The History of Happi Coats

Happi Coats are short, wide-sleeved overcoats traditionally worn by workers in Japan. Like most clothing in Japan, they wrap around the body like a robe. But unlike the kimono, they only extend to the waist or hip. Based on the traditional haori, which in turn derives from historical Chinese fashion. They are treated like uniforms and embellished with symbols of associations. Soldiers would wear happi coats with the colors and symbols of their associated leader. And workers would be decorated to show their industry and groups. They often feature bright colors, bold designs, and sometimes a family crest. 

Traditionally, only men wore happi coats, but women began wearing them during the Edo period (1603-1868) when economic growth was strong, and Japan’s artistic scene boomed. The happi transitioned from a uniform to a fashion statement. Today, these easily recognizable coats are most often worn during festivals and by workers at traditional Japanese establishments like sushi houses. Further, like many Japanese clothes, their simple design has integrated into the fashion world. You can see variants of happi worn as informal clothes and lounge robes all across the world. They’re great to take the edge off a chilly day and to add a colorful layer to your outfit!

An employee wearing a Japanese happi coat with letters reading, “big sale,” works at a drug store in Tokyo March 8, 2012. JREUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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