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 Ornamental combs and hairpins
New Acquisitions: 2016

Ornamental combs and hairpins

Exquisitely crafted combs and hairpins embellished Japanese women’s hairstyles during the Edo period (1615–1868) and throughout Japan’s gradual shift toward Western fashions. Once functional and ubiquitous, today such accessories are worn along with kimono for formal occasions or by traditional entertainers, such as geisha.

As Japanese women did not wear jewelry, before the modern period, combs and hairpins were their primary adornments. Through her choice of fabrics for a kimono and obi (sash) and of materials and décor for her hair accessories, a woman expressed her personal taste: her sense of current fashion or preference for understated classicism. Women of different social classes also tended toward different styles. The flamboyant, heavily embellished combs and hairpins of courtesans contrast with the plainer styles worn by women of higher status.

Along with exemplifying the extraordinary diversity of design and technique that craft specialists, especially lacquerers, devoted to these small objects, this collection reveals craftspeople’s relationships with artists. Katsushika Hokusai, for example, created woodblock-printed books of designs to guide comb-makers. The large comb with a motif of Mount Fuji clearly was inspired by designs in Hokusai’s illustrated books, which can be explored in the online catalogue The World of the Japanese Illustrated Book.

This group was selected from an extensive collection assembled by Elizabeth Candida Ridout of Washington, DC. Her passionate interest in the beauty of Japanese and Chinese art inspired her to become an active member of the Friends of the Freer|Sackler and a regular participant in member and public programs. She ultimately expressed her devotion to the museum by bequeathing her entire estate, including her home in Georgetown, to the Freer|Sackler to create an endowment in support of Japanese and Chinese art.


Meiji era, late 19th-early 20th century
Horn and wood with lacquer and gold
Bequest from the Estate of Elizabeth Candida Ridout
F2016.15.1-2a-b




The Freer|Sackler is closed for renovation and reinstallation. The popular exhibition Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan is still on view in the International Gallery. (Enter through the Ripley Center.) Join us for our reopening celebration on October 14–15, 2017.