Kimono & Other Information
1 About Kimonos
Women's kimono: these have deep sleeves, deeper than those on men's kimono; women's sleeves are not attached to the body of the kimono for most of their depth. The sleeves on women’s kimono are rounded at the outer bottom corner; young women’s sleeves are more rounded than mature women’s ones and young girls even more so. Women's kimono are full length, usually very long indeed, and pulled up to the correct length at the waist and bloused over a thin tie belt (koshi-himo), with a wider sash over the top of the fold and a wide, decorative obi put on top of that, the lower edge of the fold of the kimono fabric showing beneath the obi (see further below for how to adjust length). There are numerous kinds of kimono: awase (lined) townwear kimono, hitoe (unlined, for wear only in September) cotton yukata, which are summer festival / lounging kimono, summer kimono made of silk, usually meisen silk or very fine, slightly sheer sha or soft ro silk, wedding furisode, one worn like a long coat and with a padded hem over the wedding furisode (utchikake), young women's kimono (furisode) with extra deep sleeves, married or mature women's kimono, various formal kimono, dancing kimono, hirosode children's ceremonial kimono etc. The list goes on and on.
A basic list of various kinds of women's kimono can be seen lower on this page. Knowing what kind of kimono to wear, what kind of obi to wear with it, what time of year to wear it and where it can be worn is exceedingly complicated and full of pitfalls. Nowadays virtually no Japanese know the rules of kimono wearing.
Originally, people held their kimono closed with just a thin string or tie belt, wound round the waist only once. The modern obi appeared during the Muromachi period, when kosode (shorter depth sleeve) kimono came into fashion. During the Edo period, the obi evolved into a decorative element for women, into one that was very deep, wound round the body more than once and was tied with an elaborate, large knot at the back, it also had the effect of corseting the body. Men's obi evolved much less than women's ones
There are numerous kinds of obi and over a hundred ways of tying them, from just difficult to supremely complicated. There are links to instructions for a couple of methods of tying women’s obi, further down this page. Many Japanese opt for pre-tied obi, which come in two pieces, a sash and a ready tied knot, which is then tied or hooked onto the sash at the back. The square knot (taiko) is very popular. Geisha often like asymmetric knots. There are more parts added to the obi, of course, nothing is simple, and you can read the entire list below in the complete outfit section.
A full, silk, one-piece obi can sometimes weigh twice the weight of the kimono, and a lined, silk, kimono isn't always particularly lightweight.
The obi is only the top layer of numerous items fastened around the waist of the outfit. One-piece obi are around 11 feet long. The aim is to make the body as smooth and straight as possible, with no hint of curves showing, there is even a bust flattening bra, padding for the base of the back to straighten out the curve of the buttocks and items of padding worn to disguise curves and, if one has square shoulders, padding to make them look more rounded. The obi usually has padding put into the top of the rear knot to help bulk it out there, to straighten out the appearance of the natural curve of the back. In the west, many people just tie their kimono with a long silk scarf or an easy tie sash, as a full and formal obi is very difficult to put on and somewhat restrictive, like an extra heavy corset. Half-width obi allow more manoeuvrability but even they are exceedingly long and several inches deep and require a fair bit of time to put them on.
A narrow or flimsy sash is less good at holding the kimono closed, especially when the wearer moves about, and it does not look as good as one of at least 3 inches deep but it is, at least, quick and easy to put on. A simple but not too narrow nor too flimsy sash will hold a kimono well, if it is just being worn as a robe, as most are in the West.
Beneath the kimono a naga-juban (often just called a juban) is worn. This is another kimono, complete with long sleeves and often with wonderful patterns, but a bit shorter in length than the outer kimono, so doesn't need the fold at the waist to adjust length. A naga-juban is considered underwear, although it is only the top layer of underwear, not the only item. Only the neckband of the nagajuban shows at the edge of the outer kimono, although the kimono is often held up at the front when walking and the bottom of the naga-juban shows then. The naga-juban is worn to keep the outer kimono clean. The naga-juban collars are often intended to be removable and washable, the removable ones are called han-eri. It allows the outer kimono to be cleaned less often. A naga-juban is considered 'hidden smartness'.
Here in the West, some people like to wear naga-juban as robes, as they are slightly shorter, usually lighter and less formal than the outer kimono. They are also wonderful as hanging displays, as they need less wall space than an outerwear kimono
On top of the kimono, for visiting, one wears a haori, a kimono shaped jacket. Some haori are exquisite and they are one traditional Japanese garment that is very wearable in the west and not just at home. I wear mine with skirts, dresses and jeans, they can be dressed up or down and are wonderful longish jackets with a quality of fabric and a beauty and originality of design almost never seen in western clothing.
There is more clothing than that worn by a woman in full, traditional, Japanese dress, of course; a woman's full ensemble is described just below The complete outfit for a woman... numerous pieces of padding that straightens out the bodily curves (the 'ideal' look when wearing a kimono is to have no curves at all, a tube like shape), a flattening bra, a han-haba kimono (waist length), a simple wrap around skirt, a naga-juban kimono (a shorter under kimono), a stiff white collar to make the kimono collar lie correctly (kimono are traditionally worn pulled low at the back of the neck, with the kimono neckband folded inwards, in half, and an eri-shin stiffener in the fold), a sash to secure the waist of the naga juban, a koshi himo tie belt, to adjust the length of the outer kimono by folding the excess fabric over it, a stiff, wide-ish band for the waist (han-haba obi) to hold the outer kimono closed and to help keep the outer obi from gathering up, a deep, an obi-ita to help stiffen the front of the obi, a fancy outer obi, an obi makura (bustle padding for the obi's rear knot/bow) to help form the obi knot and give it some bulk, an obi-age (a soft silk band that goes through the obi knot, covering the makura and is tied at the front, just peeking out from top of the outer obi) and an obi-jime (a thin, braided cord threaded through the middle of the obi knot, to help hold it in place and tied at the front, on top of the obi, to hold the obi securely).
In addition to that, there are tabi socks, geta or zori footwear and kazanshi (hair decorations). One can then wear a haori (a kimono shaped jacket), or a michyuki (a kimono coat, which has a square neckline and fastens all down the front) on top of the entire outfit.
Even Japanese women usually need someone to help them dress in all this. All these extra items are less available second-hand than the outer kimono and haori and are pretty expensive new. The entire outfit, even second-hand, costs a truly vast amount.
Wearing such an outfit creates and demands a new demeanour in the wearer. The kimono dictates that the wearer walks with very small steps and a free hand is required to lift it when stepping up stairs or slopes. The obi functions as a tight and heavy corset, keeping the back straight, making breathing shallower and holding the stomach flat, often minimising the amount one can eat at one sitting. One cannot sit back in a deep chair but has to perch on the edge or kneel on the floor (they are not designed for chairs but for kneeling on the floor). Most women in Japan wear them only on special occasions, maybe two or three times a year, preferring cheaper and more practical western type styles of garments. Someone who wears the ensemble daily; nowadays mostly just maiko and geisha, wears it with ease. Wearing the full, traditional outfit easily, feeling comfortable when wearing it and not feeling extremely restricted, is a learned skill. It is similar to Victorian women learning to move and function well in corsets and long bustled dresses by wearing them every day, whereas most women nowadays would find that rather hard to cope with, being completely unaccustomed to it. Most western women still tend to train themselves to cope with walking and balancing in high-heeled shoes, but not much else we wear requires a similarly attained skill.
For May and June
Kimono which is the same material as awase (lined) kimono, but does not have a lining (hitoe - unlined).
Also a summer obi. Also a Naga-juban (underwear kimono)or Haneri (naga-juban collar) of ro or sha weave material; ro is a banded, light, airy weave and sha is a light, airy slightly stiff weave, both are somewhat sheer.
For July and August (summer season)
A thin kimono during these months, which is usually the hottest time of year in Japan, unlined kimono in Ro or Sha fabric or a less sheer, woven kimono in Hemp or Tsumugi.
Back to a Hitoe kimono in September. It is the same type of kimono as in May and June.
For Autumn, Winter and Spring (October to May)
Awase kimono (a lined kimono) during this season.
When it is cool or cold, wear a haori over kimono but in the middle of April, one does not wear a haori.
Haori are kimono jackets, designed to be worn over a kimono, but they also look fabulous worn with western world style clothing such as jeans or dresses.
Below you can see a photo of a beautiful haori being worn, with a belt around it, and you can see lots more haoris being modelled in my wafuku blog post, Haori Photo Shoot, some worn open and some belted, though the Japanese do not wear them with a belt or sash when they wear them over their kimonos.
Below is a haori with a wonderful flying cranes pattern, worn with style by Susie Lau, of Style Bubble.