When is a kimono not a kimono?

One thing I’ve come to learn over the fifteen years I’ve been at this whole collecting thing is that there is such a broad swath of things that online sellers, whether unscrupulous or simply misinformed, will label as kimono. It can be incredibly confusing and overwhelming for new collectors who are trying their best to get something authentic. Today, I’m going to try to help you out and break down “real” versus “fake” kimono, as well as authentic Japanese garments that would simply be a little awkward or inappropriate as outerwear.

Technically, kimono does just mean an item you wear (着 – ki, to wear; 物 – mono, thing), but when you think of traditional Japanese clothing there is usually a pretty distinct line delineates what is and is not a kimono. When starting to collect, it’s not uncommon to come across all manner of strange, hard-to-categorise items. To the novice, they may look and feel like a proper kimono, but they may get you funny looks if worn in inappropriate situations.

Today, I’m going to break down some of these more common misunderstood items in the hopes of clearing up some of these confusion. Of course, you can wear whatever you own and love, but if you’re new to this and feeling overwhelmed while browsing online or at conventions, hopefully this will help you out! Nearly all of these are pieces I own, which I hope goes to reassure you that they’ve all got their place and nearly none (we’ll get to the lone exception later) are inherently bad or wrong things to own. There’s just a time and a place for them.

Kimono-influenced Dressing gown

These may be made in China, North America, or even Japan, but they are meant to be worn like any other dressing gown or bathrobe. They will typically have Japonesque feels and motifs to them, and definitely do evoke a formal kimono-ish vibe, but they are absolutely just for in-house wear.

 

 

 

Defining characteristics:

  • Fabric: shiny satin or polyester
  • Belt: Yes, same fabric
  • No okumi panel
  • Often (but not always) has closed, narrow sleeves

Appropriate wear situations: Lounging, at home, at the spa 


Nemaki

Our first traditional Japanese garment, the nemaki is essentially bed- or house-wear. They’re incredibly comfortable and casual, but not the sort of thing you’re going to want to be wearing outside of the house unless it’s part of a costume or a themed event of some sort where other folks might be wearing pyjamas, novelty onesies, or similar garments.

 

 

 

Defining characteristics:

  • Fabric: woven cotton or hemp
  • Belt: Yes, same fabric. May be attached.
  • White with printed indigo designs
  • Short; mid-calf or knee length
  • Closed, narrow sleeves

Appropriate wear situations: Lounging, at home, in bed


Onsen yukata

A step up from nemaki but still not “outside clothes”. They’re generally a little fancier, since they may be seen by non-family members, but it’s still in the context of sleeping or bathing. Wearing one of these outside of a hotel, inn, or hot-springs situation would definitely get you some funny looks. I have, however, worn one in lieu of a juban in a pinch, so there’s a tip for you!

 

 

 

Defining characteristics:

  • Fabric: woven cotton or hemp
  • Belt: Usually, same fabric
  • White with printed indigo designs
  • Knee or mid-calf length
  • Typical kimono sleeves

Appropriate wear situations: Lounging, at home, at the spa, at the ryokan, at the onsen


Cosplay kimono

No. Just… no. These are mass-produced by factories that only care about making a quick buck, and don’t give a hoot about anything resembling accuracy. They’re often sold as “traditional” or “authentic”  kimono which takes advantage of people who are still learning, and that frustrates me immensely. I couldn’t even bring myself to buy one of these for reference purposes, so you’ll have to deal with this photo from one of the many, many online vendors of these things. Personally, I feel like the biggest travesty on these is the “obi”, which is generally a belt in the same fabric as the kimono itself, with an attached bow backed with a cardboard square. Or, as my friend once put it, a “spinal mortarboard“. I thought these fake obi were funny enough to begin with, but now I can’t see them and not think of that comparison.

Defining characteristics:

  • Fabric: cheap, shiny polyester
  • Belt: Matching “obi”, usually backed with cardboard
  • “Japonisme” vaguely Asian designs
  • Thin, contrasting collar permanently attached
  • Much too short for proper wear, often leaving ankles exposed

Appropriate wear situations: Conventions if you must but ideally nowhere


Tourist kimono

Generally made in Japan for the export market, these are probably the closest to a proper formal kimono, but there are a few key differences. Kimono typically have some construction seams across the upper back and down the spine, and these usually don’t. The fabric also tends to be a little shinier and flashier in most cases. However, they can be a great starting point for a collector or something a little more worry-free to wear to a party or convention. Mine was a gift and I love it, it makes a really lush, opulent-feeling robe for swanning around the house in. Sometimes, you can luck out and find very historically interesting ones made as souvenirs during the post WWII occupation that I think have fantastic historical and reference value as well.

Defining characteristics:

  • Fabric: higher-quality satin, rayon, or occasionally silk
  • Belt: Occasionally, usually matching or contrasting fabric
  • Constructed very similarly to proper kimono
  • May have embroidery across the back
  • More traditional patterns
  • No horizontal back seam

Appropriate wear situations: Lounging, conventions, fashion wear


Yukata

The good old festival yukata. If your introduction to kimono was the ubiquitous summer festival of your favourite anime, you are no doubt familiar with these. They’re a great first purchase for someone dipping their toes into collecting, as they require way less layers, accessories, and fussing to put on than a kimono. You can find them in colours and patterns ranging from incredibly cute and youthful florals to subdued, more mature geometrics to suit any tastes. I firmly believe that every kimono collector should have a couple of these in their arsenal, as they’re cute and comfy, and great for dressing friends who may not be ready for the full kimono experience.

Defining characteristics:

  • Fabric: Crisp, breezy cotton or hemp
  • Belt: None, worn with coordinating hanhaba obi
  • Constructed using same pattern and structure as more formal kimono
  • Traditional motifs ranging from vibrant youthful florals to subdued geometrics

Appropriate wear situations: Summer festivals, picnics, conventions


Polyester komon

Our first “real” kimono! They may be made out of polyester, which some people will see and assume this falls into the same category as tourist kimono. However, nowadays polyester is a very common material for both casual kimono and formal rental pieces. These are great if you’re going somewhere where there’s a risk of mess; be it a restaurant, a convention, or simply an event in inclement weather, a poly komon is a fantastically versatile piece that I encourage all new collectors to invest in. Just be warned, they don’t breathe like natural fibers would, so they can get very hot in the summer or in crowded venues.

 

Defining characteristics:

  • Fabric: High-quality polyester, similar in feel to silk.
  • Belt: No, to be worn with coordinating hanhaba or nagoya obi
  • All-over repeating pattern

Appropriate wear situations: Casual events, conventions, dinners, parties


Silk kimono

There are too many varieties of real kimono to include one of each in this entry. I have already done a breakdown of types, formalities, and how to tell them apart, in this article so now that you know what isn’t a real kimono, feel free to go read about the many varieties that are.


Hopefully this has helped you break down what to look for when dipping your toes into the wonderful world of kimono collecting, and has helped give you a little confidence and the knowledge you need to make sure your first few purchases are things you will love and cherish!

Biku Designs Recycled Kimono Jewellery

I’ve been admiring the jewellery from Biku Designs for quite a while now. Owned and created in Tokyo by a lovely woman named Victoria Close, all the beautiful items are made using recycled kimono fabric and representing the values of mottainai. Between gift shopping during the holidays and making more practical purchases like tatoushi and arms for the mannequin I didn’t have much of a budget for pretty fun things. However, to celebrate the new year they released a fukurobuko (福袋), or lucky bag. This a tradition where vendors will offer a bag or bundle with a surprise selection of products available for a really steep discount.

I snatched one up right away, knowing it would give me a lovely variety of items to wear and feature, and I’m so glad I did. The items arrived well-packaged in a lovely little custom bag, emphasising the fukubukuro aspect of the bundle, which was a lovely touch. Each item inside was separately wrapped in red tissue, which made unwrapping it feel like a special event.

I kind of wish I’d waited to open it so I could take better photos, but it arrived while I was at work and I was so excited and impatient I ended up tearing into it and only snapped a few photos on my phone. Today, though, I made sure to take better photos that really show off the beauty of each item.

First was a beautiful fabric cuff, tied in a knot that reminds me of an obijime. I love that there’s a chain on this, because I’ve got very broad wrists and a lot of times bracelets are snug on me. Making this so adjustable is a very thoughtful finishing detail.

Next are a beautiful pair of stud earrings with embedded kimono fabric. You can tell Victoria put a lot of care and attention into these, as the patterns are perfectly balanced. I don’t typically wear stud earrings but they’re all my mother wears and I know she’ll love these, so I’m happy to give them to her.

The third item is a brooch, and again the attention to detail is obvious. The underside is just as well-finished as the top is, and the pattern feels balanced. This will also work very well as an obidome, and I can’t wait to pair it with an outfit!

Last up are a pair of french wire earrings with blue and white fabric under resin cabochons. These are the sorts of earrings I love and wear quite frequently, and I know these will be a cherished part of my regular rotation.

Every single item is clearly made with an abundance of care and attention. There’s not a single messy or unfinished edge to be seen, and everything feels delicate while remaining solid and wearable. If you’re looking for accessories with a bit of wa flair to add to your everyday wardrobe, or a gift for someone who loves Japanese textiles, I definitely recommend checking out Biku Designs.

I love all the items included, and the colours feel very “me” – blues and greens, like my hair! I had been in contact with Victoria before, and included a link to this blog but I have no idea if she actually selected the items for each bag or if it was just a happy accident. Either way, I’m thrilled!

You can find Biku Designs on their website, facebook, instagram, and twitter. Unfortunately the lucky bags are sold out, but there will be plenty of new stock on the website in the near future.

 I purchased this item myself and chose to review it.If you have a topically appropriate craft, product, or service you would like me to review, please contact me. 

Montreal Kimono Bazaar Haul!

It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve done a big haul show-off. I’ve been buying items one at a time and featuring them in outfits rather than writing up big posts. But yesterday I went to the Montreal JCCC‘s autumn kimono bazaar and made out like a bandit. I found some really gorgeous pieces at some fantastic prices. A few of them will likely end up being used in some of the Yokai Halloween entries, which makes me very happy!

Without further ado, here are my spoils of war.

A modern furisode, in an interesting coral-pink colour. It's funny, I don't particularly like gosho-guruma (Heian noble carts) as a motif, but something about this piece called to me. The fact that it's quite long and wide and was only $30 made it impossible to pass up. It's also got red juban sleeves sewn in place which will make dressing with it really quick and easy. I didn't even notice those until I got it home!
A beautiful, relatively modern ivory houmongi with bamboo on it. I've always wanted something with really graphic bamboo design like this, so when I saw it I snatched it up. The fact that it was my friend Sasa selling it helped too. It has a few tiny stains but not enough to make it unwearable.
This is an absolutely beautiful summer-weight komon that feels like Taisho or early Showa era to me. It's a gorgeous purple and I love the very stylised crane design on it. It's so vintage but so modern at the same time. Sadly, I'm pretty sure that no matter how much weight I tried to lose I'd never fit into this piece, but I couldn't resist giving it a good home. I can't wait to put it on the mannequin or even on a petite friend at some point.
This komon is, sadly, in pretty rough shape. The left sleeve is pulled almost entirely off the body and there's a hole on it that looks like it might be a cigarette burn. However, it was being sold as scrap fabric and an incredibly good price and I have plans in mind for it.
A super charming wool haori! The base of this is a really interesting indigo colour - in some lights it looks almost royal blue, in others it's definitely purple. And the flower motif is so sweet! I plan to wear this over a red dress at some point, as well as coordinating it with kimono.
I fell head-over-heels for the this obi before even seeing the motif. The colour is just too gorgeous. I can't even capture it properly in a photo, it's a nearly electric teal in person. The metallic mirror motifs are lovely too, so that worked out well, but for me it's all about THAT COLOUR!
Ningyo obi! I know I've been overusing the word charming in this post but ugggh, how charming is this obi? I really don't need any more red-toned nagoya obi but I couldn't resist this chubby little matryoshka-inspired doll! I think this obi will also look ridiculously cute with the wool haori I got.
Kitty hanhaba obi. Do I really need to elaborate? 😻😻😻
I was nearly positive I had a round red obijime, but after cataloguing everything I own it never turned up. So when I saw this pretty one for five bucks, it went into my haul. I love that it's got a bit more interest than just one solid red rope. Simple, but definitely fills a hole in my collection.
Last but most certainly not least is this gorgeous embroidered haneri. I have several pink ones already but I love how big and bold the design on this one is. It's modern, but it has a very vintage feel to it.

As my collection grows bigger and bigger, I am trying to be more selective when I buy things. I know at first glance that doesn’t seem particularly evident with this entry, but there were so many more beautiful things there that I loved but chose to leave behind.

Batman Day!

Today is Batman Day, a day set by DC Comics to celebrate all things Dark Knight. Ever since I watched Batman Ninja, I knew I wanted to do some Batman-themed coordinates but kept putting it off in favour of other things. I’m glad I waited, because today is the perfect day to start!

I went with the classic black and yellow colour combination, since it feels timeless. Batman’s costume has veered from blue and grey to entirely black, but keeps coming around to black with pops of yellow. The obidome is an antique menuki and feels like the perfect way to tie everything together. The motif on the kimono is fans, but from a distance it feels like it could be a swarm of bats taking off. I added some black enamel pyramid studs to a yellow haneri to add a bit of weapon-like edge and sharpness to the coordination. I would have loved to use more items with an actual bat motif, but they tend to be snatched up very quickly and cost a pretty penny, alas. Still though, I think I did a decent job of conveying a feeling without being too literal.

Stay tuned for more outfits inspired by beloved (and not so beloved) Batman characters!

Items used in this coordination

Quick & Easy Obijime Tassel Storage Solution

Finding a practical storage solution for obijime is one of the great conundrums of kimono collecting. They get tangled, the tassels get ratty and frayed, and most of the storage options I’ve come across involve wrapping the tassels in paper which gets tedious and wasteful if you use them frequently and have to redo the wrappings every time.

I wanted to find a quicker and more practical way to store them that would also be affordable and easily accessible. After a couple of experiments, I think I’ve found the perfect solution and wanted to share it with you all – bubble tea straws! You can also find them listed as milkshake or smoothie straws, you just want to make sure they’re a wider width than typical drink straws. They’re available on Amazon as well as at nearly any grocery store, they’re very inexpensive, and they’re much more durable than paper.

To begin with, I steamed. combed, and trimmed the tassels on my obijime. For a really great and thorough tutorial on cleaning, steaming, and maintaining obijime tassels, please check out Naomi’s “Project Obijime” blog post. It’s really thorough and clear, and a great place to start.

After all your tassels are tidied up, what you need to do is cut a piece of the straw slightly longer than your tassel and then slit it up one side. Insert the body of the obijime in through the slit and then slide it down to protect the tassel. Then just store however works for you – mine are simply folded in half and then in half again and put into divided boxes by formality and shape. The great thing about using straws like this instead of paper or something else is that you can pull it off and slide it back on as many times as you’d like! No need to take the time to re-wrap them, and no waste.

The only time this feels like a less-than-perfect solution is with very wide and flat obijime, which are more common in vintage collections. Just be careful to make sure that you’ve pulled the straw down completely onto the tassel so it’s not causing the obijime itself to curl because they will stay that way and need steaming again to flatten out.

I hope you found this helpful! It’s such a simple little thing, but personally I think it makes a huge difference when it comes to storage and tidiness!

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