Knowledge: Types of Kimono

Kimono can be an overwhelming thing to get into, especially since there are so many different types of kimono. To the beginner, they may all look similar, but a basic knowledge of the types of kimono and appropriate situations for wear is always handy. I have explained this very slightly in the Kimono Terms Glossary but in this entry I will elaborate further, with photo examples, and suggestions on where to wear each type. I will be doing a similar entry about obi shortly, which will help elaborate on the types of obi mentioned in this entry.

Yukata
These are the most casual and probably the most comfortable to wear. They are made of cotton and generally have fun, vibrant, all-over prints. In Japan, very casual yukata are worn in ryokan (traditional hotels), onsens (public bath houses), and around the house. These typically are white with a simple indigo print, and are usually short enough not to drag on the floor. Yukata intended for festivals are often longer, and folded at the waist, and made of a more substantial cotton with brighter and more detailed prints. These types are a great place for beginners to get into the hobby, as they are fun, funky, and require the least amount of accessories – all you need is an undershirt, bike shorts, a few cotton ties, and a narrow obi. You can wear them to festivals, fireworks, picnics, barbeques, or any other fun summer activity. Imagine anywhere you’d wear jeans and a cute t-shirt or a casual cotton sundress. Appropriate obi to wear include hanhaba (hira) obi or heko obi.

Komon
Komon are the most casual level of “real” kimono. They are characterized by all-over patterns that can be either large or small in scale. They are typically quite informal, but can be made slightly more formal with small bits of metallic print or embroidery and in a pinch can be dressed up with a slightly nicer obi. However, they’re still the most casual of kimono. Appropriate situations for wear include lunch with friends, shopping in a high-end district, a trip to a museum. Similar to a nice pair of slacks or a day dress. Komon can be paired up with a variety of obi, including nicer hanhaba obi and nagoya obi. If the kimono is quite dressy or the obi is quite casual certain fukuro obi might work, but this is rare and safer to avoid if you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the rules.

Iromuji
By far the most versatile kimono in any woman’s wardrobe – think of iromuji as the “Little Black Dress” in your closet. With the right accessories they can go from running errands to a tea ceremony to the opera to the wedding of a friend. These kimono are one solid colour, but often made of very textural rinzu silk, which is woven in such a way as to have a tone-on-tone pattern. Patterns can include flowers, plants, textures, landscapes, really the possibilities are endless. Iromuji can also come with one, three, or five family crests – one crest is by far the most common. The more crests a kimono has, the more formal it becomes. A one-crested iromuji is probably the best investment you will ever make if you plan to wear kimono frequently. Due to the versatility of the kimono, many types of obi are appropriate, depending on the situation and formality. Anything from a dressy hanhaba obi, to nagoya, to fukuro are all acceptable.

Tsukesage
Tsukesage are generally a solid colour with designs in a few very specific locations – along the hem, the front panel, the sleeve, the shoulder, and the collar. They can be quite vibrant or relatively subdued, and work in a variety of situations. Dinners out, trips to the theatre. They’re good for when you want to dress up a bit and stand out, but not very formal events. Tsukesage do not come with crests, so they are not particularly appropriate for ceremonial events. Suitable obi are nagoya, and fukuro if the kimono has enough dressy elements.





Houmongi
Very similar to tsukesage, but slightly more formal. Rather than having separate design elements on each panel, there is a continuous design across the entire hem and generally across the shoulders. They can also have one crest on the back, which further helps to make them a bit dressier. Houmongi are often worn to weddings, especially fancier ones in large reception halls or hotels. To me, the houmongi is the “quintessential kimono”, the kind most people picture a woman in a lovely kimono, or the kind often bought to hang on walls as art. The best obi for houmongi is usually fukuro or fukuro-nagoya, but maru obi and certain nagoya can work well too.



Furisode
Furisode actually refers to sleeve length, rather than the pattern layout. “Sode” means sleeve and “furi” means swinging. Furisode have very long, swinging sleeves. They are generally worn by young, unmarried women. Furisode can come in different pattern layouts; komon, houmongi-style, and even iromuji style. They also come in several sleeve lengths; ko-furisode – which are the shortest and can be worn almost like regular kimono, chuu-furisode (also listed as chuburisode) – which are slightly longer and generally a bit more formal, and ooburisode – the longest and generally the most formal. Kimono worn for coming-of-age day, weddings, etc, have ooburisode sleeves. Furisode also typically require fancy obi musubi (obi knots) to balance the volume and style of the sleeves, so the only proper obi to be worn with them in normal settings are fukuro or maru obi.

Iro-Tomesode
Iro means colour, and tome-sode means short sleeves, so logically iro-tomesode would be a coloured, short-sleeved kimono. Design-wise, they have a fairly ornate continuous pattern around the hem, and nothing above the waist. They are often crested, anywhere from one to five crests, and are worn by both married and unmarried women for formal or ceremonial events. They’re not as common as they used to be, and the ones that end up on the market most often are vintage. Acceptable obi would be fukuro or maru.





Kuro-Tomesode
Similar to iro-tomesode, but black. These are the most formal kimono for married women. They are worn by the mothers of the bride and groom at weddings, black-tie events, children’s graduation, etc. They are appropriate for anything celebratory or ceremonial. They show up on the secondary market quite frequently, because in modern times they are one of the most often-used kimono, as women tend to only wear them now for “big” events. Appropriate obi are fukuro or maru with celebratory motifs, usually with plenty of gold.





Kakeshita or Hanayome
These are unique wedding kimono. They are meant to be worn trailing (see hikizuri, below) by a bride at her wedding. The overall wedding ensemble is very specialized and complicated, with many significant accessories and a specific dressing style. There are licensed salons and studios in Japan that deal solely in dressing brides for their weddings. The designs are typically very vibrant and colourful, and often have lots of flowers and cranes or other celebratory motifs. They will also generally have a lot of gold foil or couching (outline embroidery).





Uchikake
Uchikake are not what people generally think of as a kimono, they are not worn over an underrobe and tied shut with an obi. They are part of a traditional bridal ensembled, and worn trailing over the rest of the ensemble, including the kakeshita and the obi. They are more like very elaborate over-robes, and although historically they were common for the upper class and nobility, they not something that are worn in modern day in any other circumstances (aside from theatre performance). However, they do look stunning when hung on a rod as a decorative accent in the right decor.





Mofuku
Mofuku is mourning wear. This is a kimono (and obi) of solid black, worn by the family of the deceased at a funeral. A mofuku kimono will be solid black with a white lining and five white crests. These often turn up on the secondary market, but I personally believe it to be in incredibly bad taste to buy one of these and wear it for any other circumstance. These kimono were worn by people mourning the loss of someone very close to them, and the associations to the Japanese can be very negative. It’s becoming more common to see mofuku accessories (obiage, obijime) being worn with regular outfits, but the kimono itself is one of the items that I don’t think will ever escape the negative stigma. Mofuku kimono are always worn with solid black nagoya obi, black obiage and obijime, white haneri, white tabi, and black zori.

Hikizuri or Susohiki
Hikizuri and susohiki actually refer to the way that the kimono is worn, it means basically “trailing skirt”. These kimono are worn by geisha, dancers, and other traditional stage performers. They can be nearly any of the styles listed above – komon, irotomesode, kurotomesode, etc. Maiko (apprentice geisha) wear furisode hikuzuri. Kakeshita, the wedding kimono mentioned above, are also technically hikizuri, and this is probably the only time an average woman will wear a kimono of this style. They are best purchased for collecting purposes or cosplay, not for wearing out to events.



*Thanks to Ichiroya for the permitted use of their images. If you are interested in buying any of these items, please click on the thumbnails – they lead directly to the page for each item. I do not get any sort of compensation, I am just grateful to them for allowing the use of the images as resources. Arigato gozaimasu!

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.

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.

The not-so-itsy-bitsy spider

As anyone who reads this blog regularly has probably noticed, I have a fondness for quirky, odd, or unexpected motifs. Flowers are pretty but unless they’re really bold or interesting, don’t usually grab my eye. Birds I could take or leave. Put a skeleton, or a jellyfish, or insects of some sort on a kimono and I am making obsessive grabby-hands within nanoseconds.

There is only one shop in Montreal that sells real kimono and obi, and the first time I went there I browsed and didn’t find too much that grabbed me. The owner, Mrs. Uchiyama, pointed me towards a bin of obi that were on sale, after she realized I was actually looking for kimono to wear, not “pretty brocade” to use as home decor. That’s where I found this baby.

As soon as I saw it, I had to have it. The spiders are just so adorable and goofy-looking.

The obi itself is a really interesting texture, it’s a single layer but definitely heavy weight, a sort of raw slubbed silk. The spider webs and leaves are painted on, and then the spiders are embroidered over top of that. It’s fukuro width, but doesn’t exactly feel formal to me, due to the rough nature of the base silk.

I’ve only worn it once, sadly. It needs to get more exposure and I’m hoping I’ll have somewhere else to wear it in the near future. I paired it up with my purple net pattern tsukesage, the same one I wore with my koinobori obi. It’s a great, versatile kimono that serves as a showcase for interesting obi.

Please forgive the blousy mess my kimono is making here, it shifted while I was setting up the camera and tripod.

So what do you prefer? Traditional motifs, geometrics, or like me, are you a sucker for the weirder things in life?

Uchikake-cuchi-coo.

Have you ever come across something that you knew you were never going to use or wear, but for one reason or another had to have anyways? Yeah, that’s how I ended up with Japanese wedding attire.

Uchikake are technically any sort of ceremonial decorated over-kimono (not to be confused with things like haori or michiyuki, which are everyday outerwear). They were commonplace with the upperclass as well as high-class courtesans up until the Edo era, and started losing popularity from then on. At this point, they are pretty much exclusively worn by a bride on her wedding day, over top of a full trailing furisode and obi ensemble. They can be white, as mine is, or brightly coloured with celebratory motifs. Their primary characteristics are the heavy, padded hem and long length (as they are meant to be worn trailing) and often a front decorated with knots or other ornamentation. They are worn over the kimono and obi, and so are not overlapped or folded at the waist. This allows for much more elaborate decorations.

I have no plans to get married any time in the remotely near future, and even if I did I would not wear this piece. I may consider wearing a dressy kimono for the reception, or part of it, but this is too ornate for my tastes, and too “thematic” for any sort of ceremony I’d feel comfortable with.

However, when I was working in the computer lab at a college several years back, one of the professors overheard me discussing my collection, and told me his wife had purchased a kimono as a decoration while they were vacationing there in the 80s, and had tired of it. It was currently living in a garbage bag in their closet, and would I be interested in seeing/buying it?

I said yes, expecting it to be some sort of tourist trappery with hideous embroidery. Imagine my shock when he pulled this poor baby out of the bag!

I offered him a price that to this day I still feel guilty for. If I’d purchased this online, the money I gave him would just about have covered the shipping costs, and nothing else.

This is a modern piece, I’d guess 1970s or later, but it’s still lovely.

The base is a pattern of peacocks and art-nouveau style flourishes, which is a refreshing departure from the typical crane motif.

The peacocks themselves are rather smug-looking, which always makes me chuckle.

It also has some beautiful knotwork at the wrists, and a lovely false-layered effect that evokes the twelve-layered Juunihitoe of Heian court outfits.

Maybe one day I’ll do a courtesan-inspired photoshoot or something and get a chance to drag this beast onto my shoulders again, but for now I am content to simply admire it.