Buying clothes in Japan is relatively difficult for many foreigners. Generally, this is related to size because Japanese are more petite than most westerners but one of my students recently told me that there is more to it than that. This particular student worked for Ralph Lauren and currently works for another major European fashion designer so she knows a great deal about clothes and about adapting western designs for the Japanese market in particular.
It seems that there are basic pattern differences in addition to issues of size. My student told me that Japanese waists are basically oval-shaped whereas western waists are circular. Before some wag says this has something to do with western people being fatter, let me make it clear that it's not about size but about basic body shape. Two women of the same basic size from each culture wouldn't find the same pants in the same size of the same fit. It seems that western patterns have to be altered to include gathering to fit Japanese bodies. This problem also makes it hard for Japanese women abroad to buy clothes that fit them well even when they're able to find small enough sizes.
Last month I wrote a post about train stations in Japan and remarked about a picture of a woman in a kimono that I believed the woman was wearing it for her job or a ceremonial purpose. In the comments, someone mentioned that Japanese women also wore them for style and I wanted to ask this particular student (as well as my other female students) if they felt Japanese women wore kimono for style purposes. My female students said they did not but thought it was possible that some women did. The student who works for a fashion designer emphatically stated that she believed Japanese women never wore kimono unless it was a holiday, special event or required for their work.
I asked my student why she believed this was so and she said that there were a lot of reasons. The primary one is the oft-cited difficulty putting it on. She said that it's hard to dress yourself and to tie the obi properly. She also said that it's heavy, hot, and tight and quite uncomfortable to wear. While she believed kimono looks gorgeous, it's simply too much of a hassle to put on and too great a pain to walk around in to voluntarily wear for fashion purposes.
This particular student favors vintage 60s western clothing whens he dresses for style and said that she loves the kind of dresses worn by Elizabeth Montgomery on early seasons of "Bewitched". Interestingly though, she told me that those vintage dresses are too tight across the upper body for her, particularly on her arms. This is despite the fact that she is quite small overall and her upper body looks completely average for a Japanese woman. I'm not sure if that means women were bonier in the 60s or that the type of dresses that survived to be offered in vintage shops were the smaller sizes that people rarely bought. The types of dresses my student favors have one great advantage for the Japanese figure. They are tight at the top but relatively billowy below the neck. There are no worries about the fit around the waist.