East Meets West: Japanese Formal Wear


(Japanese Bridal Party by JadeKat-Cosplay)

I’m currently editing a new page on Japanese formal wear for the next edition of The Black Tie Guide.  Their sartorial customs are a fascinating blend of old Eastern traditions and newer Western ones.  In fact, Japan is second only to Britain in preserving the custom of morning dress.  One prestigious formalwear maker from that country prescribes either the morning coat or stroller (known as a director’s suit in Japan due to its early association with Boards of Directors) for everything from weddings to graduations to coming-of-age ceremonies.

The wedding photo above is a perfect illustration of the blending of cultures with the groom in the women in native Japanese formal attire and the fathers of the bride and groom in morning coats.  The groom’s father also demonstrates a subtle contrast between English and Japanese morning dress customs: the former typically carry a top hat in hand while the latter prefer to hold a pair of white gloves.



The only major variation on the Western system of formal wear is the existence of the black suit (often called, somewhat confusingly, a “formal suit”) as a kind of simple formal dress for occasions where a dark suit would be too businesslike but formal wear is not specified by the hosts. In this context, it is worn with a white or silver four-in-hand tie (black for mourning), and occasionally French cuffs and cufflinks


  1. Jovan

    Would prefer the pictured men wore turndown collars instead of wimpy wings (or braces instead of a belt!) but this is nonetheless an interesting blend of cultures. I admire how Japan manages to keep certain traditions alive even when they’ve “assimilated” to western culture somewhat.

  2. CharlesM

    Fascinating how well the morning suits and the traditional female formal outfits complement each other – both understated, both very elegant, both capturing the essence of formalwear. Beats anything I’ve ever seen on this side of the Pacific.

  3. Gino

    I prefer the look of a proper detachable wing collar and dress ascot with morning dress, but I’m a bit old fashioned.

  4. Jay

    You probably already know this well Peter, but many of the traditions of Western Dress (and British formal wear in particular) were introduced during the Meiji Restoration (1868 – 1912). During this period, thousands of foreign advisers were hired by the Japanese govt. to modernize everything from field artillery to ice cream production. The Japanese came to admire much of the dress code from Late Victorian England and incorporated into their society, where it still soundly sits today for the upper and upper middle class.

  5. Cajetan

    I am living in Japan and can “admire” the practice of Japanese formal wear every weekend. Indeed, every weekend in Tokyo you can spot people that are going to (morning) or coming from (evening) a wedding ceremony. The reality much more mundane. For men, the standard is a black business suit (notched lapel, one vent).
    The actual wedding ceremonies are usually organized by companies specializing on these kind of services who market them by inventing rather flashy interpretations of formal wear. Completely white dress or even light grey imitations of frock coats are not unusual. Here, western formal wear is not seen as a part of the cultural heritage but more like an exotic pop-culture accessory. This is not limited to the middle and lower classes but also extends to the noveau riche.

    Two positive points have to be noted:
    1. In upper and upper-middle class weddings, the interpretation of formal wear is relatively classical (traditional weddings, as the pictured one, are much more a sign of the more traditional people who also keep in line with western formal code)
    2. For important, ceremonial state occasions, classical morning wear is still the standard

    And, as mentioned, traditional western formal wear for men and traditional Japanese Kimono for women do indeed fit very nicely.

    1. Peter Marshall

      Thanks very much for sharing your insight.


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