Netsuke and obi-kazari

When it comes to kimono, there is not much leeway for jewelry. Necklaces are typically hidden by the collar, brooches would potentially damage the fabrics. Subtle bracelets, a watch, and a ring or two are typically considered acceptable, but if you want big, flashy, statement pieces, the place to go is for obi decorations.

The most common sort of these would be obidome, brooches worn on the obijime. I only have one “real” obidome, and have already written about it. Obidome are possibly one of the most expensive items in a kimono wardrobe, often made with pearls, diamonds, and other rare gems. World-renowned Japanese Jewelry designers such as Mikimoto have been known to make them, and the prices typically reflect this. It’s also rather rare that they trickle down into the secondary Western market, which helps to drive the prices through the roof, even for pieces that don’t have gems or precious metals in them.

However, there’s no reason they (like many other kimono accessories) cannot be improvised! Here are a few easily attainable items I’ve been known to use in lieu of true obidome.

Vintage Agate Brooch

This was a brooch belonging to my grandmother. It’s a large oval chunk of agate with a filigree frame. I’ve got to be careful about this one, since I do pin it to the obijime, but as long as I’m delicate, there’s no permanent damage.

Vintage Leaf Scarf Clip

This is a vintage scarf clip, typically used to hold a silk scarf around your neck without damaging it. The clip mechanism is great for snapping onto a wide, flat obijime. I’ve been meaning to buy more of these, as they are cute, versatile, and very easy to use.

Handmade brass belt buckle

This is a brass belt buckle my grandmother had made when she was younger. The designs on it remind me of typical Japanese motifs, maybe plum and chrysanthemum. It fits well over the knot of a rounded obijime, and looks like it was meant to go there.

Glass leaves

I honestly have no idea what these are intended for. They were on leather cords when I bought them, so I suppose they could be used as necklaces? In any case, they fit well over smaller obijime and add a lovely bit of sparkle to a casual outfit. Unfortunately, they’re glass and they do dangle down so there’s always the risk of clipping them against a table or counter, so I don’t wear these out much.

The other alternative I’m rather fond of are netsuke. Traditionally, netsuke were worn only by men, and used to hold inro (medecine/tobacco pouches) in place on the obi. It is becoming more common for women to wear them though, particularly “cute” ones, with casual outfits. I have a fascination with all things marine, cephalopods in particular. I’ve never seen an octopus or squid on a kimono, however they do show up on netsuke with some regularity, so this is a way for me to inject a little bit of my obsession into my outfits.

Large Octopus Netsuke

Big goofy octopus made of boxwood. Mass-produced replica of an older design, but still awesome.

Goldfish Netsuke

A cute little bubble-eye goldfish. Also mass-produced boxwood.

Catfish and Ball Netsuke

This is slightly older than the previous two, made of a darker, heavier wood. It also has an ivory inset on the other side with an artist’s mark stamped into it. I’m not sure what the ball is supposed to represent, but I think it’s cute.

Tiny Octopus Netsuke

This was a surprise gift from Christy, and it made me squeal with glee. It’s another octopus, but it’s absolutely tiny and delicate and ridiculously adorable. I love how it looks sort of like a grumpy old man. I’ve not worn it yet, but I can’t wait to!

My first furisode – because being a girl both rocks and sucks sometimes.

I was already in my early twenties when I started collecting kimono, and in my mid-twenties when I became serious about it. I’d always told myself I would never buy a furisode, particularly an expensive one, because I was already borderline too old for them, and I don’t go to dressy enough events to justify one. It’s funny how things change.

I’ve already mentioned Vintage Kimono in Boulder in another entry, but that was actually not my first trip there. I go to Boulder with some frequency, as my best friend lives there. The first time I went, I insisted he take me to “this place that sells kimono”, and he was kind enough to come with me.

I’d promised myself I was not going to go overboard, and asked him to help me with some restraint. I tried on a few things, put them back, found a haori I’d decided I was going to get, and thought I was done. And then I saw this:

Until this point I hadn’t even found a furisode that interested me – most of them were too gaudy, too youthful, or too colourful. This one drew me in from the moment I saw it. The muted, dusty colours, the relatively (by furisode standards) subdued layout, the gorgeous ruffly peonies. I figured I’d just throw it over my shoulders and imagine myself in it, and be done with it.

So I carefully took it off the rack, and draped it over my shoulders. I looked at my friend. At this point I should probably explain that while he is my best friend and confidant, I am also very much in love with him. I know it’s entirely possible for a man and a woman to be just friends but unfortunately I was not that lucky, and this is where being a girl sucks sometimes. When I posed for him while wearing it, he made this goofy half-smile and said “It looks nice on you” and my heart just melted into a pile of hormonal goo. I knew it was coming home with me, no matter that I had no place to wear it, and could barely afford it. To this day, it’s still one of my favourite pieces, both for its appearance, and because of the memories I have of purchasing it. I’ve only tried it on a few times, since dressing myself in furisode is more complicated and convoluted than it’s worth, but I vow that I will wear it out to an event or party at least once before I turn thirty. I will also wear it better than I did here – these photos were taken before I started properly binding my bust, and I know I folded the hem way too short.

Vintage vibe, modern fit!

Last week I managed to snag an amazing deal. In this entry I mentioned that the best thing a big girl like myself can do is to buy items that fit. Imagine my shock when I found a brand new, synthetic, washable komon that fits me quite well, and has a great vintage vibe to it. Not only that, but it was marked down to $9.85! It arrived in a week, which is even more awesome.

I decided to pair it up with my spider obi – I’d forgotten what a pain in the butt that thing is to tie. Thankfully, my father is patient, kind, and always willing to lend a hand or two when I’m having trouble with my obi. I realized that the mauve on my new embroidred obiage tied into the stripes very nicely, so I decided to use that too.

My dad helped me align my obi so there are three awesome, adorable spiders visible. The tare is a bit long, but that was an intentional decision for optimum spiderosity. Yes, spiderosity is totally a word.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with this outfit. I think maybe an embroidred haneri of some sort might increase the vintage feel, but the white works fine for the time being.

Bonus: I had to kick someone out of “his” chair before taking the pictures. He was not amused.

Recent Acquisitions – Obiage

Nothing exciting this morning, just managed to photograph some new obiage I got recently. I bid on a lot of three specifically to get one, but lucked out because the other two are nicer in person than they looked in photographs.

Peach rinzu obiage

This looked like a gross fluorescent orange in the auction photos – in person it’s a lovely delicate peach colour. The rinzu’s got a great subtle design of sayagata design and multi-seasonal flowers.

Vivid pink chirimen obiage

I desperately needed more casual obiage, so this was a nice addition. It’s very pink, but I’ll find places to make it work, I’m sure.

Lavender obiage with embroidery

This is the main reason I bid on the whole bundle. I was captivated by the tiny, delicate embroidery. In the auction photos it looked like a sort of a drab grey, and had what seemed to be some very visible stains. I was pleasantly surprised when it actually arrived, the grey was actually a warm dove grey, and there’s some areas of a soft lavender too. The stains, so prominent in the auction, are barely visible at all in person.

What really makes this special though, is the embroidery. Each end has three fan-shaped areas filled with plants – one has ume, one has irises, and one has pines.

As a bonus, here’s a random picture of my box of obiage. I just really like how they look when they’re all folded and organized… not that it ever stays this way for long XD

I’ve got several kimono in the mail right now, so hopefully I’ll have some nice new outfits to post in the near future, and yes, I’m still going to continue the series on size challenges in dressing. Just needed a break and a “mindless” entry to post.

On Being a Behemoth – Size challenges and how to work with what you’ve got

Part I – Shop Smart

The subtitle of this blog, as you may have noticed, is A giantess’ adventure in tiny vintage silks. What you may not be aware of though, is how giant I really am. The photos I post are typically alone, and don’t offer much to scale against. I’d like to take a few entries to discuss the challenges of size in the hobby of kimono, since one of the regular excuses I hear for awkward or sloppy kitsuke is “Oh, I’m too big” or “Oh, I’m too curvy.” This first entry will focus on the kimono themselves, and shopping smart.

To start off, how big are we talking here? I am five feet ten inches tall. That’s 1.78 metres. I weigh roughly 175 pounds, or 79 kilos. My bust measurement is a cumbersome 46″ (117cm) around at the widest part. My bra size is currently averaging a 34F, though I recently bought a bra in a G-cup. Yes, you read that right. My waist is a reasonable 28″ (71cm) or so, and my hips are just passing the 40″ (104 cm) mark currently. My inseam when purchasing jeans is just over 35″ (89cm) high, from floor to groin. While this sounds like a figure most women would kill for (tall, long legs, big bust, small waist, rounded hips) it s by far the worst possible scenario for kimono.

So how then, do I manage to pull off wearing garments from a country where the modern national height average for women is 5’2″, or 1.58m, and a bra cup size of B is considered “large”?

The first, and easiest answer is to “buy big”. Modern everyday kimono are being made larger, to accommodate the fact that even women in Japan are significantly taller and wider than they were 50 or 100 years ago. However, this is not always an option, especially if you’re looking at older, one of a kind pieces. My best advice for this would be “don’t compromise.” That Taisho-era piece at a great price is still not a worthwhile investment if it’s so narrow at the hips that you can’t walk in it. If you truly have your heart set on vintage pieces, try looking for hikizuri – kimono meant to be worn trailing by either brides, geisha, or stage performers. Older ones are generally about the right length to be worn “normal style” by taller, modern women. In this outfit, I am wearing a vintage bridal hikizuri, which should have been worn without a fold at the waist and left trailing behind me. However, it’s just the perfect length for me to fold and wear normally.
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When buying a kimono, the length should be the same as your height, the wingspan should be from wristbone to wristbone, and the hip wrap should be your own hip measurement multiplied by nearly 1.5 to get a full hip-to-hip overlap. Since I know there is no way I will ever accomplish this, I aim for kimono a minimum of 60″ or 150cm long, a wingspan of 50″ or 127cm, and a hip wrap of 45″ or 114cm. There is no sure set of measurements that are acceptably “too small”, it’s always going to relate to how comfortable and familiar you are with kimono to begin with, but for me, those dimensions are workable.

With tall height comes the all-important question – is ohashori truly necessary, if you find a kimono that’s wide enough but possibly too short? Nowadays, especially when it comes to wearing vintage pieces, the general consensus is that it’s not entirely necessary, especially for casual, everyday wear. So long as the rest of your kitsuke is entirely impeccable, and you’re ready and willing to back up and explain that it was a conscious descision, very few people (aside from perhaps notoriously fussy author of the Book of Kimono, Norio Yamanaka) are going to fault you.

Naomi has taken the time to scan some wonderful instructions on how to put on a kimono that is too short for full ohashori. Please click the small images for a link to her Flickr, where the full-sized ones are contained.

So there you have it – even Japanese kitsuke books are giving explicit instructions on how to dress, proving it’s not vital. Personally, I would not feel comfortable in a formal kimono (anything above an iromuji & fukuro obi combo) with no ohashori, but for everyday wear or going out to a casual dinner, it’s perfectly fine! A well-fitting kimono is ideal, but that’s no reason to leave things in the back of your closet or tansu. Work with what you’ve got! As soon as I get a few things in the mail I am going to be posting an outfit I’ve got planned out with a too-short kimono.

Since this is the first entry in a series, feel free to leave suggestions on how you accommodate a larger figure, or mention other things you’d like to see me discuss. The next entry I’ve got percolating is going to talk about foundation garments and padding, and why they’re so important.