Kimono of the Edo period (1615-1868)
The Edo period was one of unprecedented political stability, economic growth, and urban expansion. Kyoto, the old capital, remained the centre of aristocratic culture and luxury production while Edo, the new headquarters chosen by the Tokugawa shōgun (military ruler), developed from a small fishing port into one of the largest cities in the world.In Edo and elsewhere, a dynamic urban culture developed in which fashionable dress played a central role.
The primary consumers of sumptuous kimono were the samurai, the ruling military class.Yet it was the merchant and artisan classes, or chōnin, who benefited most from the peace and prosperity of the period. However, the rigid hierarchy of Tokugawa Japan meant that they could not use their wealth to improve their social status. Instead they had to find different outlets for their money, such as buying beautiful clothes. It was this new market that stimulated the great flowering of the textile arts in the Edo period. The kimono developed into a highly expressive means of personal display, an important indicator of the rising affluence and aesthetic sensibility of the chōnin.There were even fashion contests between the wives of the wealthiest merchants, who tried to outdo one another with ever more dazzling displays of splendid costume.Such excesses troubled the shogunate as they threatened to upset the strict social order and sumptuary laws that restricted the kind of fabrics, techniques and colours used by the chōnin were periodically issued.
Although the laws were not consistently enforced, leading to regular shifts between opulence and restraint, they did usher in certain changes. New techniques were developed and the use of subdued colours and fabrics became increasingly common. This was part of a new aesthetic known as iki, or elegant chic, in which anyone with real taste focussed on subtle details.Those with style and money also found other ways to circumvent the rules. It became very fashionable, for example, to use the highly coveted, but forbidden, colour red on undergarments and linings, for these were not covered by the restrictions.
Figure 1 This kimono would have been worn by a woman of the samurai class, the ruling military elite of Japan during the Edo period (1615-1868). The design has has been created using a paste-resist method called chaya-zome, which involves the extensive coverage of the fabric with rice paste, leaving only small areas of design to create the pattern when the cloth is dyed. This highly skilled and expensive technique, which results in an indigo blue design on a white ground, was reserved for the summer kimono of high ranking samurai women. Here the technique has been combined with a stencil-dyeing technique called kata kanoko and embroidery in silk and metallic threads.
Figure 2 The padded hem on this kimono indicates that it is an outer kimono, or uchikake, designed for winter wear. Uchikake were worn without an obi, the sash that secures the garment, so no part of the design would have been obscured. The shibori, or tie-dyeing, technique has been used to create a pattern of paper gift ornaments in the shape of butterflies. This has been combined with embroidered plum blossoms. This auspicious motif was a popular one in winter, for it suggested that the arrival of spring was not too far away.
Figure 3 The long 'swinging sleeves' (furisode) of this kimono indicate that it would have been worn by a young woman. Red was a popular choice for young women’s kimono because the colour symbolised youth and glamour. The dye, known as beni, was produced from safflowers and was very expensive. The whole garment is decorated using a tie-dyeing technique known as shibori, which was also very costly. The woman who wore this kimono must have come from a very wealthy family. The auspicious design of pine, bamboo and plum on the hem and sleeve ends suggests she wore it for a special occasion. The garment has been shortened at the waist, indicating that it was designed, or later adapted, to be an under-kimono.