The Kimono, which literally translates to “thing to wear” in English, is recognized worldwide as the national dress of Japan. It is a fashion that is often perceived as timeless and unchanging, reflecting an outsider’s judgment of Japanese values. However, this false notion denies the rich history of the Kimono which fosters identity, innovation and artistry.
The Kimono was given its modern name during the Meiji period (1868-1912) to distinguish local dress from Western clothing after a long period of enforced isolation. The precursor to the Kimono, a Kosode, was an undergarment worn beneath several layers of robes donned by aristocratic women during the Heian Period (794–1185). By the sixteenth century, the Kosode had evolved into a unisex outer garment worn by all social classes. During the Edo Period (1603-1868) innovations in Kosode design were encouraged and developed in order to create variations that would distinguish the wearer in a stratified society. Styling, fabric, symbolic motifs, pattern, and colour were all strategically used to work messages about the wearer into their clothing. Each garment could expertly reflect the wearer’s age, gender, marital status, and class. Sumptuary laws were even enacted from time to time to regulate Kosode design as garments grew to be extremely expressive and luxurious.
Today, developments such as yûzen paste-resist dyeing and digital fabric printing allow for even more customization of the Kimono. The Obi alone, a sash used to secure the Kimono in place, has more than 100 tying variations, each with their own significance. Men’s Kimono are typically more restrained in style and utilize darker neutral colours. Although the Kimono is less frequently worn today, the dress practice has come to represent a form of art and design. Additionally, Japan encourages foreigners to explore the dress practice of Kimono so long as it is done with appreciation, dignity and respect.
Appropriation and Influence
Kim Kardashian Kimono Shapewear, 2019
Katy Perry “Geisha” AMA Performance, 2013
Kimono Halloween Costumes, ongoing
Jotaro Saito A/W Collection, 2020
Cliffe, Sheila. “The Contemporary Kimono.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: East Asia, edited by John E. Vollmer. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2010.
Green, Cynthia. “The Surprising History of the Kimono.” JSTOR Daily, 2017. https://daily.jstor.org/the-surprising-history-of-the-kimono/.
Kennedy, Alan. “Kimono.” In The Berg Companion to Fashion, edited by Valerie Steele. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010.
Milhaupt, Terry Satsuki. “Kimono.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: East Asia, edited by John E. Vollmer, 355–360. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2010.
Video Series: Curator Tour – Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk
Tutorial: Kitsuke/ How to wear Kimono
Refer to the Library for even more resources on the Kimono