Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Ageeth Sluis


Japanese representation in art and design brought about an age when, according to a reporter at a 1878 international exhibition in Paris, “even the greatest mistresses of European crafts lay down their weapons in shame.”1 women’s fashions were able to transcend national borders through the development of Japanese designs, Orientalist ideals, and the importance of the body. Eastern eroticism was heightened through British designers, as seen in the development of the Western kimono. From Fetish to Fashion focuses on how the relationship between the state and culture can be established by an unexpected medium: women’s fashion.

This thesis examines how the British women’s fashion designers of the second half of the nineteenth century accessed themes of Japanese design following the opening of Japan to foreign trade. It also examines the nexus of state politics and culture in an Orientalist frame, exposing the relationship of Japanese trade and the rising fascination with Japanese culture. By incorporating traditional Japanese motifs of naturalism and the symbolism of the geisha seen in exhibitions and expositions, designers were able to produce a new genre of fashion that would influence the relationship between Britain and Japan leading up to the twentieth century. Japonism in fashion ushered in a wave of Orientalism toward Japan, creating a cultural fascination that would grow into a unique form of cultural appropriation.

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