Teddy Bear Picnic: A look at Teddy Bears through JFashion [Part 1 – Teddy Bears & Olive Girls]
This was originally presented as an educational companion piece to a craft panel at Katsucon 2020. Because it was originally in lecture / power point format, some aspects may not translate as smoothly to written text.
The Birth of the Teddy Bear
Most sources say that the first teddy bears that looked like what we think of as a teddy bear today were made at roughly the same time in America and in Germany. The story goes that in Germany, in October of 1902, Richard Steiff of the Steiff toy company was inspired by performing bears in an American circus to make a jointed bear toy that was more similar to a baby doll than a real bear.
Then, in November of 1902, President Roosevelt allegedly was hunting and they had bagged nothing. An aid caught a bear cub and tied it to a tree to make it easy, but the president refused to shoot it on the grounds that it wasn’t sporting.
This inspired a political cartoon, which, in turn inspired Morris Michtom and his wife Rose owners of a candy shop in NYC to sew up a jointed plush velvet bear cub with shoe button eyes. They put it in the window with a copy of the cartoon and called it “Teddy’s Bear”.
When multiple customers asked to buy it, they became worried that the president might object so they sent him the original for his kids and got his permission to use his name.
Michtom closed his candy store, started a toy business called Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. The bear became the symbol for Rosevelt in the 1904 election.
Meanwhile Steiff tried to ship his bears to the US, but they allegedly got lost at sea, and so it wasn’t until 1904 that Steiff bears were also for sale in the US.
Regardless of who truly invented the bears, they were a wildly popular and fashionable gift in the early 1900s for children and young women and that popularity would endure until today.
Teddy Bear Day
The Japan Teddy Bear Association
In 1993, the Japan Teddy Bear Association was established. They host an annual bear convention in Japan, and also do charitable work.
Additionally, they promoted their created holiday, Teddy Bear Day on Roosevelt’s Birthday, October 27th. The premise is that everyone could use a little compassion, just like Roosevelt showed the bear, and thus, they suggest you tell someone you are thinking of them, by presenting them with a bear as a gift.
Well, it’s a little complicated, Teddy bears were obviously fashionable items in the early 1900s, but 100 years later there are a few different ways that they worked their way into fashion, and Jfashion in particular. So let’s back up bit first and establish some Jfashion history.
PopEye (yes that popeye), was a fashion magazine for young city men in Japan. It spun off Olive, subtitled as ‘a magazine for city girls’ in 1982, which only lasted until 1983, at which point, they did a total about face, changed the subtitle to be “a magazine for romantic girls” and changed the fashion inside of the magazine.
This change was centered around the change from fashion to being centered around things like american tennis fashion and a general american look as the ideal, to the ideal of the look of a romantic teenager from paris.
The magazine content is relatively light, with lots of fashion and homegoods shopping type features, a splash of skin care and then features about places to visit, a little about media and celebrities and then a couple more in depth articles, usually about light topics, like being a fan of Disney. A lot less time is spent on weight loss or makeup advertising compared to other similar magazines of the time.
Olive magazine was very influential on young women’s fashion and it’s readers were called “Olive Girls”.
The very first issue of Olive had a whole 6-page article about stuffed animals and teddy bears!
And even after they changed focus, bears were a common feature in the magazine, popping up along side clothing or home goods in nearly every issue. These bears are all from random issues from 1996 and 1997.
Particularly, these little bears start popping up in the clothing shopping guides, alongside clothing brands in a mascot type roll. Interestingly, they actually included Steif bears in the shopping sections of some issues as well
According to the fashion researcher Reiko Koga, “Olive Girl” style could be broken down into 3 different main style tribes. No real “name” is given to these sub-sets of “Olive Girls”, but I’ve added headings for clarity.
Pink House Style
First was a “Girly” fashion style that used ribbons and frills, floral prints and other feminine motifs. The overall look had a fairy-tale like feel, included characters like alice in wonderland, and popular brands were Isao Kaneko’s Pink House, Wonderful World, MILK, AO and other similar brands.
Kyoko Koizumi Style
The second style was more of a tomyboy style, which was popularized by idols like kyoko koizumi and checkers. These girls would try to emulate London or Paris street style and there was a sort of anarchy to their style choices.
Accessory Collection Style
Lastly, were girls who focused on small items and accessories, like character accessories and can badges, and kitchy things. They would collect and wear items they thought were cute in a very missmatched sort of way. This style would later give rise to some of the styles associated with Harajuku.
For our purposes, we are going to stick with the “girly” or “princess” style family.