Missing image
Japanese woman in a kimono, ca. 1870
Women dressed in kimono as maiko (apprentice ).
Women dressed in kimono as maiko (apprentice geisha).

Kimono (Japanese: 着物 literally "something one wears") are the traditional garments of Japan. Originally the word kimono was used for all types of clothing, but it came to refer specifically to the full-length garment that is still worn by women, men, and children.

Kimono are T-shaped, straight-lined robes that fall to the ankle, with collars and full-length sleeves. The sleeves are commonly very wide at the wrist, perhaps a half meter. Traditionally, unmarried women wear kimono with extremely long sleeves that extend almost to the floor. The robe is wrapped around the body, always with the left side over the right, and secured by a wide belt tied in the back, called an obi.


History and description

The modern kimono began to take shape in the Heian period (CE 794-1192). Since then the basic shape of both men's and women's kimono has remained essentially unchanged.

Traditionally, all women's kimono were basically one size. Tucks and folds in the fabric accommodated different body heights and shapes. Kimono were made from a single bolt of kimono fabric. The bolts came in standard dimensions, and all the fabric was used in the making of the kimono. All traditional kimono are sewn by hand, and the fabrics from which they are created are also frequently hand made and hand decorated. Various techniques such as yuzen dye resist (made with a rice paste), shibori, as well as hand-painting are incorporated into the kimono which governs where the pattern is distributed and if it is a singular or a repeating pattern. Repeating patterns that cover a large section of the kimono are traditionally done with the yuzen resist technique and a stencil.

In the past, a kimono would often be entirely taken apart for washing, and then re-sewn for wearing. Modern fabrics and cleaning methods have largely eliminated this practice. "Basting stitches"—long, loose stitches—are sometimes placed around the outside edges of the kimono for storage. They help to prevent bunching, folding and wrinkling, and keep the kimono's layers in alignment.

Over time there have been many variations in colour, fabric and style, as well as accessories such as the obi.

There are styles of kimono for various occasions, ranging from extremely formal to very casual. The level of formality of women's kimono is determined by the shape (mostly the length of the sleeves), pattern and fabric, and also the colour. Men's kimono are usually one basic shape and are mainly worn in subdued colours. Formality is determined by the type and colour of accessories, the fabric, and the number or absence of mon (family crests). Silk is the most desirable, and most formal, fabric. Cotton is more casual. These days there are polyester kimono as well; they are generally more casual.

Today, both men's and women's kimono are increasingly available in different sizes. With the tradition of kimono being made from a single bolt of cloth, larger-sizes are difficult to find and very expensive to have made. Very tall or heavy people, such as sumo wrestlers, have kimono custom-made.

Kimono can be expensive. A woman's kimono may easily exceed US$10,000; a complete kimono outfit, with kimono, undergarments, obi, ties, socks, sandals and accessories, can exceed US$20,000. A single obi may cost several thousand dollars. In practice, however, most kimono owned by typical kimono hobbyists or by the practitioners of traditional arts are far less expensive. Enterprising people make their own kimono and undergarments since they follow a standard pattern, or they "recycle" older kimono. Cheaper and machine-made fabrics substitute for the traditional hand-dyed silk. There is also a thriving business in second hand kimono in Japan. Women's obi, however, remain an expensive item. Even second hand ones can cost hundreds of dollars, and they are difficult for inexperienced people to make. A man's obi, even those made from silk, tend to be much cheaper, because they are narrower and shorter than those worn by a woman.

Kimono are never wasted. Old kimono are recycled in various ways: they may be altered to make haori or to make kimono for children; the fabric may be used to patch similar kimono; larger parts of fabric are used for making kimono accessories such as handbags; smaller parts can be used to make covers, bags or cases for various implements, especially things like the sweet-picks used in tea ceremony. Kimono that are damaged in the lower portions can also be worn under hakama to hide the damage.

Today, kimono are usually worn only on special occasions, and mostly by women. A few older women and even fewer men still wear kimono on a daily basis. Men wear kimono most often at weddings and at the tea ceremony. Kimono are also worn by both men and women in certain sports, such as kendo. Professional sumo wrestlers are required to wear kimono whenever they appear in public outside of the ring.

There is a large number of kimono hobbyists in Japan, where it is possible to take courses on wearing kimono. The classes cover selecting seasonally and event-appropriate patterns and fabrics, matching the kimono undergarments and accessories to the kimono, selecting and tying an obi, and other topics. There are also clubs devoted to kimono culture, such as Kimono de Ginza.

Women's kimono

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Kimono on a Japanese Postage Stamp

Most Japanese women would be unable to properly put on a kimono unaided, since the typical woman's outfit requires twelve or more separate pieces that must be worn, matched and secured in prescribed ways. Professional kimono dressers still help women put on kimono, usually for special occasions. Kimono dressers must be licensed, and while they often work out of hair salons, many make housecalls as well.

The choice of which type of kimono to wear is laden with symbolism and subtle social messages. The specific choice relates to the woman's age and marital status, and the level of formality of the occasion. In descending order of formality:

  • Kurotomesode (黒留袖 ; くろとめそで): a black kimono patterned only below the waistline, kurotomesode are the most formal kimono for married women. They are often worn by the mothers of the bride and groom at a wedding. Kurotomesode usually have five kamon (family crests) printed on the sleeves, chest and back of the kimono.
  • Furisode (振袖 ; ふりそで): furisode literally translates as swinging sleeves—the sleeves of furisode average between 39 and 42 inches in length. Furisode are the most formal kimono for unmarried women. They have patterns which cover the entire garment, and are usually worn at coming-of-age ceremonies (Seijin Shiki) and by unmarried female relatives of the bride at weddings and wedding receptions.
  • Irotomesode (色留袖 ; いろとめそで): a single-colour kimono, patterned only below the waistline. Irotomesode are slightly less formal than kurotomesode, and are worn by married women, usually close relatives of the bride and groom at a wedding. An irotomesode may have three or five kamon.
  • Houmongi (訪問着 ; ほうもんぎ): literally translates as visiting wear. Characterized by patterns that flow over the shoulders, seams and sleeves, houmongi rank slightly higher than their close relative, the tsukesage. Houmongi may be worn by either married and unmarried women; often friends of the bride will wear houmongi at weddings and receptions. They may also be worn to formal parties, such as galas.
  • Tsukesage (付け下げ ; つけさげ): a tsukesage has more modest patterns that cover less area—mainly below the waist—than the more formal houmongi. They may also be worn by married and unmarried women.
  • Iromuji (色無地 ; いろむじ): single-colored kimono that may be worn by married and unmarried women. They are mainly worn to tea ceremonies. The dyed silk may be figured (rinzu, similar to jacquard), but has no differently colored patterns.
  • Komon (小紋 ; こもん): fine pattern in English. Kimono with a small, repeated pattern throughout the garment. Somewhat casual: may be worn around town, or dressed up with a nice obi for a restaurant. Both married and unmarried women may wear komon.
  • Edo komon (江戸小紋 ; えどこもん): Edo komon is a type of komon characterized by tiny dots arranged in dense patterns that form larger designs. The Edo komon dyeing technique originated with the samurai class during the Edo period. A kimono with this type of pattern is of the same formality as an iromuji, and when decorated with kamon, may be worn as visiting wear (equivalent to a tsukesage or houmongi).
  • Yukata (ゆかた): informal unlined summer kimono usually made of cotton, linen, or hemp. Yukata are most often worn to outdoor festivals, by men and women of all ages. They are also worn at onsen (hot springs) resorts, where they are often provided for the guests in the resort's own pattern.

Men's kimono

In contrast to the woman's garment, a man's kimono outfits are far simpler, typically consisting of a maximum of five pieces, not including socks and sandals.

In the modern era, the principal distinctions between men's kimono are in the fabric and the design. The typical kimono has a subdued, dark colour; black, dark blues and greens, and occasionally brown are common. Fabrics are usually matte. Some have a subtle pattern, and textured fabrics are common in more casual kimono. More casual kimono may be of slightly brighter colour, such as lighter purples, greens and blues. Sumo wrestlers have occasionally been known to wear quite bright colours such as fuchsia.

The most formal style of kimono is plain black with five kamon on the chest, shoulders and back. Slightly less formal is the three-kamon kimono. These are usually paired with white undergarments and accessories.

Almost any kimono outfit can be made more formal by wearing hakama and haori (see below).

Kimono accessories and related garments

  • Geta (下駄). Geta are wooden sandals worn by men and women with yukata. A slightly different style of geta is worn by geisha.
  • Hakama (袴): a divided or undivided skirt, rather like a very wide pair of pants, traditionally worn only by men but now worn also by women, and also worn in certain martial arts such as aikido. A hakama typically has pleats, a koshiita - a stiff or padded part in the lower back of the wearer, and himo - long lengths of fabric that are tied around the waist around an obi (described below). Hakama are worn in several budo arts such as aikido, kendo, iaido and naginata. They can range from very formal to visiting wear, depending on pattern. While very formal women's outfits do not include hakama, men's usually do.
  • Haori (羽織): Hip- or thigh-length kimono coat which adds formality. Haori were originally reserved for men, until fashions changed at the end of the Meiji period. They are now worn by both men and women, though women's kimono jackets tend to be longer.
  • Haori-himo: a tasseled, woven string fastener for the haori. The most formal colour is white.
  • Obi (帯): The Japanese equivalent of a sash or belt, which is used for a kimono or yukata. Obi are generally worn differently depending on the occasion, and they are usually more intricate for women.
  • Tabi (足袋): Ankle high, divided-toe socks that are usually worn with sandals. They also come in a boot form.
  • Waraji (草鞋): Straw rope sandals. Most often seen on monks.
  • Zori (草履): Cloth, leather or grass-woven sandals. Zori may be highly decorated with intricate stitching or with no decoration at all. They are worn by both men and women. Grass woven zori with white straps are the most formal for men. They are similar in design to "flip-flops".
  • Kanzashi: Hair ornaments worn in the coiffured hair style which often accompanies kimono. These may take the form of silk flowers, wooden combs, jade hairpins etc...

External links

ca:Kimono da:Kimono de:Kimono es:Kimono fr:Kimono he:קימונו nl:Kimono pl:Kimono simple:Kimono sv:Hakama ja:和服


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