Aya Tsukioka, a Japanese artist and designer, has come up with a vending machine disguise built into a skirt. The idea is that a woman being followed down the street can do a quick change and then stand next to a row of vending machines, hiding in plain sight.
The idea is charming, intriguing, and impractical, as the designer herself admits in a New York Times piece when she notes that it might be hard to do the conversion quickly "especially if your hands are shaking."
While the camouflage principle behind the costume is rational -- blending in to your surroundings can certainly be a practical way to protect yourself -- I find it hard to believe that anyone being followed could make the switch fast enough to deceive the pursuer. And while the costume looks reasonable in a photograph, I don't think it would bear close inspection.
It would make a wonderful Hallowe'en costume though -- if you're willing to pay $800 for a costume.
The costume is charming, but The Times article brings up more complicated issues. The Japanese are becoming increasingly nervous about crime -- even though The Times says crime rates are dropping in Japan. The article also mentions that men groping women on the subway is a serious problem and suggests that Japanese culture, with its emphasis on avoiding scenes, lends itself to creative solutions.
But these costumes and the other ideas (a purse that can transform to look like a manhole cover, "hoodlum" clothes for good kids) aren't solutions; they're just tools and, I suspect, not particularly effective tools. Tools can be useful, but only if they really work and only if you really know how to use them.
As for the subway groping problem, I suspect making a scene is the best way to stop it. While I hate to challenge another country's culture -- and know that even here in the US most people don't like to make scenes in public -- the gropers are counting on the women to keep quiet. If women stop tolerating this -- by screaming "Take your hands off me" or stepping on the instep of the groper -- the practice will die out. The gropers don't want public humiliation either.
Given that my own self defense principles come from Aikido, a martial art developed in Japan that draws on that country's ancient budo traditions, I find it ironic that some Japanese are responding to crime with quirky tools instead of their own cultural heritage. Of course, I suspect the phenomenon is overstated: Stories about dresses that convert to vending machines are more entertaining than pieces on martial arts training.
Just don't get sidetracked into believing that a costume is going to keep you safe.