All over the world, we view clothing as a daily essential. We wake up in the morning and before we enter the world we all have to decide what to wear. Fashion all over the world has a unique story, especially in Japan. Let’s take a look at Kimono in Japan and the ins and outs of this gorgeous and traditional clothing.

We often see new modern-day trends in terms of fashion being borrowed or reimagined because of the history significant pieces or statement items had in previous decades. These items that were worn decades or even centuries ago will usually find themselves in our modern time with a cute “new” twist but often containing the same structure. 

In Japan, the Kimono is the most common idea of a piece of clothing. Most people imagine a long draping robe with beautiful patterns and colors; But originally, in English and in Japanese the meaning of the word Kimono was translated to mean “clothing” or “wearing thing”. However, over the recent years, its translation has changed to become more closely understood as the actual garment instead of a name for all clothing. 

What is Kimono?

A kimono is a long and loose-fitting robe, typically with long flowing sleeves. It can also be worn with an Obi belt that is a long decorative belt that is wrapped around the body and drapes with the Kimono.  

Kimono in Japan

The Kimono came around during the Heian period in Japan (794-1192). The kimono was sewn from straight cuts of fabric to be able to fit every body shape and find ease in creating the traditional piece without having to worry about varying sizing. 

Beyond the advantage of Kimonos being able to fit every body shape, they also were easy to fold, and extremely efficient during weather changes. They were adaptable to layering for cold weather and breathable for summer and spring with Kimonos made out of linen. Because of these advantages, Kimonos soon became a part of everyday life and wear in Japan, essentially becoming a traditional clothing piece. 

As time went on, the Kimono began to take on a new shape in their wear. People began to bring kimonos to life by using varying colors to make fashion statements and even represent political standings. In typical daily life men and women began layering kimonos with bright and beautiful colors and it became a statement of fashion but also a part of daily life. The colors could represent your political class, or even match with new seasonal colors. 

History of Kimono

Kimono in Japan history

During the Edo Period (1603-1868) Samurais of the respective and dueling domains would wear specific colored and patterned kimonos to represent who they were fighting for, in a way these specific colors and patterns on their kimonos became a version of a uniform. They would also add specific garments and pieces to fit into a uniform look, however, the main piece of their uniform was always the kimono. 

Between the changes in time periods, the Kimono did not change majorly in terms of traditional clothing wear.  main changes were to fabric and colors meaning that the Kimono held a huge space in Japan for over a thousand years before any major changes came to the country with regard to clothing and fashion. 

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan became largely influenced by foreign cultures and began to adapt to more westernized standards, and also worked hard to begin modernizing the country. As this mass modernization began taking place, clothing specifically took a significant change. In 1872 the court of Emperor Meiji passed a mandate to dress in western clothing for men, and 1886 for women. From then on the Kimono slowly faded into a traditional clothing piece worn only for formal scenarios and receptions such as weddings, funerals, specific summer events and tea ceremonies. 

Of course, there are no longer any rules or mandates against wearing kimonos or strictly western clothing, but, this mandate has sent a long-standing shift in the culture of when and how kimonos are worn and even the meaning of the name. As stated before, because kimonos are now worn and used for a specific time and place it takes on the meaning of specifically describing the piece of clothing instead of its original meaning of just “clothing.” 

The different types of kimono

Here are the most common types of kimono that you can find in Japan. Each of these kimono have significant meanings and are worn during specific occasions.

Furisode (振袖)

Furisode kimono

Furisode is worn by unmarried women, usually for women under the age of 18. Furisode consists of two kanji “Furi” means swinging and “sode” means sleeves, so it means “swinging sleeves”. It refers to the long sleeves. The sleeves are usually around 85 to 114 centimeters. The longer the sleeves are, the more formal the kimono is seen.

Furisode are kimonos that are the most formal clothes for unmarried women worn during special occasions. Furisode is bright in the colours and show off the youthful energy and beauty of those wearing this type of kimono.

Tomesode (留袖)

Tomesode kimono
Credit: Kyoto Kimono

“Tome” means “stop” and it is used because the women wearing this type of kimono are married, so people should be aware and halt if they were to approach these women. “Sode”, as mentioned before, means “sleeves”.

Tomesode kimono is worn during formal and semi-formal occasions. The formality of Tomesode is determined by the number and type of crests on the kimono. It is worn by married women and have shorter and less flashy sleeves. The kimono has crests and patterns on them, usually gold and silver

There are two types of Tomesode. One is Kuro Tomesode and the other is Iro Tomesode. “Kuro” means black and as the name suggests, this type of kimono is in black. There are usually 5 crests on this type of kimono. This type of Tomesode is strictly only worn during formal occasions by married women. In modern times, black tomesode is worn by mothers and bridesmaids of brides and grooms who attend weddings and receptions, and married women of relatives.

There is Iro Tomesode. “Iro” stands for colour. Although it is historically worn by married women, in the modern days, it is also sometimes worn by unmarried women. Irotomesode usually has 1, 3 or 5 crests and the more crests there are, the formal it is.

Houmongi (訪問着)

houmongi kimono
Credit: Vasara

Houmongi means “visiting kimono”. It is worn by both unmarried and married women. At a glance, this kimono looks like irotomesode, but one of the specification is that the patterns don’t stop in the hem are, but also flow in shoulders, seams and sleeves.

Usually, people wear houmongi during special occasions like when attending a wedding ceremony, party, special event in the workplace, tea party, recital music or concert, seminar or kabuki. For wedding ceremony, houmongi only can be worn by friends of the bride and not for family or close relative’s wedding party.

Iro Muji (色無地)

Iro muji kimono
Credit: kimonono

Iro Muji Kimono means “colour without patterns kimono”. As the name suggests, it is kimono with a single colour and no patterns. It is worn by both married and unmarried women.

Iro Muji Kimono is a plain dyed kimono. It is worn at important times, especially during turning points in life. For example important birthdays and grand ceremonies. In modern times, it is convenient for mothers to attend graduation ceremonies wearing iro Muji kimono. It is most commonly worn during tea ceremonies. The formality is seen due to the absence of patterns and crests.

袴 (hakama)

Graduation hakama kimono
Credit: kindaipick

Hakama is traditionally worn by men but now worn by women on special occasions. The bottom of the kimono is a divided or undivided skirt and it resembles wide pairs of pants. The hakama is popularly worn by Japanese women at university graduation ceremonies.

Komon (小紋)

Komon kimono
Credit: buysellonline

Komon means “small pattern” and as the name suggests, it is a kimono with little patterns. It is worn by married and unmarried women. They are informal kimono with minimal patterns and shapes. They are usually worn in casual events, dinners and similar occasions.

Yukata (浴衣)

Yukata style kimono
Credit: solaniwa

Yukata means “bath kimono” and it is worn at Japanese summer festivals. It is usually covered in bright colours and simple designs. Yukata is made with cotton and sometimes linen. It is informally worn by everyone of all ages, especially during festivals such as Japanese summer events, fireworks events or just to stroll around town. Yukata are lighter in material and less expensive than other kimonos. It

Shiromuku (白無垢)

Credit: Farny

The pure white cloth woven in all-white is the most formal dress. It is very popular in the Kamizenshiki style that you can wear a cotton hat and a hidden corner, and you can wear everything from whitening to hangings, belts, and even small items. Originally born in the samurai society, it was after the war that ordinary people came to wear it as a bride’s costume. Since then, it has been a wedding costume that Japanese women long for a long time. Basically, “white solid” means that the fabric and embroidery are all white. A white background with gold and silver embroidery on it is called a “white background.”

To dress in plain white, wear a hanging under Nagajujuban, tighten the obi, and hang a nap on the obi. Although this dressing inherits the tradition from old times, the wearing style changes gradually, and I mentioned that pure white is solid white, but in recent years, colors are also used for accessories and embroidery threads.

Hikizuri 引きずり

Hikizuru kimono
Credit: Brightblue

Hikizuri means ”drag along kimono”. It means trailing skirts, where the skirt is dragged on the ground. Before the Meiji era, worn only by wealthy women of high rank. Nowadays, Hikizuri is mainly worn by geisha, maiko or stage performers. In the modern days, people also wear Hikizuri kimono outside and they are worn with folding the extra fabric around the waist.

It’s important to remember that as cultures and countries evolve through turmoil and prosperity that these changes affect more than just the economy and daily life. It may seem small from some perspectives, but the Kimono was essentially a piece of clothing that lasted as the main piece of wardrobe for almost a thousand years and one mandate affected the way it was worn and seen in the last 200 years. The kimono is a beautiful piece of clothing and can also be a way to express yourself and see fashion and life from a new perspective because of its rich history.