Kimono (Japanese: 着物
literally "something one wears") are the
was originally a word that referred to all types of clothing,
but the word eventually came to refer specifically to the
garment still worn
by women, men and children today.
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: a
T-shaped, straight-lined robe that falls to the ankles,
with a collar, and sleeves that fall to the wrist. The sleeves
also fall from the wrist to approximately the waist if the
arms are held straight out (though some styles have extremely
long sleeves (see below); the sleeves of some kimono fall
almost to the floor). The robe is wrapped around the body,
always with the left side over the right, and secured by
belt (called an
which is tied in the back.
Women's kimono are basically one size, and are tucked
and folded to accommodate different body heights and shapes
(in modern times, however, men's as well as women's kimono
are increasingly available in sizes. Very tall or heavy
people (such as sumo wrestlers) have to have kimono custom-made.
In the past, a kimono would often be deconstructed entirely
for washing in separate pieces, and then re-sewn for wearing.
Modern cleaning methods and fabrics 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.
Kimono are made from a single bolt of kimono fabric.
Such bolts come in standard dimensions, and all the fabric
is used in the making of the kimono. This is one reason
why larger-size kimono are difficult to find and very expensive
to have made.
Kimono in general are expensive. They are sewn by hand,
and the fabrics from which they are created are also frequently
hand made and hand decorated. A single woman's kimono can
easily exceed US$10,000; a complete kimono outfit, with
kimono, undergarments, obi, ties, socks, sandals and accessories,
can exceed US$20,000; it is not uncommon for a single obi
to cost well in the thousands of dollars. In practice, however,
most kimono owned by typical kimono hobbyists or practitioners
of traditional arts are far less expensive. Enterprising
people can make their own kimono and undergarments fairly
easily as they follow a standard pattern, or they can "recycle"
older kimono. Cheaper and machine made fabrics can be substituted
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 they can cost
hundreds of dollars, and they are difficult for inexperienced
people to make. Men's obi, even those made from silk, tend
to be much cheaper. This is largely because they are much
narrower and much shorter than those worn by women.
Kimono are never wasted. Old kimono are recycled in various
ways: they may be altered to make
haori, or 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 so the damage does not show.
Today, kimono are mainly worn only on special
occasions, and mostly by women. Men wear
kimono most often at weddings and tea ceremony.
Kimono are also worn by both men and women
in certain sports, such as kendo. There
is a large number of kimono hobbyists in
Japan, where it is possible to take classes
on wearing kimono. Such classes cover skills
such as selecting seasonally and event-appropriate
patterns and fabrics, matching the kimono
undergarments and accessories to the kimono,
selecting and tying an obi, etc.
Japanese women would be unable to properly
put on a kimono unaided, as the typical
woman's outfit requires twelve or more separate
pieces which must be worn, matched and secured
in prescribed ways (men's kimono outfits
are far simpler, typically consisting of
a maximum of five pieces, not including
socks and sandals). For this reason there
are still professional kimono dressers who
can be hired to help women wear kimono,
usually for special occasions. Kimono dressers
must be licensed, and while they often work
out of hair salons, many make housecalls
There may still be older women and, probably
to a far lesser extent, men who wear kimono
on a daily basis. Except when in the ring,
professional sumo wrestlers are required
to wear kimono whenever they appear in public.
There are several different types of
kimono worn by women today. These are chosen
according to the wearer's gender and age,
and the level of formality required. The
following lists the different types by descending
order of formality.
Kurotomesode (黒留袖 ; くろとめそで):
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 (family crests) which are
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
Shiki) and by unmarried female
relatives of the bride at weddings and
Irotomesode (色留袖 ; いろとめそで):
irotomesode are single-colour
kimono, patterned only below the waistline.
They are slightly less formal than
kurotomesode, and are worn
by married women, usually close relatives
of the bride and groom at a wedding.
May have three or five
Houmongi (訪問着 ; ほうもんぎ):
literally translates as "visiting
wear." Characterized by patterns
which flow over the shoulders, seams
and sleeves, houmongi rank
slightly higher than their close relative,
the tsukesage. Houmongi
may be worn by both 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
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
kamon, may be worn as visiting
wear (equivalent to a tsukesage