The Asian societies that began in modern-day China are among the oldest known human societies on earth. Though they were at least as developed and sophisticated as early civilizations in Mesopotamia (centered in present-day Iraq) and Egypt, these Asian societies have received far less study and attention in the West.
Up until very recently, people in the Western world had a very limited understanding of the kinds of clothing worn in Asia. Our pictures of Asian clothing relied on stereotypes of Japanese people wearing kimono, or long robes with wide sleeves, and Chinese people wearing Mao suits, the simply cut, dull-colored outfits favored by the Communist Party.
The cheongsam (CHONG-sahm) is the dress that most westerners associate with China. It is a long, close-fitting dress with short sleeves, a slit up one side, a mandarin collar (a round, stand-up collar that is worn close to the neck), and a fastening across the right side of the upper chest.
The dragon is one of the most ancient and powerful symbols in Chinese culture. A composite of many animals, including a snake, an eagle, a tiger, and a devil, the dragon symbolized the natural world and transformation.
The hakama is a pleated, two-part lower garment usually referred to as either full-cut trousers or a divided skirt. It began as a long trailing garment in ancient times and in more recent times has been worn as a standard part of male ceremonial attire and by martial artists.
The outer garment worn over the kosode (a sort of robe) by both men and women, the haori is cut like a kimono but is shorter, varying in length from mid thigh to mid calf. The haori has one layer of silk, like a kimono, and is lined with another layer of silk or cotton.
The ho is the outermost robe of the ceremonial form of dress called sokutai, the Japanese equivalent of the Western man's formal suit. Noblemen, or those of the upper class, were wearing sokutai back in the Heian period (794–1185 C.E.), and today the crown prince of Japan wears this costume in official ceremonies.
Kataginu are men's vests with broad, wing-like shoulders, worn with hakama, or trousers, to form a kamishimo, or complementary outfit. The hakama are worn in a contrasting color or fabric from the kataginu.
The kimono is the most basic term for traditional Japanese dress. The term literally translates as "thing to wear." The word kimono came into use in the late nineteenth century as a way to distinguish native clothing from Western clothing, and thereafter became more common in Japan.
The word kinu (KEE-nu) literally means "silk" in Japanese but was the term for a short coat worn in ancient Japan. It is one of the earliest clothing forms identified as Japanese, and it can be seen on haniwa figurines, sculptured pottery placed in burial mounds, from the Nara period (710–794 C.E.).
The kosode (KOH-so-da) is a basic item of Japanese dress for both men and women. It was once worn as an undergarment, and is what most people imagine when using the much broader term kimono.
What westerners now call a mandarin shirt is actually a form of dress that dates back to the ancient Han dynasty (207 B.C.E.–200 C.E.) in China. At that time it was called the ju and was characterized by its high round neckline that was fastened off center.
The obi (OH-bee) is the waist wrapper that is always worn with the kimono and is essential to Japanese dress. The kimono, a long robe with wide sleeves worn as an outer garment, has no fastenings of its own.
Over thousands of years of Chinese and later Japanese history, many different forms of headwear and hairstyles were worn, depending both upon fashion and upon the restrictions that were placed on fashions at any given time. In this brief accounting, just a few of the most distinctive of those styles will be discussed.
While both Chinese and Japanese cultures have some interesting and even spectacular traditions of body decoration, what is perhaps most striking is how little these early Asian cultures depended upon ornament. Both cultures valued simplicity.
The fan, a simple device by which a person can wave air at his or her body in order to cool it, has been one of the most basic fashion accessories for thousands of years. There is evidence that some type of flat paddle used to move air had been used in ancient Mesopotamia (the region centered in present-day Iraq), Egypt, Greece, and Rome, but the Chinese are widely believed to have been the first to use the fan as a decorative item.
Kabuki is a style of traditional Japanese theater that includes music, dance, and drama. First performed by females, after 1629 only male actors could take part in Kabuki, and they played both the male and female characters.
The Japanese have developed one of the most beautiful and intricate systems of tattooing in the entire world. Tattooing is thought to date to the earliest evidence of human life on the Japanese islands, in the Jomon period (c.
The Chinese were one of the first ancient peoples to develop a wide range of footwear. Shoes made from woven and stitched straw have been dated to about 5000 B.C.E.
For over a thousand years, tiny feet were symbols of feminine beauty, elegance, and sexuality in China. In order to achieve the goal of tiny three-inch "lotus feet" (the lotus was a kind of flower), most young Chinese girls had their feet bound tightly with strips of cloth to prevent growth.
Geta (GAY-tah) are the traditional footwear of all kimono-wearers in modern and traditional Japan. They are raised clogs (shoes with a heavy, often wooden sole) and are closely related to the low, wedge-shaped sandals called zori.
The Japanese footwear known as tabis (TAH-bees), literally translated as "footbag," are commonly worn on the feet inside the traditional Japanese house. Yet it is more than just a pair of socks.
Zori are sandals similar to what are known as flip-flops in the West. They are the most ancient form of footwear in Japan.