Changing fashion (Sokuhatsu), c. 1910.

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Two onnanoko [young women] posing, c. 1910.

Two onnanoko [young women] posing with contrasting coiffures, c. 1910. The girl on the right has her hair done up in a traditional Japanese style, hana kanzashi; the girl on the left is wearing her hair in a Western style pompadour known as sokuhatsu.

“In 1873 the government proclaimed that women would be prohibited from cutting their hair short. Twelve years later, Japanese reformers founded the Fujin Sokuhatsu Kai (or the Women’s Chignon Society) in response. Although not advocating a change in the length of a woman’s hair, the society subtly challenged the government’s obsession with Japanese-style coiffures by faulting them on three fronts.

“First, the mere act of dressing her hair imposed difficulty on a woman. Dressing a woman’s hair in traditional Japanese styles took considerable skill, and it was not easy to manage the task alone. The height and fullness of the styles were beyond the capacity of even the most luxuriant head of hair, so most women needed to pad their coiffures with hair switches or other fillers. Third, the Society faulted the old-fashioned Japanese coiffures for being unhealthy and unsanitary. Difficult and expensive to dress, women rarely washed or combed out their hair once it had been styled. The heavy oils lavished on the hair to help it keep its luster and shape contributed to unhygienic conditions—such as head lice and other unsavory problems.

“… The Chignon Society advocated a simpler style of hairdressing. They encouraged women to dispense with the elaborate shimada and marumage in favor of the chignon, the coil, the braid, or the pompadour. Contemporary magazines such as Jogaku zasshi (Women’s education magazine) kindly assisted with handy how-to diagrams. The fashionable jogakusei [woman student] was quick to learn a repertoire of sokuhatsu styles.”

Fashioning the Feminine: Images of the Modern Girl Student in Meiji Japan, Rebecca Copeland, 2006

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