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How to Select the Appropriate Kimono: 9 Major Styles of Japanese Kimono

Traditional Japanese Clothing: Kimono

Nowadays, the kimono is not worn even by Japanese unless there is a special event or ceremony. Before the custom of wearing western clothing became common, kimono was worn in various scenes.

Kimono is often grouped in one category as traditional Japanese clothing, but kimono also has various styles and there is a style suitable for each scene. Today we introduce 9 of the most standard types of ladies’ kimono. Photo: https://www.flickr.com

 

Types of Kimono

Here we introduce representative styles of kimono that were worn for ceremonial functions or daily wear.

1. Kuro Tomesode (黒留袖)

Major scenes to wear them: Auspicious occasions (i.e. weddings)
By whom: Married women

kimono-kurotomesode
https://www.flickr.com

This is a kimono with a black colored base. It is considered the most formal attire for married women for auspicious occasions such as weddings. Black kimonos are also worn at funerals but in the case of kuro tomesode, there is a “mon” or crest called the hinata mon dye-printed on 5 parts of the kimono: the back, both chests, both outer sleeves. The hem alone has an extravagant pattern. The pattern that is depicted is traditional and sophisticated and has auspicious meaning. The selection of the pattern depends on the age or characteristic, but the coloring is often muted and the patterns are relatively small. The lower the pattern is placed, the more appropriate it is for a mature wearer.

2. Iro Tomesode (色留袖)

Major scenes to wear them: Auspicious occasions (i.e. weddings)
By whom: Unmarried or married women

kimono-irotomesode
This type of kimono is considered most formal for females regardless of if the wearer is unmarried or married. There are no patterns on the upper half of the body. Its characteristic is that there are patterns only on the hem. In Japanese formalwear, the number and styles of crests show difference in class. The kuro tomesode has 5 hinata mon but for iro tomesode, there are cases where there is 1 or 3 other than the standard 5. Thus the number or style of mon can determine where and when you should wear it.

3. Furisode (振袖)

Major scenes to wear them: Auspicious occasions (i.e. weddings, coming of age ceremony, parties)
By whom: Unmarried women

kimono-furisode
https://www.flickr.com

This type of kimono is considered most formal for unmarried females. It is characterized by the vivid patterns and long sleeves. There are 4 different variations for the length of sleeves (o-furisode: 125 cm long, furisode: 114 cm long, chu-furisode 87 to 106 cm long, ko-furisode: 76-86 cm long). The longer the sleeve, the more dignified and formal the attire is considered.

The o-furisode is worn by brides; the furisode is worn at the coming of age festivals or when the bride changes dresses during a wedding; the chu-furisode or ko-furisode is worn to dress up for special tea ceremonies or parties. 

4. Homon-gi (訪問着)

Major scenes to wear them: Wedding parties, parties, omiai (first meeting with someone who is being introduced for the possibility of marriage)
By whom: Unmarried or married women

kimono-houmongi
https://www.flickr.com

This is a type of formal attire, less formal compared to tome-sode. It is attire for social events that can be worn by unmarried or married women alike. It is perhaps equivalent to a “visiting dress” in western clothing. It is suitable for a variety of occasions such as wedding parties, parties, omiai and tea parties.

The characteristic of the homon-gi is its “eba-moyo”. This refers to a continuous pattern that is repeated regardless of the placement of the seams. The homon-gi shows a continuous pattern from the sleeve to the body (back/right) and from the collar to the shoulder.

5. Tsuke-sage (付け下げ)

Major scenes to wear them: Dinners, school reunions
By whom: Unmarried or married women

kimono-tsukesage
https://www.flickr.com

This is a kimono that is a simpler version of the homon-gi. It is less formal than the homon-gi with less decorative pattern and glamour. It can be worn more casually in a variety of scenes. Unlike the homon-gi it does not have a continual pattern from the shoulder to the sleeve. It is often sold in the form of textile at kimono shops.

It is a type of kimono that is suitable for reunions and dinners with a semi-formal dress code.

6. Iro-muji (色無地)

Major scenes to wear them: Celebrations and condolences
By whom: Unmarried or married women

kimono-iromuji
https://www.flickr.com

This is a kimono dyed in a solid color without any patterns. It is a versatile and useful kimono that can be used for both celebrations and condolences depending on its pairing with accessories and obi-belts. It is sold in the form of a textile and it is differentiated by those that are solid in color or those with prints. Colors and patterns are selected based on the occasion that the kimono will be worn. For example, if the kimono is intended for use in both celebrations and condolences, the pattern should be things like flowing waters, clouds and waves; the color should be purple, navy, green or gray tones. For celebrations, it should be auspicious patterns and brighter colors.

7. Komon (小紋)

Major scenes to wear them: Going to the theater, shopping, dinners
By whom: Unmarried or married women

kimono-komon
https://www.flickr.com

This is a type of kimono that can be worn more casually than the homon-gi or the tsuke-sage. It cannot be worn as a ceremonial or formal attire, but it can be worn to dress up a bit for a visit to the theater, shopping or dinners. It can be useful if you have a few kimonos in this style.

Its characteristic is that the same pattern is repeated over the entire kimono.

8. Tsumugi (紬)

Major scenes to wear them: Daily use
By whom: Unmarried or married women

kimono-tsumugi
https://www.flickr.com

This is a kimono that can be worn regardless of age; young or old, depending on one’s tastes. The tsumugi was originally made from silk threads that the silk worm farmers could not sell as merchandise, woven into strong thread. This was thus considered daily attire. Nowadays however, this traditional technique is held in high regard and there are many tsumugi that are considered laboriously made high-class kimono that can be worn to events like parties.

9. Yukata (浴衣)

Major scenes to wear them: Mainly during the summer season and for matsuri festivals
By whom: Unmarried or married women

kimono-yukata
https://www.flickr.com

This is a style of kimono that is even worn in present day as summer attire. There are often rental services at overnight accommodation facilities in Japan. Thus, the yukata may be the most common style of kimono you may see when you visit Japan.

It started out from a linen robe called yukatabira, worn by the aristocrats when they bathed. In the Edo Period, it became popular as a cotton robe to be worn after bathing. Later on, it became a relax wear for the summer seasons.

Other than the traditional patterns used on yukata that are known as yukata-gara (yukata patterns), there are also unique patterns developed by fashion brands. There are also yukata that does not require any difficulty in putting it on so it is popular even among the younger generation as a kimono that can be enjoyed casually.

 

Opportunities for wearing kimono can be rare even for Japanese due to the restrictions of occasions that they can be worn as well as the pricing depending on the quality of the kimono. If you want to start out by casually enjoying the kimono, we recommend that you try ones like yukata or komon.

The kimono can give off a very different impression depending on the print or color as well as the obi and accessories you pair it with. We encourage you to try your own kimono-style by coordinating different kinds of accessories, colors and prints.

Related:
Differences in the 3 Major Styles of Yuzen: Traditional Kimono Dyeing Techniques
Kanzashi: A Hair Ornament Vital to Kimono and Apprentice Geisha & Maiko

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KAWATA

About the author

I'm interested in general in all things related to culture and fine arts with a focus on movies, art, and design. I hope to introduce to many people all the different sides to Japan in regards to Japanese culture.

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