All About the Kimono

Japanese girls in kimono
The kimono has long been associated with the quintessential Japanese woman, and although you won’t see as many women wearing the kimono today, the kimono still has a very important place in Japanese society.

When you do happen to run across a Japanese woman clothed in a beautiful kimono you know that there has been plenty of thought that has gone into the design and the picking out of the perfect kimono. So let’s take a look at some of the history and uses of this beautiful garment.

What does kimono mean?

Kimono is one of those words that westerners associate with beauty and elegance, but the actual meaning of the word is pretty plain and straight forward. The ki in kimono is the shortened form of kiru which means to “put on” or “to wear”, and mono means “thing.” So in essence, kimono means “a thing you wear”, not too romantic, eh?

The history of the kimono

the history of the kimono

You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that the kimono looks like it was influenced by the colorful garb of the Chinese court. As with many Japanese arts, a Chinese idea was taken and refined until it became a Japanese symbol all its own.

The style of the kimono has changed frequently over its long history – and yes even men wore kimono. During the Heian period (794-1185) the Japanese court was filled with long flowing kimonos. The Japanese men sporting their sokutai robes with long trailing trains of fabric, and the Japanese women putting on layer after layer of unlined kimono in what was called juni-hitoe, meaning “twelve layers.” You could imagine the court may have looked like big balls of fabric slowly walking up and down the tatami covered corridors.

As time went on the kimono became less formal and more practical. The sizes of the sleeves were reduced and the overall volume of the fabric was lessened. This didn’t mean however, that the beauty of the kimono was diminished, as plenty of new designs and techniques were perfected during the Kamakura to Meiji period (1185-1912), culminating in the taiko musubi or “drum bow” kimono which is still popular today.

What thought goes into picking out a kimono to wear?

pink kimono

There’s a lot more to choosing which kimono to wear than just pulling one out of the paulownia closet. Many styles and colors of kimono should only be worn for special occasions, including weddings and funerals. But there are also many considerations in choosing even the day-to-day kimono – there are some 200 rules to govern which colors and combinations go together – it’s all very Japanese.

Choosing the color of the kimono is often based on the season. November to February is the “shades of the plum blossom” season, so you’ll see kimono with white outsides and red lining. March and April is “shades of wisteria”, which makes for the wearing of lavender kimonos with blue lining. Other seasons and styles include red lined kimonos for summer, and yellow and orange for winter and spring. If you are interested, this website has put together an exhaustive list of which colors to wear and during which times.

You’ll also notice special patterns will emerge during special seasonal events. For example, light pink and white cherry blossom patterned kimono can be seen during sakura season, plum blossom and snow scenes will go with winter, and red maple leafs will often be seen during the fall season.

Why even men should own a kimono

yukata

It’s true that you may question the manliness of any man who owns a kimono, but the truth is, you may be missing out on one of the most comfortable lounging garments ever made – the yukata.

The yukata is a light robe that is generally worn after a bath, but you’ll even see yukata being worn to festivals and as daily summer wear. The garment is comfortable and stylish, and for any man who enjoys lounging about in an evening robe, the yukata is worth looking into.

If you’re interested in learning more about the mens kimono, UrbanSake has a great video on how to wear a kimono.

Where can I wear a kimono?

wearing the kimono

In Japan there are a few opportunities for a westerner to get dressed up in a kimono. There’s usually a chance to get dressed up at most Japanese theme parks but if you want a truer experience, there are specialty places that will dress and photograph you as well. We’re going to look at one of these specialty businesses in an upcoming post. You will not want to miss it!

Photo credits: Main photo by dharma communications, kimono history by Okinawa Soba, girl in pink kimono by Stefan Schlautmann, yukata by JoshBerglund19, putting on the kimono by sokole oko.

2 Responses to “All About the Kimono”

  1. ken  on October 21st, 2010

    putting on a kimono is really complicated, apparently even Japanese girls have to take classes just to learn how to put it on correctly
    http://www.japansugoi.com/wordpress/japanese-tv-commercial-for-kimono-wearing-lessons/

  2. Knowitall  on April 6th, 2012

    A red kimono means prisoner and a white kimono mean a dead person


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