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Kimono: Wind and Water Made Wearable

Updated on September 3, 2014
An elaborate design decorates the formal-style sleeve on a woman's kimono.
An elaborate design decorates the formal-style sleeve on a woman's kimono. | Source

"Kimono" means "clothing" in Japanese

The kimono is the wrapped-and-tied, robe-like garment that is the national costume for Japan. While they may seem like simple robes to many people, there are lots of subtle variations to how these garments are sewn, decorated and fastened that actually make them very complex.

Whether your kimono interest is historical, theatrical, fashionable or textile, this lens has something for you! Learn about how to wear kimono, find vintage kimonos and obis, learn how to tie an obi and more.

Books on Kimono - It helps to have at least one good reference

The kimono is a unisex garment, with sleeve cut, color choice and fabrics, and the manner in which the obi is tied all handling the specialties of social occasion, gender, class and marital status. One thing to note is that men's kimono have sleeves that end with a square shape, women's and children's are rounded. The more circular the sleeve ending, the younger the person the kimono was intended for.

Highly specialized kimono dressers charge hundreds of dollars to provide formal kimono and dress men and women for very fancy social occasions. Most Japanese who chose to regularly dress in kimono do so after completing elaborate educational classes.

The symbolism of the kimono is rivaled only by the various underpinnings and procedures it takes to wear one. Once a Japanese friend arrived at an art opening, dressed in a lovely formal kimono. She saw me and a mutual friend and rushed over to us. "Hey, I got myself dressed tonight.... and it only took 45 minutes!" The wrapping and tying of an obi can often take more than one person, unless you know what you are doing.

Buying Vintage Kimonos

The trick with getting kimonos online or at auction is to get a true evaluation of the condition of the garment and the fabric. You will find kimono in silk, rayon and cotton. Hand-painting and hand-dyeing add more to the value of the garment than commercially printed fabrics as will embroidery.

The more reputable sellers will have close-up photos and notes of any flaws, stains or wear that exist on the garment, the better to present a true description of its condition.

Kimono Glossary

The longer the sleeve on a kimono, the more formal the garment is considered. Brides wear the longest sleeves of all. All kimono are wrapped left over right, the reverse only ever being used when dressing the dead!

  • chuburisode - medium sleeves, approx 90 cm.
  • furisode - brightly colored, patterned kimono with long sleeves worn by young women.
  • furisode uchikake - a brightly colored unbelted kimono worn over a white bridal kimono.
  • homongi - "visiting kimono" - these are worn for non-formal occasions, and traditionally have an asymmetrical pattern that crosses from the side seams to the back hem.
  • iro tomesode - a brightly colored kimono worn by married women, it's less formal than kuro tomesode.
  • kofuisode - short sleeves, approx 75 cm.
  • kuro tomesode - the most formal kimono worn by a married woman, it is black with five white crests on it.
  • obi - a wide sash, elaborately tied, that fastens a kimono.
  • oburisode - full sleeves, approx 105 cm.
  • shiromuku - the all-white bridal kimono.
  • wafuku - traditional clothing.
  • yofuku - Western clothing.

Buying Vintage Obi

Obi are the elaborate sashes and ties worn to belt a kimono. You will want to take classes if you really want to know how to tie an obi properly. They are many-layered and wind up being almost as stiff as a corset in the more elaborate forms.

An obi should contrast with your kimono, not match it. And it gets tied in the back. When you see an image of a woman in historical paintings with her obi tied in the front, it means the person shown is a prostitute, the belief being that she spends so much time on her back, she can't tie her obi that way.

One of the blessings of the modern obi is the version that comes pre-tied. Sort of like a clip-on tie, this allows women to have the look of a more formal kimono obi, but in a fraction of the time. Most often these come in two pieces, one being the waist sash part and the second being the pre-tied arrangement that goes in back. These are most often worn with summer kimono, also called yukata, which are worn more casually.

Kimono-Wearing Videos

Some of these videos show people getting dressed in kimono and some show the finished look. There are even a few that show men's kimono.

My Favorite Kimono-Oriented Event

Seattle's Annual Bon Odori Festival

Bon Odori is a part of the Japanese Buddhist festival of Obon, which honors the ancestors and the dead. At the more celebratory part of the two-day gathering, there are displays of traditional music, arts and clothing. And for several hours each day, ritualized line dances are conducted in the street outside the temple. The public is welcome to join in, and you can follow along with special dance masters who stand where lots of people can see them and you can just watch them and follow along.

Depending on location, Bon Odori (also called O-Bon) can take place in July or August. Check with your local Buddhist temple for their schedule of events.

Seattle Bon Odori - I try to attend this colorful festival each summer. Most often, Seattle's Bon Odori takes place the third weekend in July. You can get the exact dates and more details at the Seattle Betsuin site.

Comments and Questions

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    • Zodiacimmortal profile image

      Kim 6 years ago from Yonkers, NY

      Loved the lens added to my favorite lenses lens

    • Mamaboo LM profile image

      Mamaboo LM 6 years ago

      Nice, very nice!!!

    • SilverLotus1 profile image

      SilverLotus1 10 years ago

      Beautiful lens - and very informative. I'm into Netsuke, which Japanese gentlemen used to carry small items (e.g. tobacco pouches) since their kimonos had no pockets - it became a fascinating and beautiful art form.

    • CrypticFragment1 profile image

      Tammy Winand 10 years ago from McleodGanj HP India

      very nice! I am infatuated with al things Japanese right now! I rated you 4 (I rarely give out 5s) and lensrolled you to my Japan-related lenses!

    • Timewarp profile image

      Paul 10 years ago from Montreal

      Great lens! I've featured you on

    • Tiddledeewinks LM profile image

      Tiddledeewinks LM 10 years ago

      You have lots of nice kimono stuff here!

    • EelKat13 profile image

      EelKat13 10 years ago

      great lens! I found you while looking for Kimono info for my new lens about a CosPlay costume I'm making. I'm lensrolling this lens onto mine, and aslo featuring it after the "kimono section" on my lens, so that my readers can get more info by coming here after reading mine. Here is the url of my lens if you want to see where I put the link back to yours.

    • Roving Band profile image

      Roving Band 10 years ago

      This is a great lens - I'm glad to be in the Japanophilia Group with you.

    • profile image

      Aika 10 years ago

      great lens, love Asian culture as always, ( since I have an Asian blood ). 5* for you.

    • judithmurphy profile image

      judithmurphy 10 years ago

      Even the word Kimono has a silky beauty to it. Lovely lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 11 years ago

      Super lens. I lensrolled it to mine on Korean Hanbok.

    • profile image

      ridi2buy 11 years ago

      Great lens! Very cool information on the lovely Kimono.

    • schwarz profile image

      Rae Schwarz 11 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Thanks for the invite, Janet!

    • Janet2221 profile image

      Janet2221 11 years ago

      Great lens! You are invited to add it to my selling group here,

    • profile image

      giddygabby 11 years ago

      Kimono have always been fascinating to me and I greatly appreciate your time in developing this lens, Rachel. Thank you for all the images as well as the links. I particularly appreciate the kimono glossary and discussion of sleeve length vs formality.