As the definition suggests, the undergarment is meant to be worn under the kimono, the same way a T-shirt is worn under a shirt. There are two main categories: the dress-shaped nagajuban (長襦袢) and the two-piece hadagi (肌着, also hadajuban, 肌襦袢), which include modern variations, such as a skirt-only hadagi). When the undergarment includes the top piece, it features an elaborate collar, which will be visible even when the kimono is worn. Some manufacturers, such as Kyoto-based Erihide, produce removable collars.
There are dozens of types of kimono, each to be worn according to the occasion, the season, the age of the wearer, and their social status. Quality kimonos are made in hand-dyed and painted silk, created with the yūzen method. Other techniques are also used, such as shibori (搾り), where the artisan squeezes small areas of the piece of fabric during the dyeing process.
The belt, called obi (帯), comes as a long piece of fabric that resembles a hanging roll. It is traditionally made by weaving previously dyed silk threads, a practice called kasuri. Depending on regional customs and occasions, the size may differ greatly, both in length (commonly 3–4 m) and width (commonly 20–40 cm).
The obi sash requires a number of accessories to be worn and kept in place, such as an additional semi-rigid board below the obi (called obi-ita, 帯板), clips, and more.
A very popular example of excellence in obi sashes is represented by Kyoto's Nishijin Ori.
The kimono is always accompanied by the traditional split-toe legwear, called tabi. There were some exceptions in the past, such as when the wearer was an oiran (花魁, a courtesan).
In most cases, a kimono is worn with zōri. Custom sometimes require a woman to wear geta instead, such as in the case of maiko, who wear a specific type of geta, called pokkuri geta (ぽっくり下駄, also okobo, おこぼ).
Although the kimono outfit doesn't always require headgear, hair is generally tied up. This naturally leads to matching hair pins and ornaments, usually beautifully decorated. There are a large number of hair ornaments to choose from, depending on several factors. Japanese girls and women often rely on an expert to choose the most appropriate style. In some cases, when a woman’s usual hairstyle won’t allow the conventional style to be achieved, a wig will be worn. Such a wig is also considered a piece of headgear and should match the kimono.
There are several kimono accessories, a category called komono (小物, literally “small objects”): bags, pouches, hanging ornaments, decorative cords and fasteners, folding fans, and others.
Larger accessories include shawls, overcoats, umbrellas, decorative sashes, bags, shaping pillows for the obi, and more.
The kimono evolved from basic garments, just as any country’s traditional garments are rooted in that country’s history. At first, it was similar to a robe, made in hemp, cotton, or other natural fiber. With time, the robe started being made more pleasant to the eye, and to the touch.
A very important contribution came, as so often happened, from China. Traditional Chinese clothes were the first choice of the Japanese upper classes until Japan put a halt on commercial exchanges with China during the Heian period, around the year 1000 AD. Once deprived of the source of such beautiful garments, artisans started manufacturing replicas of Chinese clothing, which led to the birth of a separate style. The garment started being made using a single piece of fabric, as opposed to the Chinese style, which saw a top separated from the skirt. Shapes and colors were adapted to local preferences and resources, accessories became more elaborate (especially the obi sash), and in a few centuries a new ecosystem was born. By the Edo period, (1603–1868 AD) the kimono we know today had been created.
Surprisingly, there are no strict rules on the use of the word “kimono”. Any garment that looks like a kimono may be addressed as such, regardless of where it is made (many are made in China) or the materials used (often polyester for cheaper kimono). However, design is always considered a crucial factor when assessing the authenticity of a kimono, as there are motifs and colors that would be inconceivable for a Japanese person.
While anyone is free to wear whatever they like, it is easier to appreciate a non-Japanese wearing a kimono if the kimono is well made.
At KiGinKin, thanks to the support of our artisans and art advisors, we tap tradition to assess whether a piece of garment can be considered authentic or not. We only feature kimono that meet a few requirements:
- designed and made in Japan
- handmade using silk fabric
- dyed in Japan by a Japanese artisan
- made according to traditional techniques
We welcome designs that differ from classic themes and motifs, and we will still list them as authentic. We believe that an artisan's freedom is vital to the survival of their art, and we strongly support craftspeople who experiment to create new styles based on traditions.
Did you know?
- Most Japanese younger women do not know the strict rules related to a kimono. Colors, themes, shapes, and accessories are to be chosen according to laws and rules that are just slightly simpler than quantum mechanics. As a result, it is very common for a woman not to own a kimono, choosing to rent one only when needed, which also give them the advantage of receiving assistance from the experts, to choose the right pieces while also having the perfect hairstyle done for the occasion.
The recent boom in tourism has caused the number of kimono rental shops to increase. Although Japanese people are often pleased to see that a non-Japanese has an interest in the local culture, it is highly recommended that you search for reliable kimono rental shops: it is unfortunately easy to end up renting low-quality kimonos, resulting in a look that will have locals turning their head – the other way.
- Due to the complexity of wearing a kimono, many women need some assistance to properly wear one. Mothers and grandmothers are traditionally involved in the process. This turns the wearing of a kimono, of dressing in a kimono, into a rite, where the assistants become witnesses to the woman's growth. Ceremonies where a woman is required to wear formal kimonos, such as Coming of Age Day, and their weddings, mark the woman's growth and create a unique link between grandmothers, mothers and daughters.