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Many Opt For Short Sleeves Even in Winter

January 23, 2001
Women sporting short sleeves at work in a Tokyo office.

The Japan Meteorological Agency's long-term weather forecast calls for another mild winter this year. Perhaps this explains the conspicuous presence of women in short-sleeved or sleeveless garments on the streets of Japanese cities. But short-sleeved winter fashion is not just a passing fad; it has actually been popular for several years now. There are various reasons for this, and the majority of fashion-industry experts believe that short-sleeved and sleeveless winter garments, which are both fashionable and functional, are destined to become a permanent fixture.

Women Bare Their Arms
On afternoons when there is even the slightest hint of warmth in the air, many women can be seen walking around Tokyo's bustling Ginza and Shibuya areas wearing short-sleeved tops and carrying a jacket under their arms. The short-sleeved look is most popular among young women, who favor colorful tops. But it is also gathering support among businesswomen in their 30s, who favor chic blacks and beiges, and other women.

According to one Ginza department store, short-sleeved winter fashion first came into vogue about four years ago, when popular singer Namie Amuro adopted it. Two or three years ago the fashion began spreading beyond the realms of youth culture to a wider range of ages. Short-sleeved garments, which accounted for about 10% of the store's knitwear sales three years ago, now account for about 40%.

A public-relations officer for the store has the following explanation for the popularity of sleeveless and short-sleeved winter garments: "As more and more companies are doing away with uniforms and letting employees wear their own clothes instead, some are wearing short-sleeved tops because long sleeves get dirty more easily. Women wear jackets over the short-sleeved tops at work, but after five if they go out for dinner they are free to bare their arms for a more stylish look. One of the attractions of this fashion, besides its inherent style appeal, is that it's easy to switch back and forth between long and short sleeves to suit the occasion."

Some industry insiders also attribute the popularity of short sleeves to a shift in working women's fashion attitudes. A product development manager working for one apparel manufacturer offers the following analysis: Ten or twenty years ago, career women wore tailored suits as a means of emulating and competing with men in the workplace. Now that women have gained a more solid footing in the professional arena, their work-fashion tastes have shifted to clothing that is still functional, but also includes an element of femininity. The popularity of short-sleeved and sleeveless garments is an extension of this trend.

Are Short Sleeves Healthy?
Some people might think that wearing short sleeves in winter is a less than sensible fashion choice. Surely these women would be better off wrapped up warm?

According to one specialist in clothing hygiene, "Perceptions of hot and cold vary greatly from one individual to the next. But thanks to advancements in climate control, the insides of buildings and public-transportation vehicles are warmer nowadays, so people are generally not feeling the winter cold as much."

People also feel the cold more or less keenly depending on which part of the body is exposed. When the chest or other areas of the trunk are exposed, the temperature of a person's skin drops not only on the exposed area, but also on the parts of the body that are covered. In contrast, if the limbs are exposed, the temperature of the skin on the torso remains virtually unchanged.

"So when the arms are exposed," says the clothing hygienist, "the cold doesn't affect a person as much as it might appear. The way to guard against the cold is to protect the parts that are sensitive to cold, such as the shoulders, back, thighs, and feet."

The clothing hygienist also cites an advantage of short-sleeved or sleeveless clothing in the work environment: "When a person is engaged in a task, such as operating office equipment, a long-sleeved shirt or jacket makes it hard to move around, causing tension in the back and shoulders; short-sleeved clothing makes a lot of sense in this respect. Except in the case of elderly people, whose lower metabolism makes it difficult for them to regulate their body temperature, light clothing is better for the health than heavy clothing."

So it seems that wearing short-sleeved and sleeveless clothing year-round may be sensible after all.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2001 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.