Monday, January 13, 2014

Stuff I wish I had known before I bought my first kimono

On Girls' Day (March 3) 2010, I walked through heavy wet snowfall to a nearby recycle shop and bought my first kimono! I went with my friend, Ellen, but neither of us knew what we were doing. Somehow I managed to get a great obi... but the kimono was way too short. Also, the obi was very formal; I didn't actually learn to wear that style of obi for the first six months or so. Ellen's obi was a lovely color, but too casual for her komon kimono.

My first kimono: a 付け下げ (tsukesage) with a 袋帯 (fukuro obi). The person who put it on me is very talented; that's why you can't tell that it's too short. Well, you can definitely tell that the sleeves are too short...
Of course if you are all dressed up, you want to do something nice like drinking tea, right? Ellen, wearing a komon kimono and fukuro obi borrowed from the person who dressed us, is on my right. Somehow we all ended up with very appropriate kimono for tea ceremony.
Last Monday, I did a demonstration of 着付け (kimono dressing); to go along with the demonstration, I wrote some tips in English for those interested in getting started with choosing and wearing kimono. Here it is: the stuff I wish I had known when I first went looking for a kimono four years ago.

First you will need a kimono and an obi. In Japan, a recycle shop is a great place to look--you can get very nice kimono for a fraction of the price for a new kimono. I've never bought a new obi or kimono.

Choosing a kimono at the recycle shop (women)

Best case scenario: invite an experienced friend to help you choose a kimono. If that’s not possible, here are a few tips:
  • Style of kimono: There are a lot of rules to follow with regard to level of kimono for various occasions and which kimono may be worn with which obi. Foreigners can get away with a lot of mistakes, but I prefer not to use the “dumb gaijin” excuse more than necessary. I would recommend a 小紋 (komon) kimono: the pattern repeats over the entire kimono. They can be worn in a wide variety of occasions, both casual and formal. 

Here I am with two friends from church, wearing kimono for the occasion of the children's blessing ceremony. All three of us are wearing komon kimono; mine is the most formal, with gold in the pattern, but the other two are wearing more casual komon.

  • Other recommended possibilities: 付け下げ (tsukesage—pattern on the sleeves, shoulder, front and back) are economical possibilities for formal occasions; 紬 (tsumugi—an informal woven kimono) are easy to wear and do not wrinkle easily, but are unfortunately rather expensive due to high quality. If you’re young and unmarried, you can wear a 振袖 (furisode—long-sleeved kimono), but married women usually don’t wear them.
With my senpai (senior student) and teacher, wearing three different tsumugi kimono--durable, high quality, and great for "everyday" wear. Also, we're wearing Nagoya obi.
Wearing a tsukesage for my kimono club new year party last year (this is definitely not a color combination I would have thought of before coming to Japan)
Attending the wedding of one our our kimono club members, we are wearing appropriately formal kimono. I'm wearing an 色無地 (iromuji--single-colored kimono), on my right , my friends are wearing komon, shibori (kind of like miniature tie-dye), tsukesage, and another iromuji.
  • DON’T get a 留袖 (tomesode). This is a black or dark coloured kimono with pattern only below the waist. These are only for weddings—for family members of the bride and groom. I gave in to temptation once… and I’ve not had an opportunity to wear that kimono.
Here's the pattern of my tomesode. I bought it because I like frogs. I guess I'll have to wait for our nieces and nephews to grow up to wear this one?
  • Keep in mind rules of level: kimono that are dyed after they are woven are higher level than those that are woven from dyed thread. For obi, the opposite is true: a woven obi is higher level than one that has been dyed. Generally a 袋帯 (fukuro obi—a double-sided obi which usually has a continuous pattern) will be higher level than a 名古屋帯 (Nagoya obi—a single-sided obi which often only has a pattern on the front and back). With either a kimono or an obi, gold or silver thread means that it is intended for formal use.
  • Style of obi: You’ll want to get an obi that suits your kimono. In my case, I chose my first kimono to suit the obi that I liked. A Nagoya obi is easiest to tie, but it will not necessarily suit a formal kimono. Formal kimono (dyed) go with formal obi (woven); casual kimono (woven) go with casual obi (dyed).
  • Size: The length of the kimono should be roughly the same as your height (including your head), but you can fudge about 8 cm. When you put it on, the sleeves should reach to your wrists when your arms are at your side. For me, this is impossible; there are no kimono with sleeves long enough for my ridiculously long arms. When wrapping the kimono around your body, ideally the front should go all the way around to the side. If it doesn’t, you might still be able to wear it, but you may find it difficult to move around. Also, Nagoya obi tend to be pretty short, so try wrapping it around you 2 1/2 times—the remaining “tail” should still at least reach to the floor.
  • Color combinations: At first, I was drawn to Western concepts of color, combining similar shades. When considering combinations of kimono, obi, and accessories, consider choosing contrasting colors, for example, purple, green, and orange. Blue and orange also look great together. Young people generally wear bright colors, while older people wear pale and dark colors.

Japanese color consciousness: This combination turned out rather more orange than expected, but if you had told me a few years ago that I would wear a bright orange kimono... with pale blue-green accessories (!) I would have laughed. This one was a gift; I didn't really like it until I tried putting it on. Then I realized not only was it very nice color, but also, one of my grandma's favorite colors. :) I like it a lot now.
  • Seasons: Get a kimono that is fully lined. This is for wearing in the "winter" between October and May. Chances are, at the beginning you will not want to wear a kimono in the summer, since it's rather warm.


Now that you have your kimono and obi, you will need to get undergarments, strings, and accessories. Most of these things will probably need to come from a new kimono shop rather than a recycle shop. Start with the "bare-minimum," and if you find you want to continue with kitsuke, get other accessories later.

Bare-minimum necessities for women’s 着付け (kitsuke—wearing a kimono), also known as 着物の一式 (kimono no isshiki). I've included a picture of some of the pieces below.
  • Some sort of slip with V-neck. There are lots of possibilities. I often wear a camisole and wool long underwear instead.
  • 足袋 Tabi: split-toed socks; white for formal occasions, but cute patterned ones are okay to wear with casual kimono.
  • 長襦袢  Nagajuban: full-length undergarment with a (usually) white collar (衿 eri). The silk ones are pretty and comfortable, but difficult to put on and wash. I recommend the 2-piece version with buttons and adjustable sleeves. Be careful of colors; if you’re going to wear your nagajuban with more than one kimono, choose one with a neutral color, as the sleeves are visible.
  • 衿芯 Erishin: a stiff strip of plastic which you insert in the collar of the nagajuban to make it stand up.
  • Certain types of nagajuban require strings (腰紐 koshihimo) to tie them shut. Others come with ties attached. If you are using separate strings, you will also need an extra 伊達締め (datejime—a wide string usually with some sort of padding) to cover the lumps caused by the string.
  • 着物 Kimono
  • Clips: the ones with bells attached will remind you to remove the clips before you go out.
  • 腰紐 koshihimo: strings to tie around the waist
  • こりんベルト korin belt: an elastic band with clips on both ends that helps make the front of the kimono look nice
  • 伊達締め datejime: a wide string usually with some sort of padding
  • 帯板 obi ita: a flexible board under or inside the obi to help it lay flat
  • 帯 Obi
  • かりひも karihimo: a string for “temporary” use; you will need it to hold the obi in place while you finish tying it
  • 帯枕 obi makura: a pillow to give shape to the obi
  • 帯揚げ obi age: a cloth which covers the obi makura and provides an accent color
  • 帯締め obi jime: a decorative string which holds the obi in place


Nice to have: Get these things when you need them, but they're not necessary in the beginning. Probably.
  • If you’re going outside, you’ll need 草履 zouri (sandals) and probably some sort of coat: 羽織 (haori) or 道行 (michiyuki)
  • かんざし Hairpin
  • Handkerchief or small 風呂敷 (furoshiki): if you are eating, you can cover your obi and your lap.
  • Handbag or larger furoshiki to carry your wallet and such. Let’s face it; backpacks and Western-style purses look funny with kimono. (You can tuck smaller items into your sleeves or obi.)
  • Fan. Nice in hot weather or overheated rooms.
  • 襷 tasuki: string to hold your sleeves out of the way if you are working

For Men: Men’s kimono are simple. You will need:
  • Some sort of undergarment: v-neck t-shirt and long underwear
  • 足袋 Tabi (socks)
  • 長襦袢 nagajuban (undergarment)
  • 腰紐 koshihimo—string x2
  • 着物 Kimono (the sleeves should reach your wrists and the hem should reach your ankles)
  • 帯 obi (a men's obi is about 8 cm wide)
  • In some contexts, you may also want a 羽織 (haori: coat) and a 袴 (hakama: pleated long kilt-like garment)

Favorite Shops in Sapporo:

  • セピア (Sepia): Used kimono, antiques, and cool stuff made from kimono and obi fabric. Very friendly. Also coffee. 
  • きらくや (Kirakuya): New kimono and accessories, good prices, friendly service. Also, café with delicious coffee and sweets. 

A few random tips:
  • If you think you can’t learn kitsuke, think again. 100 years ago, everyone knew how to wear a kimono.
  • The internet is probably not going to be the best way to learn kitsuke. Find a class. You can meet people that way, too.
  • Don’t put on a kimono on an empty stomach. I usually drink a large glass of water first. If your stomach is empty, and you eat/drink after putting on the kimono... it gets even tighter.
  • Left over right. Always. Right over left is how you put a kimono on a corpse. Yikes.
  • Consider wearing kimono and accessories to match the season. Everything on this guide refers to kimono to be worn October-May. Summer kimono and yukata are a bit different, although many details stay the same. Not just that, though; including seasonal motifs such as flowers and leaves in your outfit can be fun.
  • Don't be too worried about following rules. Wear the kimono and the obi you want to wear, and once you know how to put it on, practice regularly. The most important thing is to have fun and make friends, right? If you go out wearing a kimono, you will never lack for people to chat with.

1 comment:

Peghead said...

what a great list! i've recently inherited vintage kimono from my mom and it has re-awakened the kitsuke fan in me, so i am looking around for great combinations. thanks for your blog, it's neat!