The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" July 2003
Research Theme: "Why Does One Dress a Pet in Clothing? Studying the Dog Fashion of the Contemporary Japan from 19th-Century England"
By Taeko Sakai
M. Phil., Associate Professor, Faculty of Integrated Arts and Social Sciences, Japan Women’s University
In modern Japan, and in urban settings in particular, pet owners walking with dogs dressed in clothing has become a common sight. What are the origins of the practice of dressing dogs in clothes that seem unnatural for animals? Sakai focused on 19th-century England in her endeavor to shed light on the phenomenon:

“In the West, people tended to take a passive attitude toward nature until around the end of the 17th century. At that time nature was the object of wonder and fear. It was 19th century Britain that brought about major changes in this traditional view of nature. During this period, modernization, industrialization and urbanization progressed at an unprecedented pace in England. At the same time, nature was transformed into the object of manipulation by humans through the application of knowledge and technology. And the older view of animals as beasts to be feared also changed. At the time, dogs were widely employed throughout Europe to pull milk carts. In England, however, this practice was abolished in the mid-19th century as they came increasingly to be thought of as companion animals, or pets. As the practice of keeping dogs as pets spread, strong concern and even an excessive affection for the animals manifested itself in the phenomenon of humans dressing their dogs.”

Sakai investigated 19th-century fashion magazines as well as general interest magazines in order to provide an overall picture of the English dog fashions of the day:

“In researching magazines for mass publication, I was able to determine that the practice of dressing pet dogs was not an isolated fad. Rather, a relatively broad range of social strata, from the upper classes to the more well-off middle class, cherished and dressed their pets. According to these magazines, clothing for dogs was not bought ready to wear in pet shops, but tailored by specialized craftsmen. The pet clothing was often made of high-quality velvet and silk to match the owner’s outfit, with special coats for walking and special coats and even goggles for driving. Pets were dressed in various outfits appropriate to the time, place and occasion, such as morning wear, afternoon driving wear and travel wear. There were also accessories made of real and simulated precious metals. In place of collars, bracelets and anklets were in vogue, and the magazines introduce the appropriate types for various dog varieties, such as plain gold bracelets for black poodles and highly polished metallic anklets for terriers, with their longer coats.

“The clothes in which people dressed their pets were clearly a symbol of social standing. At the same time, they were also a way of highlighting the quality of the animal’s breeding. As dogs were increasingly categorized according to pedigree rather than the type of work they did, their economic value also increased. What’s important to remember here is the fact that dogs had now become products that were being placed on the market to be sold specifically as pets. Dogs with a high market price were frequently the targets of burglars, and as merchandise, they were to be coveted or discarded as the market dictated. That is to say that insofar as the pet itself was a status symbol of its owner, it was transformed into an accessory — a commodity that could be exchanged whenever it became tiresome to the owner. Dogs bred as pets had been physiologically modified by humans, and lived highly cultured indoor lives. Pets were thus dogs that had been willfully wrested from nature and forced into a world of regimentation and dependency. It makes sense to say that clothing pets in this state represents a visual manifestation of control (by pet owners) and submission (by pets) and the total victory of order (human beings) over chaos (nature).

“This type of phenomenon is very similar to the current dog fashion fad in modern Japan. A look at the latest fashion magazines reveals an abundance of material introducing expensive luxury items such as designer dog coats, carrying cases and leashes. In other words, in modern Japan, dressing pets in high-priced luxury clothing has become a status symbol. But rather than being an attempt to humanize the pets, dressing these animals is a means of trying to conceal the last lingering signs of the final vestiges of their natural origins. And the fact that dog fashions in Japan are primarily an urban phenomenon is thought to be related to this point.”