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New Looks for Traditional Summer Garment

August 11, 2000
Yukata on display at a Tokyo department store. (Mitsukoshi)

Fireworks displays, ennichi fairs, and Bon dances are just some of the spectacles that give Japanese summers their poetic charm. None of them would be complete, however, without the yukata, a light-weight cotton kimono. In recent times, the sight of a woman in traditional kimono--even during the New Year's season--has become increasingly rare; yet the summertime yukata, with its simple, airy design, has not lost its appeal. It is as popular today as it has ever been, though new designs are emerging that force one to reconsider its cultural novelty.

A New Take on Yukata
A yukata is by no means inexpensive, and yet even during a time of recession--when clothing sales in general remain low--it has enjoyed popularity. Several women's fashion magazines have issued special editions featuring yukata, and department stores and other Japanese clothing outlets have set up colorful yukata exhibits in their display windows. Even brand-name designers who usually make little use of traditional Japanese styles are beginning to produce yukata. New types of yukata designed to be even more comfortable than the traditional garment have become exceptionally popular.

Yukata sporting brand names first enjoyed popularity during the bubble economy of the late 1980s, but even after that they continued to sell well. Starting in 2000, Onward Kashiyama Co., a popular Japanese apparel maker, began producing a line of yukata for its "23-ku" and "23-ku Homme" brands, both of which target people in their mid-twenties and early thirties. Meanwhile, Anna Sui, a New York fashion designer, has been licensed by a Japanese kimono maker to start producing its own line of yukata; United Colors of Benetton, a leading Italian producer of casual apparel, is coming out with both men's and women's yukata; and Comme ça du Mode, a Japanese brand, has been making yukata since 1992.

But it is not only brand-name designer yukata that sell. Unique lines of yukata produced by Japanese kimono makers and going by such names as Bushoan and Yumekobo are also popular and have been featured extensively in the media.

Department stores are even focusing energy on yukata sales. Since early spring, the kimono departments of these stores have made a good deal of money by setting up yukata display corners where salespeople dressed in yukata attend to customers' needs. Some stores have even put on yukata fashion shows.

Brand-name yukata, usually costing around 30,000 yen (286 U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar), are not cheap, and since stores can also offer accessories to go along with the yukata, such as geta clogs and obi belts, sales competitions have heated up.

In general, younger people who buy yukata like fabric patterns that are typical of the clothes they usually wear, while older women prefer a more classically Japanese style--flower collages, grass patterns, or even a rabbit motif.

Innovations for 2000
Of course, women susceptible to fashion trends look for innovative styles different from those they wore in previous years. Unconventional designs for the 2000 season include the full-pleated yukata and the long-sleeved yukata. The most notable, however, is the tropolone-treated "mosquito-proof yukata," engineered to both exterminate and prevent the breeding of mosquitoes.

The year 2000 saw other innovative designs as well, one of which is the comfortable, inexpensive, and highly popular knee-length "mini-yukata," which looks like a kind of mini-dress. And another, which appeals to the generation of young women who are used to wearing ultra-thick platform shoes, is the "platform geta." In fact, the "mini-yukata, platform geta" style is widely held to be the hottest look for summer 2000. This is a combination that can be worn not only to seasonal fireworks displays or summer festivals, but also to nightclubs and on dates. Ultimately, the appeal of such yukata appears to be that they are not very different from everyday clothes.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.