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!

YATAI MTL! at the Marche Des Possibles – 2018

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As much fun as last year’s YATAI! Japanese street food festival was, I have to admit that it was a little disorganised and definitely had room to grow. Thankfully, this year they took everything they learned from last year and it was so much more amazing! There was plenty of varied and delicious food, fun music, a yukata booth provided by Kimono Yuki, and even a giant daruma art project. There were several workshops over the course of the weekend, including one about tea, one about sake, and some origami. I didn’t participate in any, but it was definitely a nice addition to the concept. It’s amazing to see events like this grow and evolve!

Of course, it was an excellent opportunity for me to wear this new wide yukata I have, and I managed to drag my friends along too! I’ve known Sophie and Dave for eons, and they’re some of my best friends, but somehow I’d never had the opportunity to dress them until now. It was super fun. I kept things very comfy-casual since neither of them has worn yukata before, and we all wore comfortable shoes because the event is in a park with lots of roots and uneven terrain.

As fun as dressing up was, the main draw of the festival was the food. There were lots of amazing options, but in the end I went for a Japanese-style hot dog, yakisoba (noodles), korokke (potato croquette), and karaage (fried chicken). Dave also bought me some grilled corn on the cob, which I happily bit into before realising it had butter on it. I’m inconveniently but not fatally allergic to dairy, so nothing disastrous happened but I did have to stop eating it, alas! Everything I did eat was absolutely delicious, but the karaage was definitely my favourite. So juicy and crispy! And of course, dango for dessert! We also ended up swinging by Ca Lem, a place near my house on the way home that’s got lots of vegan ice cream options. I got a strawberry sorbet and it was the perfect finishing touch to the evening.

We also noticed while waiting in one of the lines that Sophie’s outfit was a perfect match to the cute little girl on their sign. so I convinced her to strike a pose. And of course, no yukata outing would be complete without stupid photos of me eating. We also tried to get a photo of my hair because I really liked how it turned out. The photo’s not great but at least my brain surgery scar looks cool, right?!

The whole day was great fun, and it’s so wonderful to see events like this grow and flourish in Montreal! Next year will be even better, I’m sure. And there’s several other fun things coming up, like the Matsuri Japon and Asian Night Market, and I’m hoping to hit up one or both of them. Maybe I’ll drag some friends along for those too. 🙂

Diane’s Outfit

Sophie’s Outfit

Dave’s Outfit

Fudangi First Friday – Funky Punk Yukata

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We’ve got a true first for this month’s Fudangi First Friday – I’ve actually never put a yukata on the mannequin until now! This coordination is actually something I had set out to wear to an event. On Wednesday, the lovely folks at Kimono Vintage Montreal organised an outing in yukata to the Montreal Jazz Festival, and what better place to wear something funky and non-traditional?

Unfortunately, the whole province was in the middle of a lethal heat wave (which has thankfully broken now).  Even when I was younger I never handled the heat well, and my chronic health problems only exacerbate the issue. I decided to be prudent and stay home, and thought it would be a good opportunity to feature the outfit on Friday instead.

I love this yukata so much, and I’ve worn it out to a street festival before. It’s got a really unusual pattern of flames, skulls, handcuffs and snakes, amongst other things. The obi came with it and from a distance looks like it’s just got butterflies on it, but up close you can see that there are skulls in their wings. It seemed like the perfect thing to wear to a big outdoor music festival.

Rather than fight against my figure and try to bind my chest in this heat, I’d already decided to use a coordinating cotton tank top underneath and wear the yukata in a loose, open fashion. I stuck with that choice on the mannequin, as well as hiking the hem up shorter than standard, and I love how it looks! I was also inspired by Nichole and her epic kimono style to use a belt in lieu of obijime, and I really love how it all looks together. I think I will make a point of finding somewhere to wear it out like this, because it seems a shame not to!

Items used in this coordination

Art Gallery – Yukata Cutie by Nikki R

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Check out this utterly adorable drawing of my recent yukata outfit! It was drawn by my friend Nikki, who draws all sorts of awesome comic, pin-up, and stylised artwork. This chubby little caricature style is probably my favourite, though, and I’ve loved watching her artwork evolve over the years.

I’m amazed by how much detail she managed to fit in to such a tiny and cartoony piece. It’s super accurate without feeling cluttered or busy. She even got the ume kanzashi on my hat and the little obi-kazari down pat. For someone not in the habit of drawing kimono-related artwork, she did a fantastic job of getting the details spot-on!

The artist’s going through a bit of a rough spot financially right now, and she deserves all the best. So if you love this style as much as I do and would like one for yourself, please check out Nikki R Illustration on Facebook! Also, I always love seeing how different artists interpret my coordinations so if you’re an artist taking commissions and are interested in giving it a shot, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Festival Yatai MTL! and yukata outing

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What’s this? Another outing for yours truly?! It feels good getting back into the swing of things.

This weekend a friend was in town, and the first Yatai MTL! street food festival was happening, so we decided to go in yukata. Since she was visiting from a ways away, I lent her one of my yukata and obi, and I’m glad to see it getting some use.

One of the awesome things about Montreal is the sheer number of awesome events and festivals that happen during this summer. This year is no exception, because the city is celebrating her 375th birthday. This weekend alone, aside from the festival we went to, had the Formula E electric car races, Just For Laughs!, the International Fireworks competition, and quite possibly other small ones I’m not even aware of. Because of all this, all the public transit in the city was free. However, because of this, the public transit in the city was also the busiest I’ve ever seen it. We were delayed getting out, and the metro was a horrible swamp of humanity. However, we made it to our first stop without too much drama. We began the afternoon by fortifying ourselves with lovely microbrew beers from Dieu Du Ciel, an awesome local brewery. My friend’s brother came with us and was kind enough to act as photographer for the day.

Thus fortified, we headed to the festival on foot. It was a gorgeous day, and yukata were perfectly comfortable and breezy. The walk to the park where the festival was being held was short, and we got there uneventfully. That’s when things went sideways. This was the festival’s first year, and they were clearly massively unprepared for the volume of people attending. We got there less than an hour after opening, and the lineups for food were over two hours long, and they had already run out of several dishes. We worked in shifts, taking turns in the line, and eventually got our okonomiyaki, which was the only dish available at the kiosk we got to. It was absolutely delicious, I will give them that! I also found a vegan mocha popsicle, which warmed my shrivelled little dairy-intolerant heart. However, considering how long we’d been waiting it wasn’t nearly enough food, and none of us were willing to wait another two hours we decided to find a restaurant to fill us up.

After another quick jaunt on uncomfortably crowded public transit we found our way to Kurobuta Izekaya & Ramen-Ya, an awesome homey Japanese pub-style eatery. I got two of my standby favourites, agedashi tofu and takoyaki, and they were both delicious. My dinner companions both got ramen, and I tried a bit, it was delicious too. If you’re looking for a comfortable, entirely unpretentious Japanese eatery in the Mount Royal area of Montreal, I highly recommend a stop here.

The day may have been waaaaay longer than we’d anticipated, and there was an awful lot of frustrated, cramped, waiting around but in the end good food with good company in adorable outfits made it all worthwhile!

Items used in this coordination