The kimono(きもの) (着物) is a Japanese traditional garment. The word “kimono”, which literally means a “thing to wear” (ki “wear” and mono “thing”), has come to denote these full-length robes.
Kimono are wrapped around the body, always with the left side over the right (except when dressing the dead for burial) and secured by a sash called an obi, which is tied at the back. Kimono are generally worn with traditional footwear (especially zōri or geta) and split-toe socks (tabi).
Today, kimono are most often worn by women, and on special occasions. Traditionally, unmarried women wore a style of kimono called furisode, with almost floor-length sleeves, on special occasions.
As the kimono has another name, gofuku (呉服, literally “clothes of Wu (吳)”), the earliest Kimonos made with exceptional skill from fine materials have been regarded as great works of art.
The formal kimono was replaced by the more convenient Western clothes and yukata as everyday wear. Today most people wear Western clothes and wear the breezier and more comfortable yukata for special occasions.
Textiles and Manufacture
Kimonos for men should fall approximately to the ankle without tucking. A woman’s kimono has additional length to allow for the ohashori, the tuck that can be seen under the obi, which is used to adjust the kimono to the wearer. An ideally tailored kimono has sleeves that fall to the wrist when the arms are lowered.
The finished kimono consists of four main strips of fabric—two panels covering the body and two panels forming the sleeves—with additional smaller strips forming the narrow front panels and collar. Historically, kimonos were often taken apart for washing as separate panels and resewn by hand.
Traditionally, kimonos are sewn by hand; even machine-made kimonos require substantial hand-stitching. Kimono fabrics are frequently hand-made and -decorated. Techniques such as yūzen dye resist are used for applying decoration and patterns to the base cloth. Repeating patterns that cover a large area of a kimono are traditionally done with the yūzen resist technique and a stencil. Over time there have been many variations in color, fabric and style, as well as accessories such as the obi.
The kimono and obi are traditionally made of silk, silk brocade, silk crepes (such as chirimen) and satin weaves (such as rinzu). Modern kimonos are widely available in less-expensive easy-care fabrics such as rayon, cotton sateen, cotton, polyester and other synthetic fibers. Silk is still considered the ideal fabric.
Customarily, woven patterns and dyed repeat patterns are considered informal. Formal kimonos have free-style designs dyed over the whole surface or along the hem.
The pattern of the kimono can determine in which season it should be worn. For example, a pattern with butterflies or cherry blossoms would be worn in spring. Watery designs are common during the summer. A popular autumn motif is the russet leaf of the Japanese maple; for winter, designs may include bamboo, pine trees and plum blossoms.
A popular form of textile art in Japan is shibori (intricate tie dye), found on some of the more expensive kimonos and haori kimono jackets. Shibori textiles are very time consuming to produce and require great skill, so the textiles and garments created from them are very expensive and highly prized.
These terms refer to parts of a kimono:
• Dōura (胴裏): upper lining on a woman’s kimono.
• Eri (衿): collar.
• Fuki (袘): hem guard.
• Sode (袖): sleeve below the armhole.
• Obi (帯): a belt used to tuck excess cloth away from the seeing public.
• Maemigoro (前身頃): front main panel, excluding sleeves. The covering portion of the other side of the back, maemigoro is divided into “right maemigoro” and “left maemigoro”.
• Miyatsukuchi (身八つ口?): opening under the sleeve.
• Okumi (衽): front inside panel on the front edge of the left and right, excluding the sleeve of a kimono. Until the collar, down to the bottom of the dress goes, up and down part of the strip of cloth. Have sewn the front body. It is also called “袵”.
• Sode (袖): sleeve.
• Sodeguchi (袖口): sleeve opening.
• Sodetsuke (袖付): kimono armhole.
• Susomawashi (裾回し): lower lining.
• Tamoto (袂): sleeve pouch.
• Tomoeri (共衿): over-collar (collar protector).
• Uraeri (裏襟): inner collar.
• Ushiromigoro (後身頃): back main panel, excluding sleeves, covering the back portion. They are basically sewn back-centered and consist of “right ushiromigoro” and “left ushiromigoro”, but for wool fabric, the ushiromigoro consists of one piece.
Kimonos range from extremely formal to casual. The level of formality of women’s kimono is determined mostly by the pattern of the fabric, and color. Young women’s kimonos have longer sleeves, signifying that they are not married, and tend to be more elaborate than similarly formal older women’s kimono. Men’s kimonos are usually one basic shape and are mainly worn in subdued colors. Formality is also determined by the type and color of accessories, the fabric, and the number or absence of kamon (family crests), with five crests signifying extreme formality. Silk is the most desirable, and most formal, fabric. Kimonos made of fabrics such as cotton and polyester generally reflect a more casual style.
The typical woman’s kimono outfit consists of twelve or more separate pieces that are worn, matched, and secured in prescribed ways.
(振袖): furisode literally translates as swinging sleeves—the sleeves of furisode average between 39 and 42 inches (110 cm) in length. Furisode are the most formal kimono for unmarried women, with colorful patterns that cover the entire garment. They are usually worn at coming-of-age ceremonies (seijin shiki) and by unmarried female relatives of the bride at weddings and wedding receptions.
(訪問着): literally translates as visiting wear. Characterized by patterns that flow over the shoulders, seams and sleeves, hōmongi rank slightly higher than their close relative, the tsukesage. Hōmongi may be worn by both married and unmarried women; often friends of the bride will wear hōmongi at weddings (except relatives) and receptions. They may also be worn to formal parties.
(色無地): 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. It comes from the word “muji” which means plain or solid and “iro” which means color.
(小紋): “fine pattern”. Kimono with a small, repeated pattern throughout the garment. This style is more casual and may be worn around town, or dressed up with a formal obi for a restaurant. Both married and unmarried women may wear komon.
(江戸小紋): 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 hōmongi).
Mofuku is formal mourning dress for men or women. Both men and women wear kimono of plain black silk with five kamon over white undergarments and white tabi. For women, the obi and all accessories are also black. Men wear a subdued obi and black and white or black and gray striped hakama with black or white zori.
The completely black mourning ensemble is usually reserved for family and others who are close to the deceased.
(色留袖): single-color kimono, patterned only below the waistline. Irotomesode with five family crests are the same as formal as kurotomesode, and are worn by married and unmarried women, usually close relatives of the bride and groom at weddings and a medal ceremony at the royal court. An irotomesode may have three or one kamon=family crests. Those use as a semi-formal kimono at a party and conferment.
(黒留袖): 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 weddings. Kurotomesode usually have five kamon printed on the sleeves, chest and back of the kimono.
(付け下げ): has more modest patterns that cover a smaller area—mainly below the waist—than the more formal hōmongi. They may also be worn by married women.The differences from homongi is the size of the pattern, seam connection, and not same clothes at inside and outside at “hakke.” As demitoilet, not used in important occasion, but light patterned homongi is more highly rated than classic patterned tsukesage. General tsukesage is often used for parties, not ceremonies.
Uchikake (打掛) is a highly formal kimono worn only by a bride or at a stage performance. The Uchikake is often heavily brocaded and is supposed to be worn outside the actual kimono and obi, as a sort of coat. One therefore never ties the obi around theuchikake. It is supposed to trail along the floor, this is also why it is heavily padded along the hem. The uchikake of the bridal costume is either white or very colorful often with red as the base colour.
In contrast to women’s kimono, men’s kimono outfits are far simpler, typically consisting of five pieces, not including footwear.
Men’s kimono sleeves are attached to the body of the kimono with no more than a few inches unattached at the bottom, unlike the women’s style of very deep sleeves mostly unattached from the body of the kimono. Men’s sleeves are less deep than women’s kimono sleeves to accommodate the obi around the waist beneath them, whereas on a woman’s kimono, the long, unattached bottom of the sleeve can hang over the obi without getting in the way.
The typical men’s kimono is a subdued, dark color; black, dark blues, greens, and browns are common. Fabrics are usually matte. The most formal style of kimono is plain black silk with five kamon on the chest, shoulders and back. Slightly less formal is the three-kamon kimono.
Accessories and Related Garments
Datejime (伊達締め) or datemaki (伊達巻き)
A wide undersash used to tie the nagajuban and the outer kimono and hold them in place.
Wooden sandals worn by men and women with yukata. One unique style is worn solely by geisha.
A divided (umanoribakama) or undivided skirt (andonbakama) which resembles a wide pair of trousers, traditionally worn by men but also by women in less formal situations. A hakama typically is pleated and fastened by ribbons, tied around the waist over the obi. Men’s hakama also have a koshi ita, which is a stiff or padded part in the lower back of the wearer. Hakama are worn in several budo arts such as aikido, kendo, iaidō and naginata. Hakama are often worn by women at college graduation ceremonies, and by Miko on shinto shrines. Depending on the pattern and material, hakama can range from very formal to visiting wear.
A hip- or thigh-length kimono-like jacket, which adds formality to an outfit. Haori were originally worn only by men, until it became a fashion for women in the Meiji period. They are now worn by both men and women. Men’s haori are typically shorter than women’s. The jinbaori (陣羽織) was specifically made for armoured samurai to wear.
A type of haori traditionally worn by shop keepers and is now associated mostly with festivals.
Juban (襦袢) and Hadajuban (肌襦袢)
A thin garment similar to an undershirt. It is worn under the nagajuban.
A kimono-shaped robe worn by both men and women beneath the main outer garment. Since silk kimono are delicate and difficult to clean, the nagajuban helps to keep the outer kimono clean by preventing contact with the wearer’s skin. Only the collar edge of the nagajuban shows from beneath the outer kimono. Many nagajuban have removable collars, to allow them to be changed to match the outer garment, and to be easily washed without washing the entire garment. Since men’s kimono are usually fairly subdued in pattern and color, the nagajuban allows for discreetly wearing very striking designs and colors.
Hair stick ornaments worn by women.
Kimono slip (着物スリップ kimono surippu)
One piece undergarment which is worn under Nagajuban.
A narrow sash used to aid in dressing up, often made of silk or wool. They are used to hold virtually anything in place during the process of dressing up, and can be used in many ways depending on what is worn. Some of the karihimos are removed after datejime or obi have been tied, while others remain worn beneath the layers of the dress.
The sash worn with kimono.
The scarf-like sash which is knotted and tied above the obi and tucked into the top of the obi. Worn with the more formal varieties of kimono.
A thin skirt of underwear worn by women under the nagajuban.
Ankle-high, divided-toe socks.
An unlined kimono-like garment for summer use, usually made of cotton, linen, or hemp. Yukata are strictly informal, most often worn to outdoor festivals, by men and women of all ages. They are also worn at onsen (hot spring) resorts, where they are often provided for the guests in the resort’s own pattern.
Traditional sandals worn by both men and women, similar in design to flip-flops. Their formality ranges from strictly informal to fully formal. They are made of many materials, including cloth, leather, vinyl and woven grass, and can be highly decorated or very simple.
In the past, a kimono would often be entirely taken apart for washing, and then re-sewn for wearing. Because the stitches must be taken out for washing, traditional kimono need to be hand sewn. This is very expensive and difficult. Modern fabrics and cleaning methods have been developed that eliminate this need, although the traditional washing of kimono is still practiced, especially for high-end garments.
New, custom-made kimono are generally delivered to a customer with long, loose basting stitches placed around the outside edges. These stitches are called shitsuke ito. They are sometimes replaced for storage. They help to prevent bunching, folding and wrinkling, and keep the kimono’s layers in alignment.
Like many other traditional Japanese garments, there are specific ways to fold kimono. These methods help to preserve the garment and to keep it from creasing when stored. Kimonos are often stored wrapped in paper called tatōshi.
Kimono need to be aired out at least seasonally and before and after each time they are worn.
How to Wear a Kimono/Yukata and Tie Obi Sash
You can learn how to on youtube or other sites. There are many when you google it. Kimono and yukata are different so search accordingly. Yukata obi is simple. Traditional formal obi for kimono such as Otaiko can be very challenging.
We do offer some books and CD in Japanese as well.
For those who want to save time, there are pre-made obi option. There are bow shaped obi and otaiko shaped obi. For men, pre-made obi has velcro.
Also check your local Japanese community centers and associations for lessons.
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