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!

Armed & Dangerous

The mannequin, I mean. Not me! She’s still not perfect, but we managed to make her arms work for the time being. After all the fuss and bother on Saturday, I figured that since she had arms now, I should probably work on getting her dressed. I thought that to get myself out of the funk, I’d try to redo one of my favourite old outfits featuring one of my most prized kimono. Unfortunately, it’s basically unwearable now due to the sleeves detaching and a lot of the gold embroidery lifting off the silk, but gently draping it on the mannequin is safe enough.

Rather than use the same old hakata obi I used last time, I decided to see what I could do with the tsuke darari obi I got over the summer. I think I managed to disguise it quite well and I totally love how they tied together. This green and gold date-eri really looks like it belongs with this obi, doesn’t it? Red accessories finished things off and pulled out some of the warmer tones from the kimono. I had fun with the obijime too. I love playing with the multiple thin ends on some of these fancy furisode obijime.

It may have been a struggle, but I’m glad I pushed through because the end result is so beautiful. I will, however, be looking for someone to repair this kimono. At the very least, the sleeves need to be re-attached properly and the gold couching needs to be fixed where it’s coming off.

Items used in this coordination

Olive, the Other Reindeer

Hello! First off, let me say I cannot be blamed for the terrible title of this entry; it’s actually the title of a children’s book. It’s always made me laugh, and since today’s coordination features my favourite olive-green kimono and Christmas is coming up soon it seemed appropriate.

For those of you who aren’t aware, I work in a toy store so this time of year is always a bit exhausting for me, to say the least. I knew I wanted to do something simple and cute that wouldn’t take much fussing, and remembered that the salmon-coloured accents on this kimono are a near-perfect match for a black winter motif tsuke-obi I own. More salmon pink accessories including ume on the haneri pulled it all together.

I do have a few other things in the work for this month, but entries will likely be a bit sparse for a bit. I do post regular smaller updates and curiosities on my Facebook and Instagram, so be sure to follow those if you don’t already!

Items used in this coordination

Fudangi First Friday – Flirty Florals

I’ve been pretty terrible at keeping up with my Fudangi First Friday project, but since this is the last one of the year I figured I had to make an effort! This gorgeous raspberry red hakata obi is one I got from Kimono Yuki back during the summer and hadn’t gotten around to coordinating yet. I love how rich the colour is, and it’s also super long, I can’t wait to wear it myself!

The obi is one of those strange colours that’s super bold and vivid but still manages to fall into the neutral category, at least when it comes to kimono. So I knew I could pair it up with almost anything. I haven’t done much with this multi-season komon recently but thought it could work and make a sort of sweet, feminine outfit that still felt a little mature due to the black base and richer tone of the obi.

I’d also never gotten the opportunity to use this adorable owl haneri. It matched some of the pinks in the kimono so perfectly, I’m very glad I thought of it. The finishing touch was a peach and white obijime that again ties in to some of the accent colours on the kimono. It was feeling a little drab against the obi, somehow, so I thought tying it in a cute bow would help balance things out a little better.

As much as I’ve loved doing the Fudangi First Friday project (and the MonoKimono challenge), I’m pretty sure that in 2019 I’m not going to commit to any challenge or project where I have to do something at a fixed and repeated time. I’ve just got too much going on. I hate feeling like I’ve failed and I don’t need that sort of stress going forward.

Today’s post was apparently brought to you by the letter F.

Items used in this coordination

 

#monoKimono Challenge – Warm Brown

If I’m being completely honest, when I embarked on the #monokimono challenge I had no real plans to do a brown coordination. Brown felt so blah and boring to me. And then I ended up with this stunning warm brown Taisho-era houmongi and all that changed. I’ve coordinated it three or four times already this year and here I am, doing it again. It’s just so pretty and soft.

My plan was intially to use my brown iromuji as a sort of dounuki, an extra inner layer. But the colours are so identical it didn’t really add anything visually, and the sleeves are so much shorter that it looked odd, so I just scrapped that plan. I’d never used this particular obi before and thought it would be a good time to feature it, since it’s got the same subdued, dusty feeling as the kimono and the brown tones are an excellent match. What I didn’t realise, however, is that it’s a hikinuki obi. Hikinuki obi are meant to be tied in a different way and the pattern on the drum is upside-down. Normally they’re much bolder designs, since they’re often used for quick changes by stage performers. This is by far the most “boring” hikinuki I’ve ever seen. I did manage to get it tied with the design the right way up though! It just took a little more fussing than I’m used to. A few more brown accessories finished things off. I only have one brown-based haneri and it’s much more modern and bold in feeling and looked out of place, so I went with basic white.

Only one month of monochrome kimono to go, and a much bolder outfit inn the works for December.

Items used in this coordination