Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! This month’s theme for the Bay Area Kei Bibliotheca blog circle is “food,” and you absolutely cannot stop me from talking about strawberries.
Specifically, strawberries on dresses – I’m a big fan as you can see. I come by my love honestly; as a young girl growing up in Southern California, my birthday cake every year was a homemade strawberry shortcake and it remains one of my favorite treats. (It’s a little harder to come by good strawberries in the autumn in the Pacific Northwest, sadly…) Good, ripe strawberries are like freshly-picked tomatoes – you can’t beat the taste, and there’s something just so quintessentially summery and refreshing about them. But you’re not here just to hear me wax rhapsodic about my favorite foods; you’re here for the history! So just how long have strawberries been appearing on dresses?
A long time apparently!! Frances, Lady Dering, was painted wearing the above dress embroidered with strawberries some time in the early 1600s. These embroidered dresses and jackets were extremely popular amongst a certain set of aristocratic women from around 1600-1620. But strawberries were a popular motif as far back as in ancient Rome, as a symbol of Venus (the Goddess of Love), and in the Viking age were a sacred food of Freyja who is also a love Goddess as well as mistress of magic, fertility, and war (she receives half of the souls that pass in battle as her own Valkyries, after all!) Stonemasons in Medieval Europe, however, often carved strawberries into altars and pillars of cathedrals to symbolize “perfection and righteousness.” They were also associated with the Virgin Mary due to those same traits, and gained a reputation for innocence and beauty that many women of the era appropriated to their dress. “In Othello (first staged in 1604), Desdemona’s handkerchief, embroidered with strawberries, serves as a nod to the popularity of a domestic pastime and has also been read as symbolic of her virginity.” (Jennie Youssef, 2021)
However, they also had a sensuous side that hearkened back to the Roman and Viking interpretations – for example, an awful lot of people in Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” were pictured with strawberries, and doing quite an assortment of un-innocent deeds! And their association with the aristocracy (mostly in cooked formats such as jams and proto-shortcakes) helped create that image as well.
Although strawberries themselves have a short season, they continued to appear as perennial favorites in dress as the years wore on! They were a popular early-Victorian motif, and later in the period Mary Todd Lincoln wore a dress covered in them to a Strawberry Party during the first months of the Civil War — one of the few authenticated dresses of hers to survive. The later Victorians tended to prefer geometric patterns, although because of their love of the natural world and and the association of the berries with “Englishness” at the time, strawberries featured frequently in paintings as well as recipe books. (Strawberries marinated in curaçao served with Chantilly cream? Yes, please!!)
Strawberries on kimono are much more recent – they’re quite a popular motif on yukata today, but the oldest one I could find was the above pre-war meisen weave kimono on Yahoo Japan Auctions. However, fruit patterns on kimono are extremely ancient! Tachibana, or mikan/satsuma, have been used on kimono as a pattern since the Heian period (794-1185), and symbolize long life and healthy offspring. Ume, a flowering stone fruit related to apricot and plum, are a symbol of enduring adversity due to flowering in the early spring when it’s still snowing, and have been used on kimono as a motif since at least the Momoyama period (1568-1582).
The first example of a lolita (or lolita-adjacent) dress I could find on Lolibrary was this lovely dress by Atsuki Onishi from 1993. (There was Fruit Parfait from Shirley Temple in 1990, but that was a children’s dress. Still, it did feature strawberries!) Lolita brands didn’t stop there, though – there are SIXTEEN PAGES of berry prints from Angelic Pretty alone, fourteen from Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, and six from Metamorphose. Chinese indie brands rack up a respectable eight pages of berries, with another six pages from other indie brands! That’s a lot of berries. 😀 The Japanese site Minne (which is somewhat equivalent to Etsy) has 56 pages of strawberry-related goods, and even curated reseller sites have at least thirteen – clearly, strawberries aren’t going out of season anytime soon!
Strawberry dresses have graced the catwalk and the zeitgeist as well. Dior had garments with blueberries and strawberries back in 1953! Junya Wanabe featured assorted fruits in 2003, and Stefano Pilati’s minimalist strawberries appeared in 2010. People went wild for Lirika Matoshi’s strawberry dress at the start of the pandemic in 2020, with Vogue affirming, “the dress is popular precisely because it is not practical. It’s over-the-top and fanciful. It speaks to the glamour of black-tie events—the Oscars, the Met gala—special occasions that appear like a distant memory. But more than that, that sweet strawberry print is deeply nostalgic, hearkening back to a time long before COVID-19, to a childhood innocence that feels especially soothing right now.” (By the way – if you can’t access paywalled articles like this one, I highly recommend 12ft Ladder. Also I have to say I couldn’t care less about either the Oscars or the Met gala, but hey, to each their own lol.) I guess I’m not the only one associating strawberries with summer and my childhood! ❤
Strawberries, then, have been enchanting our tastebuds and eyes alike for centuries! Whether you love the taste or are allergic; think of them as symbols of innocence or carnal pleasures; or consider them to be allusive to countryside simplicity or Rococo indulgence, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a little about their history as the stars of beautiful garments. If you did, please subscribe below to get a notification each week about my latest post, and I look forward to seeing you next week here on Mukashi no Sewing! ❤
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