These pants go by various names depending on where you look: Mataware また割り(splits), Momohiki 股引, Matahiki また引き. Essentially they are a type of trousers worn tight at the calf and baggy at the hip. Common in rural Japan until the early 20th century, these were worn by shop workers and farmers alike. These are different from Mompe or Monpe, もんぺ which were baggy trousers typically worn by working women. Today you can still find these tight, wrap-around leggings worn at festivals and parades by men and women carrying large floats or performing in traditional dances.
Let’s take a closer look at this pair in particular. There’s a lot to see here.
Most obvious is the fabric itself. All of the fabrics used in this pair of leggings were recycled from other garments and most if not all have been dyed with indigo at some point in their history. The leggings are most likely made for a man, as women’s pants often had at least a flash of color or scrap of more decorative fabric included, but they could have been worn by more than one person over time.
The fabric is built layer upon layer, with patching on the inside as well as the outside. The legs were initially built on a rectangular base (note the seams below) and heavily patched at the knees, with thinner fabric in the back of the leg to hold it together. The front shows even stitches with sashiko reinforcement from crotch to ankle, but there is very little to reinforce the back. The difference in density from front to back shows how much time the wearer would have spent on his knees. Thinner fabric at the back of a bent knee would mean less pressure while kneeling, while the padding in front offered more support and protection.
The fabrics used here appear to be cotton, but it is also possible there is a blend of bast fibers (hemp, linen, etc.) mixed in as well.
So often we Westerners assume sashiko was decorative, with white thread on indigo fabric. Pieces like this demonstrate how sashiko (the stitch) and boro (the resulting fabric) often were made using whatever materials were available at the time, including recycled thread in shades of indigo, brown, or gray.
Take a moment and imagine pulling these on everyday for work. They might have been the wearer’s only pair, mended whenever necessary. He likely would have worn a fundoshi loin cloth underneath and a chest-covering apron called a haragake 腹掛け on top. Over that he might have worn a happi はっぴ (short jacket), hanpi はんぴ (sleeveless jacket) or hanten (padded jacket) if he had one and the season called for it.
Here’s a peek inside, in case you’re curious about the internal construction.
Notice how different the color is compared to the outside! While the inside is subjected to wear and friction, it’s against skin and all those lovely natural oils we possess. There’s also a lack of daylight, which means far less fading.
Also note how the stitches inside are often larger, covering more ground in the back and showing smaller stitches on the outside. The base fabrics are anchored here, allowing the patches to float a bit until they too are tacked down securely.
Do you have any boro clothing in your collection, or a pair of pants with many patches? How do clothes like this make you feel about the fast fashion industry we have today?