Japanese women and the role of lingerie in their lives
Japanese women are among the world’s largest spenders on clothing. Estimates range from $4,000 to 7,000 a year. My research has shown that almost one-third of this is spent on lingerie (defined to include all items of clothing used as underwear e.g. brassiere, panty, chemise, slip, undershirt, stockings, etc., nightwear/sleepwear/loungewear) – that adds up to approximately $1,300 to $2,500, enough to buy a chest-load of stuff.
As you might know, Japan was a very traditional country prior to the Second World War. Most women dressed in traditional clothing like kimono or yukata and there was no role for any lingerie in Japanese life. With rapid westernization, especially from the 70s onwards, Japanese fashion standards changed. Not only did the women become more westernized, they started rebelling against the traditional society by dressing more stylish – leaving not only their Asian but even their western counterparts behind.
Japanese companies then came up with a range of products that suit the Japanese body. While western lingerie companies were slow to enter the Japanese market, even when they did, they were not successful. It was mostly European companies like La Perla that succeeded. Even Victoria’s Secret has had only limited success in the Japanese market since the Japanese woman’s body shape is completely different from the Caucasian body and American lingerie design continues to be tame by Japanese standards.
If lingerie plays such an important part in a Japanese woman’s life, what can be learned from this?
- Remember the old commercial, “Your bathroom is a room too!” That message taught us all to start taking better care of our bathrooms and now, for most people, maintaining a bathroom is an expensive affair but it also gives us a pretty place to spend some quality private time. For a Japanese woman, the same logic applies. She wears beautiful lingerie even on an ordinary day knowing very well that she may not show it to anyone. It gives her pleasure to know that she is wearing something special.
- Japanese society is very homogeneous. In a majority of the jobs, both men and women change into uniforms as soon as they come to work. While some companies have gone to the extent of providing underwear to women as part of the uniform or have prohibited certain items (e.g. black bra is not allowed if the blouse is white or fishnet stockings are prohibited), most companies leave the underwear choice to the women. No wonder that expensive set of underwear and nightwear.
- Japanese women, despite having small, proportionate bodies are very uncomfortable with their bodies. Many of them think that they are too short, do not have large busts, and do not like their pretty lingerie allows a woman to deflect attention from her body to some extent so that when they do undress completely the image of the lingerie still stays in the mind.
- While any discussion in public of underwear in most countries is a taboo, it is not so in Japan. After a slight friendship, you can teasingly ask a woman about her underwear. In mixed groups, even at work, it is not impolite to praise a female employee’s underwear.
- Japan celebrates March 14th every year as White Day – a time for men to give gifts to all men they know including colleagues on Valentine’s Day). It is not uncommon for a lot of Japanese men to select lingerie as gift items for their friends and colleagues. This serves as an indication that they are interested in a relationship beyond work. They can also get away with it in Japan since it is not common to open your gifts in public.
Eimi Graham, an expert on Japanese fashion trends, writes, “A lot of middle-aged Japanese women prefer lingerie that is comfortable - not cute. But young women invariably wear cute lingerie. Even if a woman wears lingerie that is not so bold on one day, she would probably wear some cute lingerie when she is on a date or is going out with friends or is just shopping after work. Of course, some people still prefer "comfortable" lingerie. The current trend in lingerie is ‘cute’. I've seen underwear in the stores that have hibiscus prints, rose prints, etc. Some people may actually get confused that these lingerie items are swimsuits. Some of my friends like wearing cute nightwear too. Many of those are in "cute" colors, such as light pink, light blue, etc. The amount of money a person spends on lingerie depends on the company and maybe if it is cute or not. Generally bolder the lingerie, the more expensive it is. Last week I saw these thongs in Tokyo that had as much fabric as a Band-Aid for $35 but when I wanted to buy one I was told that there was a waiting period of 3-4 weeks for that design”.