Development and Evolution of Japanese School Uniform

Among Asian countries, Japan is the first country which took its steps into western industrial field. However, to the western countries, Japan is still an mysterious eastern land. There are a lot of things, which we can tell the differences directly by just looking at it, such as Japanese tea ceremony and their obsession with sword, but can we really feel the concept and history behind it? I’d like to talk about one of the feature from this unique culture, the Japanese school uniform.

Start from Meiji era. This is the era which Meiji Emperor opened the door of Japan to tons of western countries for business and trading. Before that, Japan didn’t design uniforms for students was just the traditional clothes. Students at that time were basically from relatively rich families. The clothes they wore were traditional formal clothes. Girls wore kimono and boys wore Hakama.

Towards the end of Meiji era and the beginning of Taisyo era, due to the influences from foreign countries, the mixture of Japanese culture and western culture was formed. The uniform school boys wore was called Gakuran. It has a hat, a black top with a stand-up collar, usually has five golden color buttons and a black bottom, but with Geta on their feet. For school girls, they wore Hakama, which was different from men’s wear, it was specially designed for lady to wear, with leather boots and tied a bow on their hair. This style of school uniform became so popular among school girls at Taisho era. Personally I think it was the most lovely combination among all the different school uniforms in the history of the development of Japanese uniform.

Ever since school boys’ uniform was designed, this style lasts from that time all the way to present days. However, school girls’ uniform kept changing because of the wars in the 20th century. Base on World War One broke out in 1914, there were women joined the army and navy, the evolution of woman’s clothing of that inspired Japan. The traditional Japanese kimono limited the movement of human body and was much more expensive than to make a western suit. The first western style uniform was a one piece suit, but it benefited the movement a lot compare to kimono. Later the separated top and bottom suit was designed. In 1930s, more and more schools make the sailor suit, which top and bottom was separate dominated the campus. The Taisho era was also a great change from the mix-culture school uniform to sailor suit base on the historical change. Sailor suit was basically settle down since then. It was easier for girls to do the training and not losing its loose and gentle feeling at the same time.

Unfortunately, because of World War Two broke out in 1939, there were no enough materials and food produced in Japan, lots of school girls lost their opportunities to continued study at school. They had to started working in the farm or went to work in the workshop. For the convenience, the sailor skirt was changed into pants which has a name called Monpe. This was also a interesting combination base on the historical effects in the development of Japanese school uniform. After World War Two ended, the sailor skirt reappeared in the society as the formal school uniform for girls.

In Showa era, Japanese school uniform have already become one of the most typical features of the country. School boys are still wearing black stand-up collar suit, school girls wear sailor suit and short skirt with variety of colors and patterns. The post war period also had a lot of different features. At that period of time, the birth rate increased a lot after the war, too many students were applying limited number of schools. The harsh competition and rules increased students’ rebellious mentalities and this feature showed on their uniforms too. For example, school boys and girls started to break the rules to remodeled their uniforms. Sad, but true, the lantern-like trousers gave easier movement during a fight and long dress for girls was easier for them to hide weapons such as rope and bat.

To prevent this further expanded, school uniforms evolved again. This time, designers change sailor suit into a combination with western suit. Reason one, the western suit was not easy to remodeled and reason two was it looks even modern compared to sailor suit. Some of them use tie and bow instead of sailor scarf. And also have sweater and jacket for fall and winter.

Beautiful looking school uniform obviously attracted more student to come to school and study at their school. The rebel rate decreased because of the uniform changed. Nowadays, in Heisei era, sailor suit and stand-up collar suit still take a larger amount of percentage among schools than western style uniform does. These two different style uniforms show the path of the development and evolution of Japanese uniform from Edo era all the way to Heisei era. They not only tell the story of each time period, but also visualize the culture of Japan on different generations.

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