What is a Kimono? The History of the Traditional Kimono

For generations, Japanese style has been defined by a single garment: the kimono. Historically significant, aesthetically fascinating, and steeped in symbolism, the kimono captures the exquisite elegance of Japanese culture and design, proving that clothing can be much more than meets the eye.

Here, we look at the fascinating evolution of the kimono, tracing its exceptional history from the 8th century through the present and exploring its role in contemporary Japanese culture.

What is a Kimono?

Kimonos

Derived from the words ki (“wear”) and mono (“thing”), the kimono is a traditional Japanese garment. Kimonos come in a range of styles and patterns. They are typically hand-sewn into a “T” shape from four single pieces of fabric called tans and tied with an obi, or belt.

Kimono Symbolism

In addition to their unique aesthetic, kimonos are valued for their symbolism; style, motif, color, and material work together to reveal the individual identity of the wearer.

Style

Traditional kimonos come in a variety of styles. The type of style worn is dictated by a range of specific criteria, including gender, marital status, and event. For example, an unmarried woman would wear a furisode (“swinging sleeves”) to a formal event, while a male store owner would wear a happi (a type of jacket) to a festival.

Motif

Patterns, symbols, and other designs also help communicate the wearer’s status, personality traits, and virtues. Similar to woodblock prints, popular motifs include nature-inspired elements, like leaves, blossoms, and birds (namely, cranes).

Color

On top of their imagery, kimonos’ colors also hold symbolic significance. Additionally, the pigments used to achieve certain colors are also representative. “Dyes are seen to embody the spirit of the plants from which they are extracted,” the Victoria & Albert Museum explains, “Any medicinal property is also believed to be transferred to the coloured cloth. Blue, for example, derives from indigo (ai), which is used to treat bites and stings, so wearing blue fabric is thought to serve as a repellent to snakes and insects.”

Material

Kimono

Kimonos are made from various handmade and hand-decorated fabrics. Traditionally, these include linen, silk, and hemp. Today, materials like rayon, cotton, and polyester are often used. Unsurprisingly, however, the traditional, non-synthetic fabrics are favored.

History and Evolution

Two women with parasol, Japan

During the Heian period (794-1192 AD), an early, easy-to-wear prototype of the kimono emerged in Japan. Like the current-day kimono, this garment was composed of straight cuts of fabric and was intended to suit all body sizes and types.

Eventually, during the Edo period (1603-1868), this robe became known as a kosode—a term that literally translates to “small sleeves”—as its armholes decreased in size. The kosode played a particularly important role in this period, as all Japanese people (despite social status, age, or gender) wore it. Thus, in order to express their individuality and “describe” themselves, wearers adopted ways to customize their kosodes.

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), the kosode evolved into the kimono. Unlike its earlier edition, the kimono was worn predominantly by women. Still, in spite of these small changes, the garment’s main function—to visually communicate a message—remains unchanged even today.

Types of Kimonos

Yukata

Yukatas are a casual, cotton kimono commonly worn during the summer and summer events (like festivals). Modern kimonos are designed to be easy to maintain and are machine-washable.

Iromuji

Coral Iromuji

While most kimonos are adorned with motifs, some are left intentionally minimalist. Iromuji is a type of kimono worn to tea ceremonies and usually features no painted design. Its simple monochromatic appearance is supposed to not detract from the ceremony. Sometimes patterns are sewn into the garment.

Uchikake

UchikakeUchikake is a formal type of kimono that was originally worn by samurai women in the 16th century. Centuries later, this garment was adopted into bridal wear. Since it is intended to be worn over another garment, like an overcoat, it is worn without an obi, and ornately decorated.

Shiromuku

Japanese Wedding ceremony IMG_6932

Another bridal kimono is the shiromuki. An all-white garment, it is intended to be worn by brides in a traditional Japanese Shinto wedding ceremony. It is often paired with matching accessories.

The Contemporary Kimono

Today, designers and artists have reinterpreted the traditional kimono in a myriad of ways. From upcycled wedding dresses to woven glass sculptures, these innovative creatives have come up with one-of-a-kind ways to both preserve Japanese heritage and showcase the beauty of the kimono.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a kimono?

A kimono is a traditional Japanese garment. It is typically hand-sewn into a “T” shape from four single pieces of fabric called tans and tied with an obi, or belt.

What does a kimono symbolize?

A kimono is typically a symbol of longevity and good fortune, but it also depends on the style, motif, color, and material to reveal the individual identity of the wearer.

What is difference between a kimono and a yukata?

A kimono typically has a hand-sewn inner lining and a yukata never does. A yukata is made of a single layer of fabric and intended to be worn during warmer temperatures, especially at summer festivals.

This article has been edited and updated.

Related Articles:

Brides in Japan are Turning Their Long-Sleeve Kimonos Into Stunning Wedding Dresses

20+ Traditional Wedding Outfits from Around the World

Japanese Street Photography Highlights the Nation’s Rich Culture

Content Creator Zaid Butt joined Silsala-e-Azeemia in 2004 as student of spirituality. Mr. Zahid Butt is an IT professional, his expertise include “Web/Graphic Designer, GUI, Visualizer and Web Developer” PH: +92-3217244554

Related Posts

What Is an MBA Degree? MBA Programs and What MBA Stands For

· MBA stands for Master of Business Administration. First introduced by Harvard University Graduate School of Administration in 1908 (now Harvard 

Diclofenac – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf

· Diclofenac is a medication used in the management and treatment of inflammatory conditions and pain. It is in the class of non-steroidal 

What are the most common types of felonies and their penalties?

A felony is a crime of high seriousness, compared to less serious misdemeanor offenses. In the United States, felonies are generally crimes that have a 

Stem Player: everything you need to know about Kanye West’s portable music player | What Hi-Fi?

· The Stem Player is a pebble-sized MP3 player that doubles as a portable remixer. That means that as well as loading it up with your own tracks, 

What To Do When Your Car Overheats | Jiffy Lube

Here are four of the signs: A strange, sweet smell coming from the engine area (this could be the scent of leaking radiator fluid, otherwise known as coolant 

Impact of Family Engagement | Youth.gov

Family engagement in schools contributes to positive student outcomes, including improved child and student achievement, decreased disciplinary issues, improved