There certainly must be an interesting story related to this cabinet card photograph by Conklins Studio in Dowaglac, Michigan. A girl, who appears to be an early teenager, poses for this photograph dressed in a beautiful kimono and holding an oriental fan. Where did she get such a terrific clothing? Did her she, or her parents travel to Japan to obtain these clothes? Was Asian fashion in vogue at the time of this photograph? Comments related to these questions are welcome.

Published in: on January 14, 2011 at 12:01 am  Comments (6)  
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  1. Well, let me first say I’m half Japanese, and secondly I’ve never stepped foot in Japan, but I do have a custom made silk kimono and I have to say that is no kimono. It appears that someone just draped fabric around the girl’s arms to make something that is vaguely similar to what a kimono sleeve looks like. She appears to be wearing a baggy dress over which a sash has been tied to replicate an obi, but they did it very badly. All the requisite underwear for a kimono is missing, and appears she’s wearing a high collared blouse instead. So, in conclusion, whoever dressed the girl had no idea what a kimono looks like.

  2. The pressure was tremendous. Kimonos were the rage and the teenage subject in this photograph just had to have one for the school dance. There was no way her parents would take her to the big cities of Chicago or Detroit to buy a kimono. Those cities were 114 and 180 miles away respectively; much too far to ride in her families horse drawn carriage. She was feeling desperate. She needed a kimono. Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention and that was truly the case in this instance. Using fabric from her mothers sewing closet, and a baggy dress, and sash; she fashioned together a kimono. It may not have been a genuine Japanese kimono, but the teenage girl wore it proudly to the dance.

  3. Perhaps she was starring in the school production of M. Butterfly.

    On the other subject, I have a photo of two young girls from the 1880s (bustle dresses) with definite Oriental themes to their clothing and hair styles. I also have books of advertising cuts from the 19th century and there are many Asian images, so I suspect there was *some* interest in the Orient, but I don’t have any clue how far or deep that went in fashion.

  4. I’m splitting hairs, yes. It’s “Dowagiac”. That’s an “i”.

  5. The girl is dressed as Yum-Yum in Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1885 hit comic opera, “The Mikado,” which became hugely popular with hundreds of local theatre groups, and is still performed frequently today.
    It is highly doubtful that there would have been a “school production” of Puccini’s 1904 tragic opera Madama Butterfly in Dowgiac MI which had a population of 4000 in 1900. The opera has incredibly difficult arias to master and controversial themes of race prejudice and suicide. Not suitable for school musicals or untrained voices.

    • Thank you for sharing the information about this image. I also appreciate your deductions which provided even more information about the photo. Great detective work

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