Kimono, How to Wear Traditional Japanese Clothing

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Kimono - Furisode

A Kimono is a Japanese traditional garment.

The word “Kimono” literally means a “thing to wear.” 

Traditionally, unmarried women wore a style of kimono called furisode, with almost floor-length sleeves, on special occasions.

Today, kimono are most often worn by women, and usually only on special occasions. A few older women and even fewer men still wear kimono on a daily basis. Men wear the kimono most often at weddings, tea ceremonies, and other very special or very formal occasions. Professional sumo wrestlers are often seen in the kimono because they are required to wear traditional Japanese dress whenever appearing in public.

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Cost of kimonos and accessories

A women’s kimono can easily exceed $10,000 USD. A complete outfit, with the kimono, undergarments, obi, ties, socks, sandals, and accessories, can exceed $20,000 USD. A single obi alone may cost several thousand dollars. However, most kimonos owned by kimono hobbyists or by practitioners of traditional arts are far less expensive. Enterprising people make their own kimono and undergarments by following a standard pattern, or by recycling older kimonos.

Cheaper machine-made fabrics can substitute for costly traditional hand-dyed silk. There is also a thriving business in Japan for second-hand kimonos, which can cost as little as $6 USD. Women’s obi, however, typically remain an expensive item.

Although simple patterned or plain colored ones can cost as little as $18 USD, even a used obi can cost hundreds of dollars if experienced craftsmanship was required to make them.

Many modern Japanese women lack the skill to put on a kimono unaided: the typical woman’s kimono outfit consists of twelve or more separate pieces that are worn, matched, and secured in prescribed ways, and the assistance of licensed professional kimono dressers may be required. Called upon mostly for special occasion, kimono dressers both work out of hair salons and make house calls.

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Uchikake

Women’s style of kimono

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.

Many modern Japanese women lack the skill to put on a kimono unaided; the typical woman’s kimono outfit consists of twelve or more separate pieces that are worn, matched, and secured in prescribed ways, and the assistance of licensed professional kimono dressers may be required. Called upon mostly for special occasions, kimono dressers both work out of hair salons and make house calls.

Below are descriptions of the types of women’s kimonos in more detail.

“Furisode”

Furisode is literally translated 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 colourful patterns that cover the entire garment. They are usually worn at coming-of-age ceremonies and by unmarried female relatives of the bride at weddings and wedding receptions.

“Homongi”

Homongi literally translates as “visiting wear.” Characterized by patterns that flow over the shoulders, seams and sleeves, Homongi rank slightly higher than their close relative, the tsukesage. Homongi may be worn by both married and unmarried women; often friends of the bride will wear homongi at weddings and receptions. They may also be worn to formal parties.

“Iromuji”

Iromuji are single colored kimono that may be worn by married and unmarried women. They are mainly worn to tea ceremonies. The dyed silk may be decorated, but has no differently colored patterns. It comes from the word “muji” which means plain or solid and “iro” which means color.

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Iromuji, Obi, Obi-jime, and Obi-age

“Komon”

Komon, or “fine pattern,” are 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 dinner at a restaurant. Both married and unmarried women may wear komon.

“Edo komon”

Edo Komon is a style 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 (1603-1868). A kimono with this type of pattern is of the same formality as an iromuji.

“Irotomesode”

Irotomesode is 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, or “family crests.” Those are used as semi-formal kimono at a party and conferment.

“Kurotomesode”

Kurotomesode is 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-prints on the sleeves, chest and back of the kimono.

“Tsukesage”

Tsukesage have more modest patterns that cover a smaller area (mainly below the waist) than the more formal homongi. They may also be worn by married women. The differences from homongi are the size of the patterns, seam connections, and undergarments. Light patterned homongi are more highly rated than classic patterned Tsukesage. General Tsukesage is often used for parties, not ceremonies.

“Uchikake”

Uchikake is a highly formal kimono worn only by brides or to 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 the uchikake. 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 color.

“Susohiki”

The Susohiki is usually worn by geisha or by stage performers of the traditional Japanese dance. It is quite long compared to regular kimono, because the skirt is supposed to trail along the floor. Susohiki literally means “trail the skirt.” Where a normal kimono for women is normally 1.5–1.6m (4.9–5.2 ft) long, a susohiki can be up to 2m (6.6 ft) long. This is also why geisha and maiko lift their kimono skirt when walking outside, as well as to show their beautiful under kimono or “nagajuban.”

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