Bebe Taian: Getting a Stylish Look, pt. 3

May 27, 2017

Getting a Stylish Look, pt. 3

Oda, 1920s - Beauty
Resting, Summer Evening
Whether a person is more or less experienced, you can always remember that fashionable women in the 'water business' were always considered stylish and sexy, whereas a 'proper wife' was demure, almost asexual. Whether you look to modern geisha or to ukiyo-e, you can get a historical sense of what kinds of style has lasted the test of time, and therefore is 'classic'- like the ever-present Western "little black dress".

I prefer the older styles, but it is important to recognise what is modern and what belonged in Edo period so that what I wear is appropriate to the modern era and does not look like an odd costume. For example, obijime did not exist until the mid-1800s, so copying exactly how something from before then looked today would appear strange or only partially done. Black silk contrasting collars were more frequent many years ago when clothing was washed much less often, so they can still be appropriate with certain outfits (such as machiko, "town girls"), but for the most part, you do not see these now. Wearing tabi is a matter of style; sex workers would sometimes not wear tabi, either because they are so lowly that it isn't worth the fabric expense, or because they are so high-ranking that a few toes peeking out of volumes of fabric, a sign of extreme wealth, was considered highly erotic. But for "normal women", generally, tabi should be worn except with geta. Geta are summer shoes, so it's often too hot to wear tabi. Today, many people choose lace tabi to prevent blisters from their shoes in the heat and humidity, so that gives more options that did not exist historically.

Hakuhou, 1930s -
Summer Clothing
Figuring out what works for you is a matter of experience. Figuring out what components keep cropping up in popular fashion takes work and can help provide experience. Figuring out what is routinely expected according to modern-day rules takes effort.

Sometimes, I just want to wear an outfit without needing to research it like I'm writing a capstone thesis.

Planning an outfit sounds so involved and tedious when I write out my thought process. But... now that I've done it so long, it's natural to me. Sometimes I don't even notice little connections until after I have the whole outfit on... You will get there, too.

In this case, the serenity of these two early Showa ukiyo-e show so much serenity despite the early stages of rising fascism and war in Japan, and have such excellent technical details for their medium that they are amongst my favourites during summertime. Taking cues from these, pairing black summer kimono (either sha or ro) with hakata obi and invoking the blues of water is essential to the height of fashion. Note the pale blue collar in Hakuhou, or the blue geta and matching obiage/obijime combo in Oda. The splash of deep royal purple in Oda's work is a colour associated with deep cold- a refreshing nod of hope on what must have been an oppressively hot, humid day, not unlike the ones we have in Florida. Bare feet are exposed, being far too hot for tabi in this weather. Jade hairpins are the norm, putting away the warm coral pieces for the chilly Autumn season. I paid close attention here- tiny hints of red are frequent, and it was a matter of pride to expertly pair a juban with the transparent kimono, the pattern of the lower layer being sighted through the upper layer, much as in the Cult of Beauty days of the Heian era. In Hakuhou, the juban colour is matched with the obiage colour, and a tea-green obijime is paired to literally and visually tie the disparate-looking elements together for an overall image of beauty. In Oda, she dresses more conservatively, matching komono (accessories) together for a cohesive feeling of total coolness.

I have a few black and deep blue summer kimono now, and bought a hakata obi some years ago. a knot that Tokyo geisha are known for. I own a red summer obiage and a narrow green obijime already- now I only need more appropriately-coloured geta! Although with a red obiage, my red hanao are quite nice. Appropriately, my favourite black summer kimono is a Taisho antique, made just before these two paintings! But it is also exceedingly fragile, so I have to be very careful when wearing it.

White base with blue or deep blue are most popular and fetch a higher price. Today, you mostly see hakata weave in men's kaku obi, on hanhaba obi, or on dancers. I have a special love for hakata weaves; they are tight, repeating patterns which make the fabric quite strong despite it's thinness, and every pattern has a story. The one I purchased is 'komochi Yoshiwara', a chainlink pattern which symbolizes enduring relationships which cannot break. Yoshiwara is also the former pleasure district of Tokyo, and the women there relied entirely on repeat patrons for their livelihoods. Unpopular courtesans did not fare well. I keep this in mind when I tie it in yanagi-musubi,

These paintings show exactly what I should buy by example, and how to put the outfit together- and you know what? This combination still looks as fantastic today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

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