And For Some More Japonisme To Brighten Your Day…

Recently, we came across this striking example of a day dress, circa 1876, influenced by Japonisme. Starting with the opening of Japan to the West in the 1860s, Western fashion and specifically, female fashion, saw the use of imported Japanese textiles as well as incorporating various Japanese-inspired decorative motifs in domestic-produced textiles of which Liberty of London was one of the leading producers. However, at the same time, Japan was also adapting to Western fashion although it was on a more limited scale.

Here are a few views of the dress:

Day Dress c. 1876

Day Dress, American, made by Martha J. De La Mater, c. 1876; The Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY (N0129.1966)

Day Dress c. 1876

Close-Up Of Bodice

This basic fashion fabric is made from a brown/copper silk combined with a silk brocade patterned with chrysanthemums- a fairly common Japanese motif. The trim is minimal except for metallic gold beading running along the front waist and edges of the overskirt. In terms of style, the pseudo-waist sash and knotted front overskirt combined with the pleated front bodice are suggestive of a kimono. At the same time, mandarin collar gives the front bodice a clean, crisp finish that doesn’t distract from the rest of the dress- no excess lace, netting or trim.

Here are a few more views:

Day Dress c. 1876

Side Profile – Close-Up

Day Dress c. 1876

Side Profile – Full View

Day Dress c. 1876

Three-Quarters Frontal View

Day Dress c. 1876

The Maker’s Label – Martha J. De La Mater

This dress was made by a Martha De La Mater who was one of several dressmakers working in Albany and she’s is listed in the 1889 edition of the Albany City Directory. Also, the dress was made for a one Lucy Clark.

We hope you’ve liked this little foray back into the world of Japonisme– as we find more interesting examples, we’ll be posting them here for your viewing pleasure. 🙂

Introducing The Camille

We would like to take this opportunity to introduce another version of our newest and most exciting dress designs, the Camille. Inspired by the Aesthetic Movement, Impressionism, and a touch of Japonisme, we attempted to combine shades of green and chartreuse along with floral motifs to create a dress evocative of spring. Here are just a few views:

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The Camille is based on the Mid-Bustle Era styles that the Impressionist models would wear, primarily characterized by a fitted, narrow tied-back skirt that is swagged, pleated, and ruffled with fullness from the knees down. This style was also made popular by the famous actresses of the time such as Lilly Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt. What also makes this skirt more distinct is the custom bayleuse which is installed in each of our dresses which serve to create the distinct silhouette that characterized the late 1870s/early 1880s.

Lily Absinthe Goes Picnicing…

Today we decided to take the day off and go to a picnic…but not just any kind of picnic but a Victorian-themed one. 🙂 The picnic was held at Rancho Camulos, one of hte last surviving examples of a Californio rancho and it’s a wonderful location. Established by Ygnacio Del Valle in 1853, Rancho Camulos was once part of a 48,000 acre Mexican land grant deeded to Ygnacio’s father Antonio Del Valle in 1839. Also, most notably, Rancho Camulos is also the purported setting for Helen Jackson Hunt’s famous book Ramona.

Below are some pictures from the day’s festivities:

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The two of us with a friend.

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The two of us- somehow I managed to squint during this picture. Go figure.

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Me striking a pose in the grape arbor.

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Karin posing in a version of our new Camille dress design.

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And another of me in the grape arbor.

The weather was perfect and it was easy to lose all sense of time, relaxing in the cool ocean breezes underneath shady trees. The time was all too short. 🙂

Lilly Absinthe Looks At The Meiji Era

Today we travel to Japan to talk about the impact of Western fashion during the 1880s and 90s. As it’s been often said, fashion influences are a two-way street and while Japonisme developed in Western Europe in response to contact with Japan, the converse occurred in Japan. We hope you enjoy this little introduction.


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Toyohara Chikanobu (豊原周延) (1838–1912), better known to his contemporaries as Yōshū Chikanobu (楊洲周延), Women and girls in Western dress with various hairstyles.

The the mid to late 19th Century, or more properly the Meiji Era (1868 – 1912, saw the rapid modernization of Japan as it strove to position itself as a nation of stature equal to the West. As part of this modernization process, the adoption of many elements of Western culture was seen as desirable and not only when it came to building and maintaining military and economic strength. The consequences of not modernizing were starkly apparent, they only had to look to their unfortunate neighbor China which was rapidly being subjugated by European imperialism, either directly through the outright seizure to territory or indirectly through economic domination and all enshrined in various unequal treaties.

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Toyohara Chikanobu (豊原周延) (1838–1912), better known to his contemporaries as Yōshū Chikanobu (楊洲周延), The Emperor Meiji, 1887.

In their quest to strengthen themselves vis-a-vis the West, the Japanese adopted many Western cultural elements to include dress, viewing the adoption of Western dress as a way of being taken seriously by Westerners.  In much the same way individuals in the West (.e., America and Western Europe) chose their clothes with an eye towards maintaining respectability, the Japanese as a nation sought to emulate the West by adopting its fashions. g themselves to world at their best, so did that Japanese when it came to interacting with the West. However, at the same time, the Japanese also impressed their own design aesthetic on Western clothing and making it their own.

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Yoshū Chikanobu – The Emperor, the young Crown Prince and the Empress are accompanied by court ladies on an outing to Asuka Park (1890)

Starting mainly with military uniforms, the Western was gradually adopted by ordinary Japanese, spurred along by the Emperor and the Imperial family’s example. The adoption of Western dress was formalized in 1871 when the Emperor Meiji issued an edict directing that all his officials and men at court were to wear Western dress:

The national polity is indomitable, but manners and customs should be adaptable. We greatly regret that the uniform of our court has been established following the Chinese custom, and it has become exceedingly effeminate in style and character. We should no longer appear before the people in these effeminate styles, and we have therefore decided to reform dress regulations entirely.[1]

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Emperor Meiji (1852 – 1912)

A similar edict for women was issued by the Empress Haruko on January 17, 1887:

Now we can no longer restrict ourselves to bowing from a kneeling position, but will have to observe the Naniwa style of bowing while standing.  Moreover, if we look at contemporary Western women’s wear, we find that it combines a top or jacket and a skirt in the manner of our ancient Japanese system of dress.  This is not only suitable for the formal standing bow but also convenient for action and movement and makes it only natural to adopt the Western method of sewing.[2]

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Empress Haruko (1849 – 1914)

Also, edits were issued directing that Western dress (principally prescribed uniforms) was to be worn when conducting official business.

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Family Portrait

For many Japanese of lesser rank, the adoption of Western dress was at first somewhat superficial in that it would be worn outside the home during “business hours” but at home they would change into traditional clothing. Also, it should be noted that Western dress was not  always the most practical, especially when it came to removing one’s shoes when entering a house or maneuvering around the house in a bustle dress. Finally, the adoption of Western dress was largely restricted to larger urban areas; it would take longer for more isolated rural regions.

Below are some illustrations of Japanese women wearing Western dress:

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The above illustration also includes hairstyles.

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The Imperial Family

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Close-Up

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Adachi Ginkō, illustration of Ladies Sewing, 1887. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Along with the adoption of Western fashions were the methods of creating those fashions as can be seen from the above illustration. Below are a few examples in photographs:

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Unfortunately, we were unable to date the above photograph but the style would suggest the 1890s, either early or late judging from the sleeves.

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Nagako Nabeshima (1855-1941)

Japan Meiji Era

Nagako Nabeshima (1855-1941)

Japan Meiji Era

Nagako Nabeshima (1855-1941)

Nagako Nabeshima was married to the Marquis Naohiro Nabeshima, a nobleman who was connected with the Imperial family and had spent a lot of time in the West serving in various official positions. Below is a photograph of Akiko Maeda, Marquise and first wife of the Toshitsugu Maeda, another high-ranking noble:[3]

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Akiko Maeda (1870 – 1949), c. 1887

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Akiko Maeda, c. 1887, back side of picture.

Akiko’s day dress is firmly in the late 1880s in regard to style and would not be out of place in any major City in either America or Europe. From the picture, it appears that the outer skirt and bodice are silk accompanied with  cut velvet underskirt. The same cut velvet is on the front of the bodice.

Just for contrast, here’s something more in the “street style” category:

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This picture is interesting in the somewhat awkward pose as well as the incongruous cigar that’s clearly been added in later (early Photoshop 🙂 ). The sack suit and bowler hat are a bit too large while the dress appears to fit pretty well. Judging from the styles, it appears that this picture was probably taken sometime in the late 1890s.

So far we’ve seen various pictures, both illustrations and photographs, of Western fashion in Japan. What about actual extant examples? Well, here’s a formal day dress that belonged to Nagako Nabeshima:

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Day Dress/Reception Dress, c. 1880s, belonging to Marquise Nagako Nabeshima; Jingu Chokokan Museum

Day Dress - Japanese In European Style 1880s

Close-up of the train.

Unfortunately, the Jingu Chokokan Museum website did not have any pictures of the front of the dress but nevertheless, this dress is a spectacular example of cultural fusion in dress. One can see the traditional Japanese design motifs in the fabric and the trim. We wish there was more information available in English on this dress.

The impact of Western dress during the Meiji Era was somewhat superficial in that, outside of the Imperial Army and Navy, it was mostly adopted by the Imperial Court and those with some sort of connection with the government. In many Japanese, Western dress was worn for public occasions or when performing official duties; at home they switched to traditional dress. In later decades, one would see a resurgence of traditional dress and especially with the Kimono.

This is admittedly just a brief overview of a somewhat complex history and in future posts we hope to explore this them of cultural interaction more closely. 🙂


1. Nakagawa, Keiichiro, and Henry Rosovsky. 1963. The Case of the Dying Kimono: The Influence of Changing Fashions on the Development of the Japanese Woolen Industry. Business History Review 37 (1 & 2):59-78.

2. Ibid.

3. Both Marquis Naohiro Nabeshima and Marquis Toshitsugu Maeda were former Daimyos, or feudal lords who had lost their hereditary land holdings with the consolidation of the Meiji regime. Essentially, these former feudal lords were co-opted into a Western-style nobility which had been created as part of Japan’s modernization. Naturally, many of these former feudal lords were put to work for the new Meiji regime.