Artifacts From the Hiroshima Atomic Blast

Slate has some haunting images today of some of the clothes left over from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. An excerpt from the article:

In 2007, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum opened its archive to Ishiuchi, and since then she’s photographed hundreds of artifacts. Some of the objects came from bombed buildings or were found on the streets; others came from families who held onto items for decades after the blast. People are still coming into the museum to donate, Roth said. “It’s not a nostalgic project. She’s not interested in that. She’s not even really interested in the history of what happened in Hiroshima because it’s known. She’s more interested in the life of these objects she’s photographing and the life that’s there now,” he said.

You can read the rest here.

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. 

The Story of Japanese American Zoot Suiters
One of our readers tipped us to this great article on the forgotten history of Japanese American zoot suiters. An excerpt:


In popular memory zoot suiters are often associated with African Americans and Chicanos during World War II. But many Nikkei also participated in this cultural movement. While it is not possible to determine the exact numbers of Japanese American zoot suiters, the available historical evidence suggests that they were a visible presence.


[…]
So the internment experience itself was an incubator for Nikkei zoot suit culture. Japanese Americans even invented their own slang for Nisei zoot suiters. One was “pachuke,” a Japanese version of the Spanish word “pachuco”/“pachuca.” The other was “yogore,” a derivation of the Japanese verb yogoreru (to get dirty). Sociologist Shotero Frank Miyamoto, a contemporary observer of Japanese America, explained that “yogore” referred to individuals who were “shiftless, transient, constantly drinking and gambling, hanging around pool halls, always picking fights, visiting prostitutes or attempting to engage in illicit sex relations.”

Yogore posed a serious problem to the War Relocation Authority (WRA), the federal body charged with administrating internment. From the WRA’s point of view, zoot suiters endangered the very future of the entire Japanese American population. The federal government planned to scatter (or “resettle”) Japanese Americans around the country so that they might “assimilate” into the white middle class instead of returning to their West Coast farms and Little Tokyos. Pachuke troubled this vision for solving the “Japanese Problem” because they spurned polite standards of decorum. Their brashness loudly advertised their differences from the white middle-class. It also suggested an explicit kinship with working-class black and brown folk—the very opposite of the message that the WRA wanted to send to mainstream America.

Even worse, the zoot suit itself signaled an open defiance of the nation’s war effort. The War Production Board had banned the sale of zoot suits as a means to ration fabric. So wearing a zoot suit could be read as an unpatriotic act. The eruption of Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots in June 1943—when thousands of white soldiers and civilians violently attacked Mexican Americans and other zoot suiters of color—drove home this point. Thus pachuke let loose from the camps might place Nikkei under further suspicion of disloyalty. No wonder, then, that the Manzanar camp’s Free Press newspaper editors beseeched its readers: “Leave your zoot suits behind. And above all, be an ambassador of goodwill for the sake of the Japanese in America.”

You can read the whole story here. 
(thanks Cody!)

The Story of Japanese American Zoot Suiters

One of our readers tipped us to this great article on the forgotten history of Japanese American zoot suiters. An excerpt:

In popular memory zoot suiters are often associated with African Americans and Chicanos during World War II. But many Nikkei also participated in this cultural movement. While it is not possible to determine the exact numbers of Japanese American zoot suiters, the available historical evidence suggests that they were a visible presence.

[…]

So the internment experience itself was an incubator for Nikkei zoot suit culture. Japanese Americans even invented their own slang for Nisei zoot suiters. One was “pachuke,” a Japanese version of the Spanish word “pachuco”/“pachuca.” The other was “yogore,” a derivation of the Japanese verb yogoreru (to get dirty). Sociologist Shotero Frank Miyamoto, a contemporary observer of Japanese America, explained that “yogore” referred to individuals who were “shiftless, transient, constantly drinking and gambling, hanging around pool halls, always picking fights, visiting prostitutes or attempting to engage in illicit sex relations.”

Yogore posed a serious problem to the War Relocation Authority (WRA), the federal body charged with administrating internment. From the WRA’s point of view, zoot suiters endangered the very future of the entire Japanese American population. The federal government planned to scatter (or “resettle”) Japanese Americans around the country so that they might “assimilate” into the white middle class instead of returning to their West Coast farms and Little Tokyos. Pachuke troubled this vision for solving the “Japanese Problem” because they spurned polite standards of decorum. Their brashness loudly advertised their differences from the white middle-class. It also suggested an explicit kinship with working-class black and brown folk—the very opposite of the message that the WRA wanted to send to mainstream America.

Even worse, the zoot suit itself signaled an open defiance of the nation’s war effort. The War Production Board had banned the sale of zoot suits as a means to ration fabric. So wearing a zoot suit could be read as an unpatriotic act. The eruption of Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots in June 1943—when thousands of white soldiers and civilians violently attacked Mexican Americans and other zoot suiters of color—drove home this point. Thus pachuke let loose from the camps might place Nikkei under further suspicion of disloyalty. No wonder, then, that the Manzanar camp’s Free Press newspaper editors beseeched its readers: “Leave your zoot suits behind. And above all, be an ambassador of goodwill for the sake of the Japanese in America.”

You can read the whole story here

(thanks Cody!)

WWII War Paint: How Bomber Jacket Art Emboldened Our Boys (Collector’s Weekly)

Since I moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco, I’ve had to adjust to the idea of wearing shorts during the hottest months of the year. I get horrible migraine headaches, weather’s a big trigger, so when it’s over 85 or 90, it’s all shortpants, all the time.

As I’ve come to accept, if not embrace the situation, I’ve tried a lot of shorts. The height-of-summer outfit I keep coming back to is one that’s as at home in the 1930s as it is today. Ghurka shorts, linen shirt and espadrilles.

Ghurka shorts, like khaki pants, have a military heritage. They’re distinguished by their self-belting waist, which was purportedly designed to allow soldiers to tighten their trou as they lost weight in the field. They were originally worn by the British military, but they became a surplus staple, not unlike WWII’s chinos.

When the supply of WWII surplus dried up in the 60s and 70s, they faded away, only to return in the 1980s. Above, an advertisement for the old pre-Gap Banana Republic that celebrates their field heritage.

Nowadays they’re tough to find and rarely seen, but they still cut a flattering, relaxed, elegant figure when they are spotted. My pair is by Bill’s Khakis, though they no longer offer the style (and I had to remove a cargo pocket with a seam ripper). I just snagged a second pair, by J. Peterman, off of eBay. Bonus points go to What Price Glory, the UK military recreationists, for their reasonably price (less than forty bucks) and their authentic forward pleats.

They’re best worn with a shirt tucked in and casual footwear. No need for the kneesocks that British forces wore with their desert boots. If things get hot, roll the hem up a bit. It adds panache.

(Tip of the hat to (and further reading from) Maximinimus, To The Manner Born, The Selvage Yard & Mister Crew)

Yesterday, I posted, tongue-in-cheek, some WWII-era fashion propaganda.  I’m feeling guilty now for not pointing out the darker side of the anti-excess-fabric movement.

In the 1930s and 40s, young Mexican-Americans, particularly in Southern California, created a unique sartorial statement: the zoot suit.  It was a suit defined by excess: pants weren’t pants, they were “drapes,” with huge legs and pegged ankles.  Coats stretched down to the knees.  It was a conspicuous display of excess and identification with “pachuco” culture - and it was a display of excess that didn’t sit well during the war years with one of Los Angeles’ other big youth populations: servicemembers.

Chicanos were already the target (then as now) of racial discrimination in California, particularly as the nation was just coming out of the depression, which had led many to blame immigrants for their own difficulties.  The fact that their vibrant culture was thumbing its nose at fabric rationing was enough to set off a racial powderkeg.

Sailors on shore leave from the Port of LA and young Mexican-American pachucos began to clash violently, and the Mexican-American community found the media, police and politicians consistently blaming a culture of juvenile delinquency - in other words, pachucos.  Isolated incidents led to organized groups of police, then sailors heading to Chicano neighborhoods to beat any and all zooters they could find.  June of 1943 found literally thousands of servicemen roaming the streets of the barrio, beating any and every young Latino they saw.  Mobs went into movie theaters, pulled out Chicanos and beat them.  Police intervened - to arrest the Chicanos on charges of vagrancy and delinquency.  Sailors beat young people on the streets with impunity, often tearing off their zoot suits burning them in piles on the ground.

As riots raged, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance banning zoot suits on the grounds that they were a symbol of hooliganism.  Violence spilled out into African-American neighborhoods, where blacks in zoot suits were targeted.  Eleanor Roosevelt had the temerity to describe the violence as race rioting, and the Los Angeles Times published an editorial accusing her of communist sympathies.

The Zoot Suit Riots were well-documented in an episode of The American Experience that you can probably grab from your local library, and in fiction in Luis Valdez’ brilliant play and film Zoot Suit starring Edward James Olmos.  Check them out if you have any doubts of the cultural power of style.

So: there’s the dark side of calling excess fabric “unpatriotic.”

(PS: I’ve been wanting a forum to say this for ten years plus: SERIOUSLY, CHERRY-POPPIN DADDIES?  ZOOT SUIT RIOT?  REALLY, BUNCH OF WHITE GUYS?  IS YOUR NEXT ALBUM “RODNEY KING RIOTS” WITH THE LEAD SINGLE “WOUNDED KNEE MASSACRE PARTY?”  GO FUCK YOURSELVES.)

(photo via)
Some of the greatest changes to men’s style came as a result of the second world war.  The rise of cotton pants, for example - khakis grew out of military style.  Or the decline of the double-breasted and three-piece suit - both quite popular before the war, but declasse during the war because of fabric rationing.

(photo via)

Some of the greatest changes to men’s style came as a result of the second world war.  The rise of cotton pants, for example - khakis grew out of military style.  Or the decline of the double-breasted and three-piece suit - both quite popular before the war, but declasse during the war because of fabric rationing.