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L’Histoire de Mode~Kimono

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The kimono (着物) is a Japanese traditional garment worn by women,

men and children. The word “kimono”, which literally means a “thing to wear”

(ki “wear” and mono “thing”), has come to denote these full-length robes. The

standard plural of the word kimono in English is kimonos, but the unmarked

Japanese plural kimono is also sometimes used. Kimonos are T-shaped,

straight-lined robes worn so that the hem falls to the ankle, with attached

collars and long, wide sleeves. Kimonos are wrapped around the body, always

with the left side over the right (except when dressing the dead for burial),

and secured by a sash called an obi, which is tied at the back. Kimonos are

generally worn with traditional footwear (especially zōri or geta)

and split-toe socks (tabi).

Today, kimonos are most often worn by women, and on special occasions.

Traditionally, unmarried women wore a style of kimono called furisode,

with almost floor-length sleeves, on special occasions. A few older women and even fewer men still

wear the kimono on a daily basis. Men wear the kimono most often at weddings, tea ceremonies,

and other very special or very formal occasions. Professional sumo wrestlers are often

seen in the kimono because they are required to wear

traditional Japanese dress whenever

appearing in public.

As the kimono has another name, gofuku (呉服, literally “clothes of Wu (吳)”),

the earliest kimonos were heavily influenced by traditional Han Chinese clothing,

known today as hanfu (漢服, kanfuku in Japanese), through Japanese embassies

to China which resulted in extensive Chinese culture adoptions by Japan, as early

as the 5th century CE. It was during the 8th century, however, that Chinese

fashions came into style among the Japanese, and the overlapping collar became

particularly a women’s fashion. During Japan’s Heian period (794–1192 CE),

the kimono became increaslingly stylized, though one still wore a half-apron,

called a mo, over it. During the Muromachi age (1392–1573 CE), the Kosode,

single kimono formerly considered underwear, began to be worn without the

hakama (trousers, divided skirt) over it, and thus began to be held closed by

an obi “belt”. During the Edo period (1603–1867 CE), the sleeves began to grow

in length, especially among unmarried women, and the Obi became wider, with

various styles of tying coming into fashion. Since then, the basic shape of

both the men’s and women’s kimono has remained essentially unchanged.

Kimonos made with exceptional skill from fine materials have

been regarded as great works of art.

The formal kimono was replaced by the more convenient Western clothes

and Yukata as everyday wear. After an edict by Emperor Meiji,police, railroad men

and teachers moved to Western clothes. The Western clothes became the army and school uniform

for boys. After the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, kimono wearers often became victims of robbery

because they could not run very fast due to the restricting nature of the kimono on the body and

geta slippers. The Tokyo Women’s & Children’s Wear Manufacturers’ Association

(東京婦人子供服組合) promoted Western clothes. Between 1920 and 1930 the sailor outfit replaced

the undivided hakama in school uniforms for girls. The 1932 fire at Shirokiya’s Nihombashi

is said to have been the catalyst for the decline in kimonos as everyday wear. Kimono-clad Japanese

women did not wear panties and several women refused to jump into safety nets because they were ashamed

of being seen from below. (It is, however, suggested, that this is an urban myth.)The national uniform,

Kokumin-fuku (国民服), a type of Western clothes, was mandated for males in 1940.Today

most people wear Western clothes and wear the cooler and more

comfortable yukata for special occasions.

Kimonos for men are available in various sizes and should fall

approximately to the ankle without tucking. A woman’s kimono

has additional length to allow for the ohashori, the tuck that can be

seen under the obi, which is used to adjust the kimono to the individual

wearer. An ideally tailored kimono has sleeves that fall to the wrist

when the arms are lowered.

Kimonos are traditionally made from a single bolt of fabric called a tan.

Tan come in standard dimensions—about 14 inches wide and 12½ yards long—and the

entire bolt is used to make one kimono. The finished kimono consists of four main strips

of fabric—two panels covering the body and two panels forming the sleeves—

with additional smaller strips forming the narrow front panels and collar.

Historically, kimonos were often taken apart for washing as separate panels

and resewn by hand. Because the entire bolt remains in the finished

garment without cutting, the kimono can be retailored

easily to fit a different person.

The maximum width of the sleeve is dictated by the width of the fabric.

The distance from the center of the spine to the end of the sleeve could not

exceed twice the width of the fabric. Traditional kimono fabric was typically

no more than 36 centimeters (14 inches) wide. Thus the distance from spine to

wrist could not exceed a maximum of roughly 68 centimeters (27 inches).

Modern kimono fabric is woven as wide as 42 centimeters (17 inches) to

accommodate modern Japanese body sizes. Very tall or heavy people,

such as sumo wrestlers, must have kimonos custom-made by either

joining multiple bolts, weaving custom-width fabric, or using

non-standard size fabric.

Traditionally, kimonos are sewn by hand, but even machine-made kimonos

require substantial hand-stitching. Kimono fabrics are also frequently hand made

and hand decorated. Various techniques such as yūzen dye resist are used for

applying decoration and patterns to the base cloth. Repeating patterns that cover a

large area of a kimono are traditionally done with the yūzen resist technique

and a stencil. Over time there have been many variations in color, fabric

and style, as well as accessories such as the obi.

The kimono and obi are traditionally made of silk, silk brocade, silk crepes

(such as chirimen) and satin weaves (such as rinzu). Modern kimonos are also

widely available in less-expensive easy-care fabrics such as rayon, cotton

sateen, cotton, polyester and other synthetic fibers. Silk is still

considered the ideal fabric.

Customarily, woven patterns and dyed repeat patterns are considered informal.

Formal kimonos have free-style designs dyed over the whole surface or along the hem.

During the Heian period, kimonos were worn with up to a dozen or more colorful contrasting layers,

with each combination of colors being a named pattern.Today, the kimono is normally worn with

a single layer on top of one or more undergarments. The pattern of the kimono can also

determine in which season it should be worn. For example, a pattern with butterflies or

cherry blossoms would be worn in spring. Watery designs are common during the summer.

A popular autumn motif is the russet leaf of the Japanese maple; for winter, designs

may include bamboo, pine trees and plum blossoms.

A popular form of textile art in Japan is shibori (intricate tie dye),

found on some of the more expensive kimonos and haori kimono jackets.

Patterns are created by minutely binding the fabric and masking off areas,

then dying it, usually done by hand. When the bindings are removed, an

undyed pattern is revealed. Shibori work can be further enhanced with

yuzen (hand applied) drawing or painting with textile dyes or with embroidery;

it is then known as tsujigahana. Shibori textiles are very time consuming to

produce and require great skill, so the textiles and garments created from

them are very expensive and highly prized.

Old kimonos are often recycled in various ways: altered to make haori, hiyoku, or

kimonos for children, used to patch similar kimono, used for making handbags and similar

kimono accessories, and used to make covers, bags or cases for various implements, especially

for sweet-picks used in tea ceremonies. Damaged kimonos can be disassembled and resewn

to hide the soiled areas, and those with damage below the waistline can be worn under a hakama.

Historically, skilled craftsmen laboriously picked the silk thread from old kimono and rewove

it into a new textile in the width of a heko obi for men’s kimono, using a

recycling weaving method called saki-ori.

Parts of a kimono

Diagram of the kimono parts
  • Dōura (胴裏) upper lining on a woman’s kimono
  • Eri (衿) collar
  • Fuki hem guard
  • Furi sleeve below the armhole
  • Maemigoro (前身頃) front main panel, excluding sleeves. Covering portion of the other side of the back, maemigoro is divided into “right maemigoro” and “left maemigoro”.
  • Miyatsukuchi opening under the sleeve
  • Okumi (衽) front inside panel situated on the front edge of the left and right, excluding the sleeve of a kimono. Until the collar, down to the bottom of the dress goes, up and down part of the strip of cloth. Have sewn the front body. It is also called “袵”
  • Sode (袖) sleeve
  • Sodeguchi (袖口) sleeve opening
  • Sodetsuke (袖付) kimono armhole
  • Susomawashi (裾回し) lower lining
  • Tamoto (袂) sleeve pouch
  • Tomoeri (共衿) over-collar (collar protector)
  • Uraeri (裏襟) inner collar
  • Ushiromigoro (後身頃) back main panel, excluding sleeves, covering the back portion. They are basically sewn back-centered and consist of “right ushiromigoro” and “left ushiromigoro”. But for wool fablic, ushiro migoro consists of 1 clothes.



A traditional wedding kimono with tsunokakushi (wedding headpiece)

A traditional red Uchikake kimono with cranes

Modern styles of furisode

A young woman wearing a furisode kimono

Women dressed as maiko (apprentice geisha), wearing specially
tailored “maiko-style” furisode kimonos with tucks in sleeves and at shoulders

Jin-Haori – Kimono tabards for armoured Samurai

Couple being married in traditional dress.