Josephine Rout

History of Design



Title of Dissertation: Conformity or Communality? Black Uniforms and the Sartorial Shading of Japanese Masculinities

The unrelenting image of Japan as a uniformed nation, one that prescribes conformity through homogeneity, is so strong that Japan is often presented as the case study for conformist societies. However, simply seeing Japan as ‘a uniformed nation’ does little to explain anything at all. Concepts such as taste, class, gender, age, tradition and regionalism get swept beneath such blanket statements. This dissertation considers the role of colour in the development of this image, focusing on the role of black in defining Japanese masculinity. Based upon J C Flügel’s division of ‘fixed costume’, the concepts of uniformity and national identity are explored on three levels: the national, the local and the subcultural. As uniforms are by nature supposed to be identical, the differences are subtle and require an object-centred approach. By looking more closely at what is actually worn, we can garner a more nuanced view of the sartorial standards that have come to create this image, including subcultural subversion, such as Goth. While charting the development of the black school uniform from 1879 through to the contemporary period, the role of the school uniform industry and brands in the production of this image is considered alongside the student experience of wearing uniforms. Through garments such as the school uniform and business suit, black became a colour embedded with notions of professionalism, formality and academic prestige; a colour of cultural capital.

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Courtesy of Harato Yoshikazu



BA (Hons), Art Theory, University of Canterbury, 2006


Internship, 'Kitty and Bulldog', Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010–12; Clothworkers' Centre Cataloguing Project, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2012; Internship, 'Tradition Transformed: Contemporary Korean Ceramics', Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010–11


Gardiner Travel Award, Royal College of Art, 2011


'The Tombow School Uniform Factory', Approaching Art and Design from Asia: Young Researchers’ Workshop – New Work on Japan, School of Oriental and African Studies, 2012; 'The Meiji Material Girl', Oxford Children's Literature and Youth Culture Colloquium, University of Oxford, 2011; 'Education or Decoration?', The Louise Henderson Nursery School Panels Symposium, University of Canterbury, 2006