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Past to Present - A Walk Through The MET'S Kimono Style: The John C. Weber Collection

If there were any garment in history that has historically reflected a person's personality, socio-economic status, and identity, it would be the Japanese Kimono. The Kimono is a simply constructed garment that has been around for thousands of years and is a part of the traditional Japanese dress. This garment structure has allowed room for modification throughout the years with patterns and designs that tell stories of the culture and the evolving social structure of Japan since as early as the Heian period. Its peak of influence during the Edo-period has not died down. Kimonos continue to have strong staying power within the fashion industry despite fashion trends and the impact of technology on the industry.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is hosting an exhibition titled, Kimono Style: The John C. Weber Collection, available for viewing until February 20, 2023. In this exhibition, pieces by art collector John C. Weber highlights the wide range of traditional kimonos in a beautiful and thoughtful way. To read more about the exhibition and its specific pieces click the link below.

The most notable part about this Met exhibit is how it highlights the important timeline that brings us into the use of the kimono in modern fashion. The garment’s history is vital to understand the longevity of the kimono’s pattern. It also opens up our views on how much traditional dress continues to contribute to our fashion industry today.

The exhibition provides a clear timeline linking the past to the present as we make our way through the history of Kimono fashion. Many might not know the full history of the Kimono and this can cause some disconnection with the garment itself. Although the Kimono dates back to the Heian Period from 745 AD- 1185, the kimono's first documented appearance was during the period right after, called the Kamakura period, dating from 1185-1322. During this time, it appeared as a general name for clothing by the Portuguese settlers, who were the first European settlers that arrived in Japan. In their writings they noted that the words “qimono or qirumono” meant clothes. These observers additionally took note of the different versions like the katabira, designed for summer, and the awase, worn in autumn. The closest to what we now call the kimono was the kosode which was the most common garment worn throughout the Edo period. It came in varying sleeve lengths and the lining underneath helped it transition from season to season. During the Edo period in Japan, the way people wore clothing reflected their knowledge in subjects such as art and history. It also told us about their place in the class system. The kosode is just one of the many types of kimonos seen throughout Japanese history!

Kimonos and the Impact of Technology

As you walk through this exhibition, you slowly start to see the incorporation of garments from the 20th to the 21st century. The intention is to show the incorporation of Japanese culture into our western world. This happened during the late 19th century and influenced our Western fashion. The democratization of Kimonos that occurred during this time was due to the popularity of the textile called meisen and the incorporation of modern technology. Technological innovation helped Japanese manufacturers increase production of not only fabrics and materials but kimono patterns as well.