Style / December 2017

The Evolution of Japanese Tailoring

Heavily influenced by Europe and American Ivy League style, tailoring has always played a huge role in Japan’s sartorial landscape.

A group of the Miyuke-zuku, a youth sub-culture movement that emerged around Ginza's Miyuke Street in the 1960s.

Japan is famous for its mastery of Ivy League style. Brought over during the American occupation following World War II, it represented an exciting and, at the time, dangerous way of dressing. Fuelled by the panic around the supposedly-compromised morals of the style’s early adopters (the Miyuki-zoku) and supported by brands like VAN Jacket, it became the uniform of the young, hip and well-to-do. The Ivy Style story is still a big part of what makes the Japanese sartorial scene so fascinating today, but there is another aspect of Japanese tailoring that’s equally as fascinating and as worthy, and its influences are squarely European. Indeed, it’s not an overstatement to say that Japan produces some of the finest Italian-style tailoring found anywhere in the world.

Tailoring has been a cornerstone of the Japanese dress since the latter days of the Meiji Restoration, a period of imperialist reform beginning in 1863, during which Japan ‘threw open its doors’ to Western influence and technology. By the 1930s, most urban Japanese men wore suits. Suits were exclusively tailor-made, heavily influenced by British tradition and, even up until the 1950s, very much of a conservative bent. Following the Ivy explosion in the early ’60s, however, the sartorial landscape started to look decidedly different. “Once VAN Jacket had become the ‘Ivy brand’, a lot of the other companies that popped up needed something to make themselves distinctive and needed a different kind of style,” says Tokyo-based culture writer W. David Marx, author of Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style. “They got into what was called ‘continental’, and being continental was essentially ‘British mod plus Paris, St. Germain student’. This became a counterpoint to VAN Jacket - VAN would be what a normal rich kid wore, whereas the fashion industry insiders were very into European fashion. From there on every time that American fashion would come in, there would be a counter-wave of European fashion.”

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Ben St George

Ben St George is The Rake's Head of Buying