Sartorial Musings: The Gentleman Style Icon: Emperor Akihito of Japan

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We begin a segment off the Sartorial Musings column, and wanted to do one on the Gentleman Style Icon. We thought long and hard on the icon who would be the first to launch this segment, and wanted to wander away from the safe and traditional icons like The Duke of Windsor, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, and the ilk, and propose one who we feel always is appropriately attired, always correct, and yet not often quoted as a style icon. Presenting Emperor Akihito of Japan as the style icon.


The Gentleman Style Icon: HIH Emperor Akihito

We intend for this choice to provoke and give our readers some thought. This editor visited Otsuka, a Japanese bespoke (and RTW) shoe maker in Tokyo some years ago, and while at the bespoke department, the head cordswainer showed him the shoes he had just made for HIH Emperor Akihito. Beautifully made, needless to say, and not surprisingly rather small, a size UK 5 perhaps if it were Ready to Wear. And thus began a fascination with the Emperor.


The Emperor in Double Breasted Suit


 Japan's Emperor Akihito at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo Wednesday, March 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Toru Hanai, Pool)

Japan’s Emperor Akihito at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo Wednesday, March 19, 2014. The Emperor is wearing a double breasted suit. (AP Photo/Toru Hanai, Pool)


The Emperor’s suits are reported to be bespoken by him from Kinn Tailors, headed by Hattori Susumu, although the British Savile Row house of Henry Poole claims they made his morning suit and white tie tailcoat.

Note the line of the double breasted suit above. The model is the rather traditional 6×4, with 6 buttons showing. Double Breasted suits take their origins from English Military, as opposed to the Single Breasted suit which draws its origins from equestrian wear. In today’s context, the Double Breasted suit is seen as more formal than the Single Breasted, and generally recommended for men who have a stronger standing in society. Normally not recommended as your first suit.

Four of the six buttons are ceremonial in nature and cannot be buttoned. Only two can be buttoned. Note that he only buttons one of the 6 buttons. This gives a slightly more relaxed look. This is the norm for Double Breasted suits. Prince Charles, who also favours the Double Breasted suit buttons both.

The lapel sweeps smoothly, and the end shows a rounded belly with a nice roll. A small amount of shirt shows under his sleeves, and this matches the amount of shirt collar showing behind his coat. A white, neatly folded linen pocket square ensures the breast pocket is not unadorned.

Note also the trousers crease line only makes one break and lightly hangs over his shoes.


Japan's Emperor Akihito

Japan’s Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo September 26, 2013 and released by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan.


Seen above, the Emperor is wearing another Double Breasted suit. As he is seated, note also that he does not unbutton his coat, keeping it done up. A well cut and fitted coat will not need to be unbottoned while the wearer takes a seat. The suit should follow the contours of his body and the lapel should not open up and gape open.


The Emperor in a Single Breasted suit


Japan's Emperor Akihito, center left, and Empress Michiko

Japan’s Emperor Akihito, center left, and Empress Michiko talk to Indian and Japanese people during their visit to Lodhi garden, home to 15th and 16th century tombs of Mughal emperors, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)


in the photograph above, he wears a Single Breasted coat and non-matching trousers. This look is more casual. Both the Single Breasted coat as well as not matching the trousers create this effect. He wears a pair of black penny loafer shoes, which also contributes to this effect. Note the button position is just above at his natural waist, where his trousers hang from. No shirt shows below the coat button. The natural waist is the narrowest part of the torso and is the best place for the trousers to hang from. Classically trousers are held in place with braces, and when done correctly will maintain a beautiful line.

This is a very traditional two button coat, where only the upper button is done up (at all times, including when sitting), and the lower button never buttoned up. This is the prescription for coat buttons in order to create the pleasing narrow waist as the button stance of the coat act as a pivot to create a beautiful silhouette.


The Emperor in Black Tie


Dinner suit Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan attend a dinner for foreign Sovereigns to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee at Buckingham Palace on May 18, 2012 in London, England. Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall hosted the event. May 17, 2012 – Source: Chris Jackson/Getty Images Europ


Seen above The Emperor in his Dinner suit, also known as the tuxedo and required when the dress code says Black Tie. And to match, the Empress is in Evening Dress.

As prescribed by the Black Tie code, the tie is always black, and always a bow tie, As HIH Emperor is wearing a Double Breasted coat, he can dispense of a waistcoat or a cummerbund. Note the lapels are in grosgrain, a fabric which is characterized by a ribbed appearance with a light lustre. A grosgrain ribbon is also used on both outside legs of the trousers. Note the Black Tie trousers never have cuffs. Black patent leather pumps are often worn with Black Tie, but a plain toe black oxford is also acceptable as shown by the Emperor.


The Emperor in Morning Suit

For Formal day functions, the Emperor wears his Morning Suit.


Japanese Emperor Akihito

Japanese Emperor Akihito head for the altar to offer silent prayers during the memorial service for war victims in Tokyo on August 15, 2013 AFP PHOTO / Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)


This is the standard and correct dress for Morning Suit. A cutaway long coat in Oxford grey (a very dark grey which is almost black) and striped trousers. The coat has only one button, and is always closed. A regular, sober tie and a waistcoat is also part of this dress. The waistcoat’s lowest button is traditionally left open, and some tailors make the waistcoat in such a way that it cannot be physically buttoned up. Note the trousers never match the coat.

Shoes are black calf plain Oxfords. Note the almost straight line of the crease on the trousers of the leading leg. Note also, for formal dress, trousers do not have cuffs.

The morning suit and White Tie is less common outside of royal circles. Society being more and more casual, even Black Tie, which traditionally is Semi-Formal Evening Wear is now considered too formal. For the erstwhile gentleman, it is often sufficient to own a few Single Breasted suits, and perhaps a couple of Double Breasted suits.


Final Remarks

We hope we have been able to use HIH Emperor Akihito’s dress sense and correctness to help our readers navigate their own dressing. A gentleman’s dress follows a strict regiment, and is intended for the ladies to shine in their resplendent and varied dresses and jewellery.

We can also note that the Emperor wears almost no jewellery. He actually does wear a watch, from some photographs we can see a plain black aligator strap holding what seems to be a white gold dress watch. This is the norm for a gentleman. Only cufflinks and a watch are the two accoutrements allowed. All right, perhaps a wedding band or a signet ring. Bracelets, in whatever form is considered crass and too showy.

Please give us your feedback on what, who you would like to see in our next feature, and we hope it has been entertaining and educational.



  1. I just wanted to thank you for this fascinating article on the Emperor’s dress and style. I have to admit that in the past, I have had a somewhat negative attitude toward rules regarding men’s fashion. But I came away from the article seeing that the rules all have vert useful reasons and purposes meant to enhance our clothing and overall style, which many fashion experts and enthusiasts fail to emphasize. I also came away with a respect and interest in the Emperor himself, and how he uses his style in his role as a leader for the Japanese people. I really appreciate and respect all of the information, research, and thoughtful analysis you have presented in this article. Thank you again:-)