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Courtesan Nagao with Attendants by Sencho (c. 1840)

Courtesans (oiran), in defiance of laws prohibiting sex workers from wearing extravagant fashions, donned intentionally impractical outfits as visual representations of their influence. The obi belt of an oiran was always tied at the front, which had the practical use of being easier to untie than one made at the back, seeing that courtesans would sleep with their clients this was a necessary aspect of their clothing and one that enticed men.

Courtesan Nagato of the Owariya by Sencho (c. 1840)

Arguing that hairpins were a necessary tool of their trade, used to clean the ears of wealthy clients, courtesans avoided paying the taxes usually levied on these accessories. As such, an overabundance of hairpins became a symbol of their profession, further distinguishing them from lower ranking sex workers and entertainers.

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