Tabi (足袋) shoes, cool Japan?

Culture, traditions and fashion

The Tabi in today’s fashion

These days some high brands produce split-toe shoes called Tabi. Originally, Tabi are Japanese traditional socks with a separate section for the big toe and the rest. In Japanese, Tabi is written in “足袋” – literally meaning foot-pouch.

During the fashion week in Milano, I saw many Tabi boots and shoes from different brands. As a Japanese person, it was very interesting to see how Tabi shoes are becoming more and more fashion-iconic items nowadays.

Its simple, yet unique shape, is truly cool. I agree!

The history behind the Tabi

As you might picture, Tabi socks are usually worn with Zouri, footwear for Kimono. That is probably the most common image that people have of this item.

Yet, Tabi is not only for Zouri. It was used traditionally for various Japanese traditional footwear, such as Waraji (草鞋). Waraji is the rice straw rope sandals commonly worn during the Edo period.

In my 5th grade, I spent all my summer knitting 3 pairs of Waraji. My elementary school had a tradition that all the 5th graders hiked for 9 hours on “Kyu-kaido Ishidatami” – the old highway in Hakone, with their knitted Waraji. Of course, Tabi was a must with Waraji.

Tabi and waraji hand-knitted sandals
Photo courtesy: Kotono Sakai

A mere traditional style?

It is intriguing that some high brands, such as Margiela, are inspired by the Tabi shape. Yet, Tabi has its own value and history behind it. It is culture, and it is tradition. Tabi is not just a trendy item.

So it would be disappointing if the people would consume Tabi as a mere fashion icon with simple “Japaneseness”.
Imagine if the fast fashion brands would mass-produce Tabi shaped shoes, making them even more accessible to general consumers. The value would no longer matter.

I am very pleased to see that Japanese traditional culture is being internationally appreciated and more recognized throughout different mediums. But if I saw an overuse or overconsumption of Tabi shaped shoes, I would perhaps get mixed feelings.

I encourage you to tell what is mass and what is special!


A piece written by Kotono Sakai, a Japanese girl studying history and fashion at Cattolica university in Milan and interning for suite123

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The state of fashion & the couture revamp

Top brands are rediscovering and relaunching their couture collections. And eliminating the diffusion lines, as Valentino did with Red Valentino, for instance.

The couture orientation could be a re-emerged desire for well-done items among tons of junk clothing. A strategy to clean up a collapsed market, focusing on their original identities. Or the research for a more sustainable model. Both possibilities are worthy.

In fashion, we should do like the music bands: can we imagine Queen without Freddy Mercury? or Nirvana without Kurt Cobain?
For instance, why should Margiela make sense designed by someone who has his opposite vision? Although John Galliano is one of the greatest couturiers, Margiela is not Margiela anymore.
What about Balenciaga? or Gucci? Brands lost their identity, and now it’s game over.

Couture and heritage

In todays’ panorama, we believe historical Maisons should repurpose archival pieces in a modern version to keep alive the designer’s heritage. And no, we are not referring to the so-called “modernity” of the recently relaunched Balenciaga couture line. Was the pigeon toe an example of modernity? We don’t think so.

As conceived nowadays, couture and brands in general, when the designer of the Maison is dead or has left, lose their meaning.
Although there is a vague inspiration coming from the archives, we see very little respect for the creativity and work of the original designer. Instead, a certain arrogance of the newcomers prevails, aiming to show their own vision while disfiguring the original. There are very few exceptions.
So conceived, fashion is simply a way to make money out of the brand name legacy, in addition to an ego game. All the magic is gone.

Since overproduction is killing our planet, couture and demi-couture collections offer a more controlled and limited production model. The higher quality wouldn’t hurt either.

The return of the “atelier” with a unique selection of worthy pieces and custom-made items is the opposite of the mass distribution model we saw flourishing till now. They would offer value and sustainability.

And maybe we’d see the rebirth of fashion.

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