The Art of the Kimono

A kimono is a traditional Japanese robe made of silk and patterned in a large T-shape. The kimono is the national costume of Japan, and is usually worn on special occasions, most often by women. Kimono are very elaborately designed and are fashioned from ornate silk patterns.

The earliest kimono were designed after Chinese style clothing, sometime around the 8th century B.C. Between the Heian Period (794 – 1192 A.D.) and the Edo Period (1603 – 1867 A.D.), the style and design of the kimono went through many changes. Trousers and a belt were added, the footwear was stylized and the sleeves grew in length, eventually arriving at the kimono style in existence today.

There are many different types of kimono, worn by either men or women for various occasions. Marital status often dictates the type of kimono that one should wear. The furisode, which is distinguished by its floor-length sleeves, is one such type worn by unmarried women on formal occasions. Geisha and performers of traditional dance wear another type, known as susohiki. Men’s kimono tend to be much simpler, with shorter sleeves, subdued fabrics and darker colors.

A wide variety of accessories also accompany the kimono. The outer robes are fitted with several layers of undergarments, including a type of petticoat for women. The collar is also a distinguishing feature of the kimono, as are the white socks and wooden sandals that are worn by women. Further accessories may include sashes, hair ornaments, jackets and belts. A full kimono costume can be very expensive, some costing the equivalent of thousands of dollars.

Putting on a kimono is an art unto itself that was traditionally taught to girls by their mothers. Each layer of cloth and robe must be put on in particular order and to exact specifications, including the accessories – a process that can sometimes last for hours. The procedure usually occurs from toe to head and outside to inside, starting with the white cotton socks and moving upwards and outwards from the undergarments to the outer layers of wraps. The final embellishments are the hair decorations and the wide, sash-like belt called an obi.

Since it is no longer common practice to wear a kimono in everyday life, hobbyists now enroll in classes to learn the proper the culture and adornment of the kimono. There are also hobby clubs devoted to the kimono. These days, though, kimono are only worn for the most special occasions, like weddings or tea ceremonies. Sumo wrestlers also don a simple version of the kimono, as they are required to wear traditional Japanese dress.


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