Dressing to be a Nation: Japanese and Indians Experiencing Nationalism, 1870s-1920s

Dressing to be a Nation: Japanese and Indians Experiencing Nationalism, 1870s-1920s
Maumita Banerjee


This thesis studies the features of emerging nationalism in India and Japan from 1870s to
1920s through dress.
The choice of period is crucial because it reflects the changes within Indian and Japanese
nationalism through sartorial politics. For instance, around 1870s, in the case of Japan the emperor
changed his clothing for the local and foreign audience and in India too heated debates regarding
appropriate dress for public space began to emerge. Though both the nations began the search for
a national sartorial style from a somewhat similar position, by 1920s the difference in their style
became very stark. The choice of Japanese national sartorial style lay in contrast to the emergence
of Gandhian politics and style of clothing which espoused non-violence as a response to counter
Exploring the issue of nationalism through the lens of dress provides us opportunities to
attempt an under researched cross-national study of India and Japan while bringing in people
across social hierarchies into the study. It is to be noted that unlike intellectual knowledge, clothing
was relatively accessible to many people, due to which a large number of actors (including the
non-elites and the marginalized) can be included into the study. The thesis allows us to understand
how dress was a reflection of people’s anxieties as well as their maneuverings to address the
politics of the period. The chapters of the thesis are arranged in a manner to understand how
Japanese and Indian people were responding not only towards Western imperialism but also to
assert/contest their socio-political identity in the context of local politics.
The first main chapter (chapter two) begins with the elite men in India and Japan to
understand how the most visible actors in both the regions were addressing the issue of nationalism
through dress. The chapter makes the argument that, in order to understand modern political
consciousness it is crucial that we take into consideration the pre-modern continuities of sociopolitical ideas which explain the relative ease through which the national leaders could maneuver
their dress styles in the modern period. The following two chapters further discuss the trouble of
elite nationalism in asserting its power not vis-à-vis the Western imperialism, but rather in the
local context. As stated above, the material as well as the knowledge of dress politics, were not
inaccessible to the people in general. These two chapters discuss the agency of politically
marginalized men and women in articulating their socio-political identity through dress. The last
main chapter (chapter five) of the thesis again returns to elite nationalism but through a discussion
of next generation men whose style of addressing nationalism through dress was different from
their predecessors, since they were aware of the problems faced by their predecessor’s style. By
dividing the chapters of the thesis thematically, the thesis shows the active role of all the actors—
including the most politically oppressed—in asserting their identity in the period of flux. It is due
to this the thesis used the term ‘Japanese’ and ‘Indians’ in the title of the thesis rather than the
geographical region ‘Japan’ and ‘India’ to emphasize the role of people in making sense of their
national consciousness.


Maumita Banerjee

Defended in


PhD defended at

Waseda University, Political Science


Social Sciences


Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)


National politics