Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Textiles in Daily Life: Proceedings of the Third Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–26, 1992 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1993).


Copyright © 1992 by the author(s).


The main function of textiles in daily life is that of clothing. Along with food and shelter, clothing the body from the elements has been one of the most essential conditions since primitive times. Since the time when animal hides and plant parts were used to protect one's body from the external world, clothing has always been closely related to human life. Therefore, it can be said that clothes were invented and developed for daily use and, at the primitive level, one type of garment served all purposes.

At this level, the material and style of clothing were one hundred percent practical, and the materials selected were naturally the easiest to obtain according to geographical or climatic conditions. In Japan, bark fiber from wisteria and arrowroot plants were first used. Later, hemp became the primary fiber material for clothing, and remained so for some time.

As religion grew in importance the priests who conducted religious ceremonies achieved high status in society. It is likely that they wore clothes different from those worn by the general population as a means of ennoblement. This was the beginning of the division of clothing. Not only did the clothing worn in religious ceremonies differ, but gradually, the daily clothing worn by priests also changed. For example, silk became the material used in the daily clothing of the ruling class replacing bark fiber and hemp, which continued to be used in the clothing of commoners. In Japan, the division between the material used in the everyday clothing of the upper class and that of the lower class occurred early in its history and remained unchanged until modern times.

The history of daily clothing in Japan from a cultural point of view distinguishes between those who could change their clothing according to occasion and those who were unable, to do so. However, there were those who, despite their low class rank in the feudal society, were wealthier than the ruling class. In Japan, the political rulers from ancient to medieval times (i.e. until 1200 AD), were the court nobles, and from medieval to modern times (i.e. 1868), the samurai held power. Merchants were the lowest class; yet their financial wealth allowed them to become economically powerful during the Edo period, or modern times.