girl in haori most commonly incorporate a much longer version than the standard hip-length styles most commonly seen prior to this process of adaptation. Yamakawa’s painting Spring Fields, created during the 1920s, actually depicts a girlabout-town wearing a haori which is so long that she is able to wear it over her head like a hood, enhancing the practicality of the garment alongside its decorative beauty. The several layers of silk which conceal her kimono-dad figure provide echoes of female court dress conventions of the Heian period (794 – 1185, an era which was considered a time of aesthetic and artistic beauty), which consisted of multiple layers of silk robes, each with a distinctive pattern and colour, often alluding to the seasons. However, the figure’s use of vibrant cosmetics, and the long haori itself, remind us that she is still most definitely a stylish and subversive Modern Girl of the 1920s, rather than a demure lady sequestered away in the Heian court.
Just as Japanese haori wearers of all genders began to incorporate Western fashion elements into their own dress ensembles and designs, the haori itself began to make its way into art and fashion in the USA and Europe. Following the signing of the Kanagawa treaty in 1854 – which opened Japan to international trade – art, textiles, ceramics and furniture items were widely imported and considered fashionable luxury items, leading to the foundation of businesses such as Farmer and Roger’s Oriental Warehouse in London in 1862. Notably, at the onset of their business, Farmer and Roger employed Arthur Lasenby Liberty (1843 -1917) the man who would later found the department store Liberty of London, famed for its British-printed but Asian-style fabrics. This trend for all things Japanese in style gained pace around ten years after the signing of the treaty, and by 1872 came to be known as 1aponisme’, with the influence of Japanese aesthetics upon domestic creative production spreading not only to art but to fashion, home furnishings and even garden design, with the influence of the movement enduring throughout the early twentieth century. Amongst the artists most closely linked with the movement were Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), who mainly created landscapes inspired by artists such as Katsushika Hokusai (17 60-1849) and Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) after he found a selection of crumpled prints being utilised as packaging for imported ceramics; and Claude Monet (1840-1926), who famously painted Madame Monet in Japanese Costume in 1875, a portrait of his wife wearing a vibrant red uchikake, a full-length padded and embroidered overcoat generally worn at a wedding ceremony. You see a variety of different kimono styles and related garments depicted by many artists taking part in the movement, yet rarely are any garments referenced by their specific names – they are always either just ‘kimono’ or simply labelled as ‘Japanese’. It is this lack of nuance concerning the type of kimono worn by the sitter which leads to many artists taking part in the movement actually depicting the haori jacket in their work, but labelling it too as a kimono – it appears that merely the draped sleeves and a sumptuous, ornately adorned fabric are enough to prompt an artist to name a garment as such. Even actual kimono are generally depicted worn in a manner more closely fitting the haori, existing as an open robe draped over the person (usually either nude or with a simple dress underneath) with no fastening – this is an artistic convention present in works by Irving R. Wiles (1861-1948; Brown Kimono, 1908), Gustav Klimt (1862-1918; Lacfy With A Fan, 1917), James Tissot (1836-1902; The Japanese Bath, 1864) and Robert Lewis Reid (1862-1929; Blue and Yellow, 1910) amongst others. However, an overt example of the haori itself appearing in Western art of this period is in the Dutch painter Isaac Israels’ (1865-1934) Model in Kimono (ca. 1893). In stark contrast to the depictions of women wearing kimono as a visual complement to the nude female form, here Israels places full emphasis on the garment itself; the model has her back to the viewer, displaying an elaborately patterned example in cream, red, blue and gold. The length of the garment extends only to the knee of the model, and it is worn with a simple black dress and shoes. This is an image of a haori being worn by a model, rather than she wearing it – and she is certainly not wearing a kimono!
In contemporary Japan, conventional Japanese clothing is now reserved predominantly for festivals and special occasions, and this includes the haori. However, haori continue to be produced using a variety of textile dying and weaving techniques, and vintage examples are readily available from the busy antique markets of large cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto. The haori has an incredible ability to showcase the latest global trends in textile design while still Pattern: Floral. Fabric Swatch. Silk
referencing Japanese themes and iconography, and these beautiful and affordable garments provide an invaluable insight into Japanese textile history. The vintage examples still existing today, dating largely from the 1920s to the present day following the onset of fabric mass production, portray a variety of styles and adaptation of repeating themes. An elaborate example from the 1930s is crafted from a simple lilac silk, hand-painted with deep purple roses in a style reminiscent of the traditional ink-painting art of sumi-e, which uses only simple ink brushstrokes in order to suggest a natural form. While the design is noticeably Japanese in style and appears on a Japanese garment, its simplicity and clean lines lend itself easily to the Art Deco movement blossoming worldwide at the time of its creation.
Contemporary designs also utilise traditional handicraft styles such as this in order to reference Japanese textile history; another example is dyed using the shibori technique, a form of tie-dye involving stitching and knotting fabric, in order to suggest a forest. In contrast, a much later example from the 1980s, which also features roses as its central theme, utilises a synthetic fabric and incorporates a vibrant red woven design, using metallic thread for emphasis – a much more visually ‘busy’ treatment of the rose motif in comparison with its 1930s predecessor and referencing global aesthetic trends for extravagance and bold fabrics. What is also clear from the huge amount of vintage haori available is that they were not only produced using these expensive techniques, but that often colour, style and affordability were the key motivations for their production, much like the ‘fast fashion’ kimono-style jackets popularly produced by many retailers worldwide today. The most vibrant examples of these more affordably produced haori were mass-produced on cheaper silk and decorated using screen printing; a large number originate from the 1960s. Two examples here involve abstract fan motifs, one in a bright orange and the other in a muted tea-brown with bold vermillion accents. However, affordable screen-printed haori did not only quench a popular thirst for the strikingly contemporary – another example in a faded duck-egg blue features ornate birds and flowers, directly referencing the woodblock prints known as kachii-e, literally ‘bird and flower pictures’, showing a direct combination of wholly conventional motifs artistically executed using entirely modern methods. Perhaps most fascinating is the endurance of the iki understated elegance trend, which we have established as existing since the Edo period – a contemporary example, made from heavy black silk, uses small highlights of iridescent thread in order to suggest a floral form, almost giving the impression of oil on water; from a distance, the garment appears largely plain. Enacting dialogues between old and new in its very fabric, the haori can only continue to evolve as truly wearable art, albeit largely under the radar of artistic and fashionable recognition worldwide.
Lois Barnett is a PhD student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London). She has been focusing on Japanese fashion history in her work since beginning her studies at SOAS in 2010. Her research involves exploring motivations for including Western costume in Japanese cinema of the 1920s and ’30s, alongside audience responses to its inclusion as found in related print media.
photos: lois barnett Enacting dialogues between old and new in its very fabric, the Japanese haori can only continue to evolve as truly wearable art, albeit largely under the radar of artistic and fashionable recognition worldwide. The words ‘Japanese fashion’ immediately evoke one image in the popular imagination: the flowing, straight lines of the kimono.…