When is a kimono not a kimono?

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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!

Montreal Kimono Bazaar Haul!

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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.

Tea Time – Caesar’s Sencha Kyoto Cherry Rose

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Caesar’s Tea is a local company that has displays of all sorts of amazing loose-leaf teas in higher-end supermarkets here in Quebec. I’d been curious about them for a while but never found myself picking anything up, for some reason. At least, that was true until I found their Caesar’s Tea Sencha Kyoto Cherry Rose at a store near me and decided to take the plunge. I love green teas and sakura flavour, so I figured even if it wasn’t fantastic it would still be enjoyable at the very least.

Thankfully, I had no reason to be concerned. The tea is delicious. It’s a delicate green tea with actual flower petals and a very light floral scent from the cherry blossoms and roses. It’s subtle, and not remotely artificial or overly sugary – definitely a hint of sakura but it’s delicate enough that it never risks overpowering or overwhelming the tea flavour in the least. It’s delicious alone, or with a bit of honey if you like your teas sweet. It’s even pretty to look at, with the soft pink flower petals. And since it’s been such a hot summer, you’ll be thrilled to know that it’s also great iced, or mixed with coconut milk

The only thing I would caution you about is that like any true green tea, it does tend to get a little bitter if you use boiling water or steep it too long. Just be sure you stop your kettle before it reaches a rolling boil, and don’t steep it for more than a couple of minutes and it will be great. I would even say it’s almost over-steeped in the photos below, but it didn’t bring out any noticeable bitter taste.

I am very much looking forward to trying some more of their teas. They have pre-measured cans of loose tea available in most large supermarkets, and are even adding loose tea dispensers in some locations, so you can measure out as little or as much as you want. I’ve got my fingers crossed my local supermarket will expand their selection sometime soon!

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.

Lily Furisode

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It’s been literally several years since I bought a kimono. I still have ones I haven’t worn, ones that don’t fit, ones that I am too old for. I’d promised myself no more buying kimono.

And then Jess went and put this one up on the market. I have coveted this kimono for as long as she’s had it. I love the rich, dark green colour and the beautiful, delicate lilies. She needed money, I needed this kimono. Clearly, it was meant to be.

It arrived today, and it’s everything I’d been hoping for and more. I can’t wait to dress Tsukiko in it!

The body is a gorgeous rich deep green, intersected with a sort of ribbon-like fluid design and lilies. The hem is navy blue, which I did not realise in the photos!

A couple of new ro

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With summer rapidly (and hotly) approaching, I figured it was high time I invest in a few more ro pieces. I managed to snag these two for a great price, and since they were from the same seller and summer sheer weave is very light, the shipping was very affordable too. When all was said and done, I paid just over $20 for the two of them, shipping included.

Grey-blue ro tsukesage with flowers

I love how soft and painterly this looks – like an impressionist watercolour. It’s definitely got a cool, breezy feel to it and I really can’t wait to wear it. I think it will look lovely with my white sha hakata and pink accessories.

Cream komon with suzu

From a distance, this doesn’t look like much – just beige with yellow dots, but up close you can see that the “dots” are actually adorable little round bells, printed in a sort of faux-bingata style. It’s absolutely adorable! Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly narrow, so I need to get off my wider-than-average butt and widen the side seams.