The Japanese Suit and Modernity

Even the most casual observer of Japanese fashion will usually come to the conclusion that although men ostensibly dress in suits like their European and American brothers, something different is going on.  Closer examination is even more intriguing; modern Japanese menswear somehow uses the suit as its emblem and sartorial workhorse, but it does so for almost none of the reasons usually considered part of the orthodoxy of fashion theory and upon which the explanations of the sequence and causality in mens fashion rest.


Japan was unique in its experience of adopting, appropriating, and restyling foreign clothes because it did so without colonization and before extensive industrialization.  Furthermore, almost none of the factors traditionally attributed to the refinement of the most common and long-lasting of male dress forms can be applied in the Japanese case.  The class arrangements and political revolutions had little equivalence to the French-revolutionary-born sartorial codes based on bourgeois demonstration of wealth without aristocratic ostentation.


Elites’s size and response to modernity were entirely different.  European and American religious reforms and their clothing expressions were irrelevant, and gender relations were differently demarcated and thus reformed in wholly different ways.

What then precipitated the Japanese response—to the crisis of masculine clothing in modern times—to produce the same solution as in the West?  And what does that say about what is universal and what is culturally specific in the aesthetics of masculine clothing in modernity?

— Toby Slade