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Japanese Boro-Boro Style and Textiles: What’s Old Can Be New Again

You’ve probably heard plenty of rags to riches stories in your lifetime. They’re usually about people who were born into less than stellar financial circumstances, yet they somehow managed to change the trajectory of their narrative into an unexpected success story.

Japanese Boro-Boro style is a lot like that.

Every piece of clothing, accessory, or household item undergoes a transformation from something once worn out and outdated to something beautiful and meaningful. Essentially, the sentiment behind it is that what’s old can be made new again—and that’s a touching concept because it gives every item a special story to tell about its past, present, and future.

By its very nature, Japanese culture embraces the art of refurbishing or repurposing older items and giving them new life. That’s what Japanese Boro-Boro style is really all about.

Authentic Japanese Boro-Boro Style 

“Boro” is derived from the Japanese word “boroboro”, which indicates an item—usually clothing or houseware—is old, worn out, or ragged. Traditional Boro-Boro style features sashiko thread—a heavyweight, snugly bound cotton—that is used to bind multiple patches of fabric together. Usually, the fabrics are in a square or rectangular shape. Sashiko stitching is a method or pattern of reinforced stitching that originated as a practical means of mending frayed, torn, or damaged fabrics.

Traditionally, sashiko stitching was intended to reinvigorate a garment by making it useful again to the wearer so that it would last a long time. Now, sashiko stitching is purposely added to garments for decorative purposes, particularly in patchwork quilts and embroidery.  

In many ways, Boro-Boro style is a form of personalized Japanese art that the wearer creates for themselves taking previously used fabrics and textiles that came from different clothing items to create something new and completely unique. That’s what makes this design form so fascinating and compelling to a lot of bohemian artists.

Originally born out of sheer necessity and the creative resourcefulness of Japanese women, Boro-Boro has now been adopted as an enduring fashion staple with plenty of designers purposely emulating these designs around the world.

Japanese Boro-Boro Style: A Brief History 

Much like bohemian styles of continental Europe, many of the Boro-Boro styles of the past were created not to comply with the fashions of the time, but purely out of necessity. The people who wore Boro-Boro clothing were extremely poverty-stricken and usually had very limited resources, so it was in their best interest to try to make their clothes last as long as possible.

Predominantly, Boro-Boro clothing was worn by peasants, farmers, and their families. Oftentimes, they used portions of multiple used materials like cotton that were taken from other articles of clothing and used them to patch up clothes that were still usable, but damaged. These patched up garments were so sturdily repaired that they were intended to be passed down from one generation to the next.  
Strict sumptuary laws during the Edo period prevented lower class citizens from obtaining a wide variety of luxurious fabrics like silk and cotton, so all of their cloth had to be handwoven and dyed by hand. Peasants were also prohibited from wearing brightly coloured clothing akin to their wealthier countrymen, so they were limited to various shades of blue and grey. Hence, the overuse of indigo in traditional Boro-Boro garments.

After the Edo and Meiji Periods ended, quality of life and general living standards began to improve in Japan. Most peasants regarded their Boro-Boro clothing as a source of embarrassment and a constant reminder of their former poverty, so they decided to discard these items by burning them.  
The beauty of traditional Boro-Boro textiles is that they were essentially a collage of blended shades of blue and patterns that came from different places. With each generation, new pieces were added so that each article of clothing had unique memories and experiences attached to them.  

The few pieces from these historical periods that were obtained and preserved in museums are a truly breathtaking and awe-inspiring sight to observe.  

Boro-Boro Mending  

There’s a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that you’ve created or purchased something that’s truly special. And that’s exactly what you get with Boro-Boro. Each piece of patchwork adds a distinctive piece to a much larger and complex puzzle. Japanese Boro-Boro style isn’t about fixing something that’s broken or differentiating between class structures. Although it may have started out that way and grown due to pragmatism, it now represents something so much more fascinating and important: creating human connections.

The great thing about sashiko stitching is that the patterns can be as simple or complex as you want them to be. Typically, you’d need a special long needle and very thick thread which can be ordered from Japan, but you can also substitute these items with a cotton darning needle, thick cotton thread, or embroidery floss.

Japanese Boro-Boro Styles You Can Try  

Despite its very humble beginnings, Japanese Boro-Boro style has come a long way and is very skillfully and artistically incorporated in modern fashion. Here are a few different types of garments that can easily incorporate Boro-Boro:
  • Jeans or Trousers
  • Skirts
  • Dresses
  • Shirts
  • Coats
  • Scarfs  
  • Bags
  • Canvas Shoes  

How Western Boho Culture Embraces Japanese Boro-Boro Styles

Boho and Boro-Boro have a lot in common. They both originated out of a necessity for lower class or traditionally marginalized groups of people to dress themselves and cultivate a strong sense of counterculture and they both became symbols past class structures and struggles. Ironically, these styles have managed to endure far longer than their contemporaries and are often intermingled with one another in modern styles.  
A lot of the values elicited by these styles are also the same in that they both promote making good use of all materials and limiting waste.  
Woodstock Lodge is proud to uphold traditional Japanese culture and styles by incorporating Boro-Boro customs into our design and creation process. Our goal is to help keep these valuable traditions and sentiments alive for many years to come by continuously introducing them to new audiences around the world. Contact us today to place and order and learn more about our brand.
  • November 28, 2019
  • Mrityunjay Awasthy