'Kimono: Fashioning Culture' is much more than the story of a single garment. A dynamic blend of fashion, social history and anthropology, the book traces the evolution of Japanese self-identity through the kimono. Dalby offers a carefully researched history of kimono, mouth-watering excerpts from a seventeenth-century Japanese fashion magazine, interviews with modern kimono wearers, and illustrations that are informative rather than blandly pretty.
Far from being a stable, tradition-bound political and cultural symbol, the kimono has passed in and out of fashion, changing to suit its times and wearers. Dalby deftly dissects the subtle differences-the length of a sleeve, the placement of a collar-that proclaim a woman's age, class, marital status, and personal taste.
Dalby writes about the look and feel of kimono with the authority of personal experience; while researching her doctoral dissertation in a geisha community in Kyoto (the basis of her previous book, Geisha), she wore kimono every day. Indeed, geisha are the only women who still wear kimono on a daily basis, and Dalby points out that the fates of geisha and kimono are intertwined: 'Whether or not a Japanese has ever met a geisha or used her specialized service (and most have not), a feeling remains that Japan would be losing something unique and precious by allowing geisha to disappear. Kimono has a similar hold on the Japanese imagination.' After reading Dalby's insightful account, it is easy to see why.