The Man Who Wore Bespoke Suits and Jeans

It’s said on a few places online that Jiro Shirasu was the first person in Japan to wear jeans, but that’s probably not true. Jeans came to Japan by way of American GIs, who imported second hand Lees and Levi’s and sold them to the fashionable youth. It’s more likely that the first person to wear jeans in Japan was some teenager obsessed with American movies.

Jiro Shirasu was probably the first public Japanese figure to be photographed in jeans though. He studied at Cambridge University in the early 1920s, where he picked up a love for many things English, and then returned to Japan in 1928 to work as a journalist. Within a decade, he became an advisor to the Japanese government, and after the war, was appointed by the Foreign Ministry to help the Central Liaison Officer negotiate with the Occupation forces. There’s actually a famous story about how he once delivered a Christmas gift in 1945, from Emperor Hirohito to US General Douglas MacArthur. Upon receiving the gift, MacArthur waved his hand towards some spot on the floor and asked Shirasu to put it down. Offended by the General’s cavalier attitude, Shirasu demanded that a table be brought out so that the Emperor’s gift could be shown some proper respect. He’s often remembered as a man of principle because of that story.

Shirasu wasn’t a simple nationalist, however. As mentioned, he loved many things Western. He drove Bentleys and Porches, and was a client of Henry Poole (a bespoke tailoring house in London, often credited with being the first tailors on Savile Row and having invented the tuxedo). His first purchase at Poole was in March of 1953, when he ordered:

  • A midnight blue double-breasted dinner jacket and trousers
  • A fawn and red check single-breasted jacket
  • A fawn dogtooth single-breasted jacket
  • A chalk stripe, brown worsted flannel, double-breasted suit
  • A chalk stripe, grey worsted flannel, double-breasted suit
  • A chalk stripe, brown flannel, double-breasted suit

The total bill was £203, which he settled in cash. 

He didn’t always wear suits, however. One day, he posed for a portrait wearing Levi’s and a white t-shirt. Those stripes on his cuffs? Given the time period (1950s), probably the finished edges of selvedge denim. 

Put This On Spring 2014:

Japanese Blue & White, Five Ways

(And Maroon, One Way)

For spring, the Put This On pocket square shop has added half a dozen Japanese cotton pocket squares. The cottons come from old rolls we’ve purchased at flea markets and vintage textile shows, demonstrating a variety of traditional Japanese resistance-dying techniques.

Like all our pocket squares, these are hand-made by a single craftswoman, with hand-rolled and sewn edges for an elegant presentation. No flat machined seams, here.

Each of these, like all our cotton squares, sells for a price more suitable to a mass-produced product: $45. Find them in the Japanese section of our shop, along with over 75 other beautiful designs in fabrics old and new.

Shopping Japan

Although, technically, legal trade between the United States and Japan has been going on since the 1850s, and Americans and Europeans can order from each others’ webstores as easily as they can order from a store two towns over, Japan’s online retail economy still confounds many an eager shopper. The disconnect is part language barrier and partly technological—many Japanese sites are just not set up to accommodate global e-sales. English speakers are privileged in that most European stores have staff who speak English, or can translate quickly via online tools like Google Translate. English/Japanese translation tools are not nearly as reliable, and sometimes no amount of good will and intentions on the part of both seller and buyer can overcome the communications breakdown. Likewise, even if you can navigate Japanese shopping sites, you often can’t register with or ship to non-Japan addresses.

The state of affairs is even more frustrating because Japan-based brands just make so much cool stuff, and because Japan’s big retailers, like Beams and United Arrows, have the buying power to carry exclusive goods from many brands that you’ll just never see elsewhere. (For instance, Danner still makes Japan-exclusive boots.) And Japan’s secondary market (Yahoo Auctions is analogous to ebay) is full of new and secondhand goods at relatively reasonable prices. Compared to U.S. stores and ebay, the Japanese market is particularly rich in niche and cult brands like Buzz Rickson, Visvim, Undercover, Jun Hashimoto, and Nepenthes/Needles.

How to Use a Proxy or Buying Service

Brad at Harajuju has put together a really solid guide on buying stuff from Japan, the bottom line of which is that your best bet is proxy services; that is, paying someone in Japan to shop for you and then ship goods to you. Brad’s guide has a helpful breakdown of the steps and costs of purchasing through a proxy. He recommends using FromJapan; SutoCorp also has a good reputation. I’ve personally also used the smaller scale StylisticsSpace. (Harajuju and Put This On readers may or may not be shopping for the same stuff, but the process is the same.)

Tips

Some things to remember in addition to Brad’s advice:

  • Be realistic about an item’s marked price vs. what it will cost you. Transaction fees, shipping, and proxy commission all add up.
  • Right now, 1USD is approximately 100JPY, a relatively favorable exchange rate for U.S. shoppers.
  • For Japanese brands, clothing generally runs smaller than U.S.-market clothing.
  • Japan isn’t Nordstrom. Some shops and proxies accommodate returns, but when you order something through a proxy, chances are you’re stuck with it. Consider fees and shipping, at least, as sunk costs, and be prepared for some trial and error. In my experience, if a store makes a mistake (for instance, ships the wrong item), they’ll work with you to fix the mistake.
  • For most U.S.-based brands, you’re better off buying domestically. On average, American-made goods will be more expensive in Japan than in the United States (this goes for European goods, as well). Japan is not a good place to look for discount Alden shoes.
  • Transactions take time. If you want a pair of Visvim sneakers on Yahoo Auctions and the auction ends in an hour, it’s not likely you’ll be able to coordinate with a proxy service in time.
  • Depending on what you order and how much it costs, you may have to pay duty (import tax) on top of everything else. It’s illegal to misrepresent the value of the goods you order in order to avoid paying taxes.
  • Rakuten, which lists some stores’ inventories as well as one-off (often used) items, has made it easier to order for buyers outside of Japan. Some Rakuten merchants will work with you directly (i.e., no proxy); Rakuten even offers occasional specials like free international shipping from select merchants.
  • The market opens up a little more every year; Japanese brands are more widely available than they used to be. Self Edge carries a lot of great Japanese brands. Kamakura has a shop in New York and a webstore; a lot of stores sell the Beams house line Beams Plus now; Danner is more liberal with their Japan designs. Don’t use a proxy if you don’t have to.

This may all sound discouraging, but I’ve had many good experiences shopping from Japan, both through proxies and directly through Rakuten. It may seem perverse in a make-everything-easy, customer-is-always-right shopping culture, but it’s satisfying to successfully navigate the process—the extra effort is emotional investment in the item you purchase, whatever it may be.

-Pete

The New York Times’ T Magazine published a guide goofing on Japanese men’s magazines, including Free & Easy, Popeye, Men’s Non no, HUGE, and 2nd. Free & Easy? “It’s like if GQ covered cats.”
-Pete
Jonathan at the Bandanna Almanac has a short guide to the different types of Japenese textiles to help you differentiate your boro fabrics from your katazomi. Jonathan talks about geographic origins, dye techniques, and general applications for these fabric styles, some of which date back to the 19th century. These traditional textiles lend their beat-up beauty to everything from farmer’s clothing to bedding, and their folk-y influence and wabi sabi appeal have been seen in recent collections from brands like Kapital and Visvim.
Wearing a lot of traditional Japanese textiles can be like wearing a lot of cowboy-styled clothing—a little can go a long way and too much is trouble. You can often find accessories made from vintage cloth at Hickoree’s and on Etsy.
-Pete

Jonathan at the Bandanna Almanac has a short guide to the different types of Japenese textiles to help you differentiate your boro fabrics from your katazomi. Jonathan talks about geographic origins, dye techniques, and general applications for these fabric styles, some of which date back to the 19th century. These traditional textiles lend their beat-up beauty to everything from farmer’s clothing to bedding, and their folk-y influence and wabi sabi appeal have been seen in recent collections from brands like Kapital and Visvim.

Wearing a lot of traditional Japanese textiles can be like wearing a lot of cowboy-styled clothing—a little can go a long way and too much is trouble. You can often find accessories made from vintage cloth at Hickoree’s and on Etsy.

-Pete

I’ve just posted two new items in the Put This On pocket square shop. Both are Japanese in origin - the one on the left is vintage silk, we think from the 60s or so. The one on the right is new Japanese cotton. Both are absolutely gorgeous, and perfect as we transition from winter to spring.

To the Japanese team’s credit - they appear to know how to tie a necktie.  They’ve also, generally speaking, chosen a notably better manufacturer for their suits.
thisfits:

As a counterpoint to Put This On’s earlier posting of the suits of England’s national soccer team, here’s Japan’s national team wearing Dunhill.
More information at Selectism.

To the Japanese team’s credit - they appear to know how to tie a necktie.  They’ve also, generally speaking, chosen a notably better manufacturer for their suits.

thisfits:

As a counterpoint to Put This On’s earlier posting of the suits of England’s national soccer team, here’s Japan’s national team wearing Dunhill.

More information at Selectism.

New York Magazine on the rise of Uniqlo