This essay, penned for the long weekend, is part of an exploration of the idea of “infits”, which is what one wears when staying in rather than going out. An infit is the opposite of an outfit. 

The field of ukiyo-e–Japanese prints published between about 1661 and 1868–tends to focus upon topics of urban entertainment, such as Kabuki theater performances. Depictions of home life are surprisingly rare, and only in the 20th century, when non-Japanese artists dedicated themselves to the understanding of print techniques, do images of families relaxing in their home become popular.

One such scene is Charles Bartlett’s Interior of a Japanese House. Largely due to its participation in the First World War (1914–1918), Japan was experiencing a resurgence of nationalism, and so everyone is dressed fairly traditionally. The mother in the center and her daughter beside her both wear sumptuous, silk kimonos. The mother’s is an austere burgundy decorated with a fine, regular design in white, most likely produced with a tie-dyeing technique. Her daughter’s kimono is blue-gray with a more subtle pattern. Both women wear obi belts whose colors contrast tastefully with their robes, and each displays a Shimada hairstyle, befitting a conservative adult, middle-class woman of that era. The women are flanked by young men, both dressed in simple indigo-dyed robes. On the far left, a middle-aged wet nurse sits, her gray, striped robe open so that she can breast-feed an infant. Bartlett’s depiction of this family’s “infits” seems quite realistic. Ostentatious outfits were discouraged during times of war, and honoring strict rules about propriety, mothers and daughters were expected to dress formally even when at home. As cultural norms have evolved over the decades, casual clothing for both men and women at home has become far more acceptable.

– Stephen Salel, Robert F. Lange Foundation Curator of Japanese Art

Charles W. Bartlett (1860–1940)
Interior of a Japanese House
Japan, 1918
Painting; watercolor on paper
Gift of Anna Rice Cooke, 1927 (12575)