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Styles for Asian backgrounds

Discussion in 'General Attire & Accoutrements' started by Propeller Planes, Jan 22, 2012.

  1. Hi all

    I thought I'd come out of the shell and ask this query as I'm pretty new to adopting and collecting vintage styles of clothing, but it is very appealing and something I'd like to get into!

    I'm a young fella, of Asian descent living in Australia. I'd like to know if the vintage Golden Era style of clothing ever made any influence over in Asia, particularly in nations with moden western influences like Japan and Singapore, and if so, was any distinct local style ever formed from it, or did they directly adopt the western style of clothing, like the suits and Fedoras and the like.

    I've tried doing some research and looking for photographs, but to no success. I don't know where to begin with my research and hoping you kind folks may be able to point me in the right direction!

    The main objective is for me to start collecting items of vintage clothing that I can wear for functions and the like, that would come close to replicating what folks of my race would have worn in that era.

    Many thanks for any help provided! :)
  2. Just for clarification, mate, you're speaking of East Asia, correct? After all, Asia is a huge continent...:)
  3. I saw a 50s suit from Hong Kong once and the trousers were cut in the American style (dropped belt loops and reverse pleats) but the jacket was fully lined (more common on European suits). It's only one suit but it suggests that East Asian business suits may have copied Western styles, which would seem logical as the idea of business suits was copied from the West.
  4. Chasseur

    Chasseur Call Me a Cab

    I can help a little. I have NOT done extensive research into this, in particular in terms of a particular place (ie. I can not tell you in detail about individual tailoring tecniques in 1930s Shanghai or 1940s Hong Kong or Delhi, etc.). However, I am of partial Asian decent myself and I have a hobby interest in Asia during the 1880s-1950s.

    As Widebrim stated, much of this depends on what place in Asia and what time period. A couple of things. For starting research there are several books and also websites that look at the major cities of Asia during this time period, in particular its pretty easy to find books on Golden Era Shanghai and the Bund, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Delhi, Saigon, etc. These will have many photos you can see for ideas. Many of the Golden Era grand hotels have books about their past that are good places to start (like the Royal Hawaiian Hotel here in Honolulu). In many places there was a mix of traditional and Western styles, and even mixing of the two in the same outfit (traditional clothes with a fedora or two-tone spectators, etc.). Of course in the 1930s-50 as nationalist and independence movements grew in power there often were movements to ban or replace western dress (seen as representative of the colonial power, etc.) with traditional dress (like many of the Indian National Congress leaders) or a new revolutionary dress (like the Mao suit, etc.)

    Some immediate examples:

    Many of the Indian political elite were English educated and heavily influenced by British culture and styles. My favorite example is Jinnah the founder of Pakistan. Classic British 1930-40s style complete with monocle!:


    In terms of Japan:
    Here is a Japanese summer suit from the 1930s I saw in the Tokyo Edo Museum, for that "Golden Era salary man look:

    Street scene in 1920s Japan:

    Late 19th/early 20th Century Japan (Kozakura)

    Also, one can think of Western places that had sizable populations of people of Asian decent like California, Hawaii, Australia, etc. I've looked through a good number of old photos of Hawaii and Honolulu:

    Guys playing pool in early 1930s:

    Honolulu early 1930s:


    Also while not "100%" accurate well done films can often give you a starting place for the "atsmoshere" of a place. Obviously movies made on location and at the time in question will likely be more helpful for accuracy than a recent set in the place/time.

    Some that come to mind (just off the top of my head, not a complete list...)

    Japan: Stray Dog, Tokyo Joe, Mystery of Rampo

    India: Howrah Bridge, Bhowani Junction, Gandhi, Passage to India

    China: Last Emperor, White Countess, Shanghai Triad, Empire of the Sun, Fairwell my Concubine

    Hope this helps!
  5. Hi PP.

    I'm also an ABC living in Australia. Maybe we can chat and help each other.

    What most people tend to forget is that the East had a fair bit of Western influence in the pre-and-interwar years. Especially in places such as Vietnam (Saigon), China (Shanghai International Settlement), Hong Kong, the Straits Settlements of British Malaya and Singapore.

    There were massive Western expatriate communities in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore. So I strongly suspect that western-style clothing would've rubbed off on several of the more cultured, knowledgable and wealthy Chinese who lived in these parts of the world. Of course, there would've been distinct local differences. For example, in a place like Shanghai, where the weather might be more variable, you would get people wearing everything from White Tie to jeans and a shirt. In places like Singapore, you'd most likely be wearing a seersucker suit and a Panama or boater hat.

    Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore were very popular tourist hotspots in the golden era (especially Shanghai and Singapore). So the stream of Western influence would've been steady and strong for several decades.

    Chasseur's suggestion of movies is a good one. Here are a few more...

    Shanghai - "Shanghai" (set in Shanghai in 1941, months before the invasion of the Settlement), "The Painted Veil" (partially set in 1920s Shanghai).

    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom starts in Shanghai in 1935.

    Singapore - The TV series "Tenko", about the Japanese occupation of the Malay Peninsula and Singapore in the 1940s.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2012
  6. Thanks folks for some of the responses!

    Widebrim - Yes should have been more specific, East Asian indeed, mainly on regions with western influences like Japan, Singapore and Vietnam. I am Vietnamese by descent, family coming from Saigon.
    avedwards - I'd greatly suspect an area like Hong Kong would have such influences from the West.
    Chasseur - Thanks for that! Street Scene 1920s Japan is probably the style I'm mainly after and trying to research. Will also try and source some of the material suggested.
    Shangas - We'll get in touch soon enough! :)
  7. Tea Dance at the Majestic Hotel, Shanghai

  8. We'll see, I'm sure.

    Another movie you might consider is "International Settlement". It came out in the late 1930s. It's about a group of American tourists on holiday in Shanghai and their experiences there. I've only seen part of it, but since it's more contemperous, it might give you an even better idea of what the clothes were like.

    Here's a few photos that might or might not help with clothing.

    U.S. Marines orchestra marching through Shanghai. November, 1941.

    Nanking Road, Shanghai International Settlement (Ca. 1920s/early 1930s).
  9. Chasseur

    Chasseur Call Me a Cab

    A couple of other ideas:

    Try to find photos of some of the Asian actors of the period.

    The always dashing Sessue Hayakawa comes to mind:



    Philip Ahn also comes to mind:
  10. Here's another pic of Sessue Hayakawa -- I have the actual print.

  11. That is a very interesting coat and belt...
  12. I reckon that it's from the 1915-20 period, give or take.
  13. I scanned a family photo album of an aunt of a friend a couple of years ago. The aunt died just before turning 90 about 3 years go. There are quite a few undated phots, but the earliest date noted in the album was 1901, the latest date 1932, so I am pretty sure all of them date around that time.
    The places where they were taken were Tokyo, Nakatsu (a city in Kyushu, the southern of the 4 main Japanese islands) where her father's family originally come from, and Tienjin, China, where a branch of the family was in business for a while until the late 1920s.

    Here are a few.
    Mid 1920s




    Late 1920s-1930s


    College students 1930
  14. It's interesting that the men are wearing Western clothing but the women are wearing Japanese clothes.
  15. It was quite common until after WWII. Men adopted Western clothing earlier than women due to need--business scenes, military uniforms, etc.
    The following is a family New Year portrait taken in January 1945. My grandparents, my father (the young man in the back row) and his siblings.
    What's interesting is that during WWII, kimonos, especially festive kimonos were considered an extravagance, and considered unpatriotic to wear them in public. Yet, my grandmother and aunts still dressed in them for family portraits.
  16. I suspected that that would be the reason. I'd be interested in seeing if that changed in the post-WW2 period as more women entered the work place.
  17. The answer to that would be "no." It was the release from the oppresive days when "dressing up" was considered a bad thing, plus the influx of western culture during the occupation. After the war ended, women could make themselves pretty again, enjoy femine clothings, and the influx of the new western fashions like Christian Dior (the New Look) whetted their appetite.
    There is also the fact the women who were around 20 and younger at the end of the war, were already familiar with western clothing as daily articles of clothes, because their school uniforms were western style. This made it easier for them to transition into western clothes.
    By the end of WWII, kimonos for the younger generation were more something to wear on special occasions, rather than daily wear.
  18. Also during WWII the wearing of western-style suits in Japan was discouraged. I presume because it was also deemed unpatriotic. Civilian men were encouraged to wear a sort of army-style uniform instead.

    I assume you're referring to the sailor-type outfits familiar to anime/manga fans today?
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2012
  19. [​IMG]
  20. This is my mother modeling her high school's uniform. This was take either in 1940 or '41.

    This is she and my aunt in private gear, also taken around that time. It looks like her skirt is her uniform skirt, and just changed the top.
    Note their footwear :D
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2012

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