Exploration One: The Japanese Heian Period 794-1185

This masterpiece is a remnant of the Heian period

The late 7th through to the 12th century, was the golden age of silk dying in Japanese history. This was known as the Heian period, and is possibly the most luxurious phase of this nations past. The most painful thing about this period to me, is that there are no known artifacts preserved from it. All we know, is from the extensive writings, poetry, and paintings from the time, which were many, as fashion was a certain kind of madness within the high class Japanese culture in this era.


This was a time of repression for women, which allowed women to experience, a certain and unusual kind of reality, completely unique to the Heian period. Cut off from men, and general society, women spent their lives indoors, and concealing their faces from the world. Women of the Heian period were restricted from almost all the realities of life, kept in a literal bubble, she would probably never see a sick person, a poor person, or anything that her family should decide to keep her from. This lead them to be exceedingly innocent, very pale, and for the Heian woman to embody stylish, poetical, and beautiful ‘perfection’. It was her job to become a work of art.

Two Heian babes playing a game

The attention that society payed to the detail of clothing was so intense, and women were judged so dramatically for their choice, that it became an all consuming fanaticism for them. The colors must compliment each other in such a way, that it was a statement. These colors showed their taste, and culture, but it was also the only way for them to express themselves to the outside world. The rooms which women spent most of their time, were on the second level of the house, these rooms typically had an opening just at floor level, in order to cool the room, and allow proper ventilation. This became a means for the gentlemen of the family, and male guests, to peek in at the dress folds of the women sitting indoors, without seeing their faces.

A man outside, either listening to the girls, or chatting to the girls.

Clothing and color, was a source of sexual energy, that was almost neurotic. It was the way which a woman was expected to first attract a suitor, and thus, if you didn’t have good taste, you might never find a husband. When out in public, a woman was only allowed to travel in a man lifted passenger car. She could not show her face as she did this, and thus it became a custom to discreetly hang the folds of her costume from the sides of the doors. Men, if impressed by the colors, they would locate the family which the boxcar belonged to, each car marked by their families seal. Heian women dreamed of growing long flowing hair, and their faces were whitened with powder. An interesting cultural aspect, to this fashion period, is that both men and women used to blacken their teeth. Their eyebrows were shaven off, and drawn on, higher on their forehead. They would also draw their lips in bright red, but would draw them on smaller than their actual size.


This sokutai doesn’t have any saved patterns for it’s creation. All of the reproductions created from the same style, but will never be exactly the same as the originals made long ago. These outfits altogether could have up to 12 layers of silks. It was the popular fashion to have thick and luxuriant folds in their sleeves and dress. The more intense, the more vivid and sensual, the more she would arouse her onlookers.

The woman, a divine creature, like a delicate gold fish floating around in a water bowl, or a water lily, bouncing around on the surface during a rain storm.

Here’s an example of a modern reproduction of the Heian period.

A modern ensemble of what the costume would look like, although her eyebrows should be shaven, and she should be wearing the appropriate make up. (See paragraph #4) Note: As you can see, she has a pleated train on her skirt.


Here’s a bunch of different Heian costumes. Oh, like a kid in a candy shop.