Saturday, September 3, 2011

So You Want to Be a Geisha for Halloween (part 1)

(Please note that all opinions contained in this post are just that, my opinions, and are not in any way official or final-word views on the matter. Also, my opinions on this matter are rather strong.)

It’s that time of year again (or close to it anyway), the time when people flood question communities and websites with questions about how to dress as a geisha for Halloween. The suggested costumes usually involve some combination of super-short satin bathrobes, stockings or tights, high-heeled shoes, Gibson Girl-esque wigs with chopsticks as decorations, and makeup whose only similarity to authentic geisha makeup is the fact that it has a white base.

This, in my opinion, is very uncool.

It’s uncool for a few reasons, but I’ll pick out my two “favorites” here. Reason #1 is that such costumes look nothing like what real geisha actually wear, and are simply built around a combination of Orientalist fantasies and the Western misconception that geisha are prostitutes/hookers/escorts/whatever you want to call them. Sometimes these costumes involve super-short cheongsam, which brings up a whole host of other issues, like the (offensive) idea that all Asian cultures are the same and interchangeable. This is of course not the case. Reason #2 is that geisha are real, living women who are part of a real, living culture that is usually NOT the culture of the person wearing a satin bathrobe and calling herself (or himself, I suppose) a geisha. I find it pretty damn offensive, along the lines of dressing up in those fake “leather” dresses and feather headbands and calling oneself an “Indian princess.”

So if you want to dress up in a mini satin bathrobe, there’s nothing stopping you, but it would be way more accurate and less offensive if you didn't call yourself a geisha while doing it. But at the same time, if that’s what you want to wear for Halloween, then this really isn’t the series for you.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to put in a bit of work to put together a costume, you can have a reasonably-authentic-looking maiko or geisha costume. It can involve a lot of money, since buying authentic maiko or geisha items is super expensive and even buying reasonable substitutes won’t be cheap. It can also involve a lot of work, since you have to track down everything you want to buy and/or you have to make or alter items to work for you, especially if you try to make or alter things to save money. But if you want a more authentic look, the time and/or money invested could very well be worth it. You should be aware that, unless you have the money and access required to purchase 100% authentic maiko or geisha goods, you probably will not have a 100% accurate costume. But you can get close!

Since this is going to turn into a Post of Doom if I try to post it all at once, I’m going to break it up into sections and post it over the next couple of weeks. Here’s what we’ll be talking about in the future:
1) Figuring out what you really want to be for Halloween (i.e. do you want to be a geisha or do you actually want to be a maiko?)
2) The parts of an authentic maiko or geisha costume
3) Reasonable substitutions for when you can’t get the real thing

1 comment:

  1. Aya-san, if a geisha doesn't call herself (or himself) a geisha, what do they call themself to replace the term? Sorry if I misunderstand the sentence.