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

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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.

Aikoku Fujinkai Obidome

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A while back I posted an outfit wearing this piece and promised I’d devote an entry to it. Since then I’ve been trying to glean more information on it, with limited success.

The design on it is a stylized interpretation of the crest of the Aikoku Fujinkai (愛國婦人會), or Patriotic Women’s Association. This was a group of women who were somehow connected to the military, and served as a support and volunteer group during times of conflict. As far as I know, the design comes from the combination of three elements: The star represents the Army, the anchor represents the Navy, and the sakura blossom represents the Woman. This site gives many more visual references for items with the crest on it, and this one shows many of the items that members may have used in entertaining.

Christina was kind enough to attempt a translation of the inscription on the back.

“Patriotic Women’s Association, Hiroshima Prefecture branch
3rd(?) Anniversary” (Aikoku Fujinkai Hiroshimaken shibu daisan(?) kinen)

Unfortunately, I’ve as of yet been unable to determine when the Hiroshima branch was started, so I can’t determine when its third anniversary was. The association was borderline nationalistic, from what I’ve come to understand, and finding detailed (and English!) information about it is proving difficult.

If anyone happens to stumble across this entry while doing research or anything, and has further information for me, I would love to hear it. I’d love to know more about the woman who may have owned this piece. It may not be in the best shape, but to me that only increases the value. It’s a piece of history and one of the items in my collection I am most proud of.

Indigo Girl

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I’d been waffling about buying a Taisho-era indigo piece for a while when this came up on Ichiroya, and while it was a bit more than I usually pay for kimono, the colour, size, and condition of it were all worth the investment in my mind. This is a houmongi with era-typical long sleeves and a beautiful, multiseasonal floral design. It’s got branches of ume (plum blossom), iris, botan (peony), and bamboo around the hem, and a bold, graphic stem of tachibana, which is probably my favourite floral motif. I love how squishy and fun they look!

It also has some gorgeous, lush embroidery on some of the geometric designs

However, I think one of my favourite things about this kimono is probably one of the most subtle. Woven directly into the fabric, before the dyeing process was started, is a gorgeous red and gold windowpane plaid. You’d never see detailing like this on a modern houmongi, as nowadays that sort of design is considered strictly informal. Naomi wrote a great piece on the qualities of indigo dye, and the transitional phenomenon of putting stripes (which are very casual by modern standards) on more formal kimono. It’s a trend I think is beautiful and needs to come back into vogue.

I’ve worn this kimono once, but only inside the yard, as I’m a little worried about wearing such an old piece out and about. Maybe one day when the right time and place come up, I will do so. I chose to pair it with a late-Showa era obi, which may seem odd but the clouds, grasses, and colours just seemed perfect with it. The obiage and obijime were a gift from a friend, and bring out the soft blue and olive tones in the kimono perfectly. For a vintage feel, I chose some burnt paulownia geta instead of zori.

The not-so-itsy-bitsy spider

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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?

Home sick kitsuke time

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I’ve been wanting to put this outfit on for a while, since I bought the haori on my birthday and today I was feeling under the weather and didn’t go out, so I figured it would be a good time to see how it all looked together. BIG MISTAKE. Kitsuke and a fever do not mix, especially not when the obi is made of the skin of Satan himself. This obi is beautiful, but it’s synthetic and brand new, which means it’s both very stiff and very slippery. It would not stay put, and I ended up cheating on the obi a bit, since I knew I was not going out today.

Overall I am very pleased with the coordination of this outfit. It’s almost as though the haori was made specifically with this in mind.  I pulled out the pinky pastel tones with a pink obiage and pink and silver obijime, and then tied it all together with silver zori. However, my kitsuke (and the look on my face in the photos) makes me cringe. My ohashori’s a mess, my collar’s all over the place, and if you could see what I did to make the obi stay put I’d be hideously embarrassed! But let’s pretend everything is fine, and just admire the coordination some more.

So let that be today’s lesson – if you’re feeling like refried death to begin with, don’t try wrestling with kimono for no good reason.