What is Kimono

History of Kimono

When visiting a certain country, most people are often astonished by its cultural significance: its food, people, or clothing. And just like every country, Japan is a very attractive place to visit especially for foreign visitors. Due to the prosperous tourism in the country, Japan is commonly associated with the very well preservation of its cultural heritage, including its well-known traditional clothing - the Kimono.

The name Kimono (きもの/着物) comes from the verb "to wear" (着, ki), and the noun “thing" (物, mono). As its name suggests, Kimono meant something to wear. It symbolizes a symbol of good fortune and longevity, considering the belief that the wearer might find his way to the world of immortals. The motif of the dress also enhances the beauty of Kimono. Besides being a national dress, Kimono is known to be versatile and suits to any season of Japan, by layering and altering the materials.

It is believed to be created during the Heian period (794-1192). Before this period, two-piece of clothing consisting of upper and lower garments are worn. During this period, noblemen and royals flourished the development of a sophisticated and graceful way of living. Ruling-class women started to make enormous changes in their way of clothing- from being open and plain to massive and decorative patterns evolving, featuring layered looks and a variety of colors. These changes are mainly affected by the political and economic factors during that time, expressing and highlighting the noble and sophistication of the ruling class. Tailors developed a new way of sewing called the straight-line-cut method, where pieces of fabric are cut in straight lines and sewed together. This new technique allowed many advantages, both to the maker and the person wearing the Kimono. The technique made it easy for the makers since they don't have to worry about the shape of the wearer's body. Kimonos are easy to fold as well as they can be worn in any weather. Kimono can be worn during winter where layers of the garment can be matched with the outfit. Kimonos are also suitable to be worn during the summer season since they are made with breathable fabrics like linen. Because of their comfortable feature, Kimonos has become a part of the daily lives of the Japanese people. This period is also believed to be the origin of the use of Kamon, the crest used to determine the formality of a Kimono. During the last times of Heian period, aristocratic class dominating the Japanese court started to place Kamon in their oxcarts for the people in the streets to perceive.

The change of color culture during the Kamakura (1180-1333) and Muromachi period (1336-1573) paved the way for Kimono's improvement, particularly with the variations of colors to dye and decorate the garment. Colors that are forbidden before such as purple, red, and celadon became the colors of the samurai and conveyed a strong impression that associated with the thoughts of the warriors. The "kosode" became official outerwear for the working class since they abandoned the Heian-inspired layers of the garment, wearing the one-layer "kosode". This led to decorating the plain "kosode" with patterns and colors. Cross dyeing within the basic colors was also introduced and took off during the Kamakura period. Both periods of Kamakura and Muromachi refined the way of the Kimono with the strong colors and embroidery.

The use of Kamon in the Kamakura period has become practical since samurai of that time have need of proving themselves during battles. The samurai decorated themselves with different things including flags and Kamon. The use of Kamon during this era became a big influence as the individuals of samurai are distinguished by the clans they belonged to.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), restrictions on clothing became powerful and are used to clarify the class distinction. It was distinguished by the material used to make the Kimono such as silk, linen, cotton, and pongee. Later, the restrictions were extended by the weaving, dyed designs, footwear, and hair-ornaments. These policies are made by each lord monopolizing his own pattern indicating his feudal government. Eventually, the Baku-Han system abolished the clothing policy. The patterns and designs of the Kimono still improved with the makers using dyeing and fine patterns that are loved and widely used by the common people.

Changes occurred with regards to the use of Kamon during the Edo period, due to the fact that battles between samurai during this era has declined. Later on, the purpose of Kamon became more of an authority instead of distinguishing each other as an enemy of not. As Japan became a hierarchical society, and so is the use of Kamon. It became a discerning tool of social class between the family of samurai, merchants, artisans and farmers. This is also the time where the use of Kamon became common in ceremonies and to include in dresses.

Meiji period (1868-1912) paved way for the Japanese people to take a more Western and modern way of living in their own culture. Western-style (yofuku) fashion was introduced. The working class is encouraged to modernize their uniform, requiring certain jobs to take on the Western-style uniform. However, during the last period of Meiji (1890s) kimono regained popularity as a call back to nativism was made. Later on, most women are no longer interested in the Western style of clothing and re-embraced the kimono, as it continued to grow variations with colors, shapes, and patterns. On the other hand, Western fashion is deeply established for the men of the society. Thus, while women are wearing their traditional kimonos, men stick with their business coats and foreign suits.

Although Western fashion almost conquered the traditional dress during the Meiji period, the usage of Kamon continued to flourish as the caste system or the segregation of classes vanished.

Types of Kimono

There are actually 13 kinds of kimono, where each one is worn on different occasions. Kimono is also distinguished by rank, depending on the material used, the color, as well as the design.

  One way of recognizing a Kimono is by looking at the crest (Kamon) present.  The crests determines the formality of a Kimono. The number of Kamon should be taken account in wearing Kimono. This means that the more crest is present, the more formal a Kimono is. A Kimono may have either one, three, or five Kamon. These demonstrate the wearer’s age, social standing, and age. Crests are often found at the both sides of the chest, on each sleeve, and in the middle in the back.

  Kimonos are also seasonal. For example, darker colors of the Kimono are worn during winter while bright and colorful Kimono are used for summer and spring. In addition, the designs and colors of a Kimono may determine the age of the person wearing it. Usually, Kimonos with bright and fancy designs are suits for the young girls while middle-aged women have their Kimonos in pastel with subtle designs. Older, married women often wear theirs in black with colorful patterns accompanied with obi in contrasting colors. Kimonos are categorized by:

I. Formal Kimono

Shiro-muku & Iro-uchikake

Shiro-muku is a wedding kimono worn by brides in Japan. It is originally worn at weddings in samurai families. It has different garments and accessories to complement, including the over-robe, under-robe, obi, and Sashi. Shiro-muku stands out because of its significant color- white. Ever since the Heian period, pure-white bridal kimono has been valued since the color white symbolizes the sacred color of the sun rays in ancient times. A bride wearing a pure white bridal Kimono shows pureness, cleanness, and virginity, as regarded by the Japanese people. She also shows her preparedness and willingness to be "colored" by the family that she's marrying into.
On the other hand, Iro-uchikake is another wedding Kimono worn by brides. It is a bridal robe that is decorated with vivid colors and embroidered with beautiful gold leaf. This Kimono is generally worn as a change of clothes for the reception of the ceremony.

Kuro-tomesode is another traditional wedding that holds the highest rank of formality for the married woman. It is worn by the bride's mother and of the groom's as well. This Kimono is distinguished by its black color, and the lack of design at the upper part of the garment, but having a lavish and beautiful design at the bottom, including embroidery of lucky plants, flowers, objects, or animals. This Kimono can also have gold dust or gold thread as decorations. Aside from weddings, Kuro-tomesode is usually worn by married women at auspicious events like engagement parties and newborn baby's first shrine visits. On the other hand, only the female family member who is invited to the wedding can wear Kuro-tomesode. Thus, not every married woman who is invited can wear this kind of Kimono. One could wear Iro-tomesode or homon-gi in this case.

This type of Kimono is the first dress worn by an unmarried woman, usually for the coming-of-age ceremony. During the 15th century, Hon-furisode was worn by both boys and girls from middle and upper-class families. It is used as everyday attire for those who can afford it and has short sleeves. However, in the 20th century, Hon-furisode became an article of restricted clothing for women and girls only, due to the influence of the Western culture of gender-specificity clothing within young people.

Also called “Kuro-muji” or “Black-iromuji”, Mofuku is an all-back Kimono worn for funerals. This type of Kimono is worn with white undergarments and usually of five Kamon" (engravings used to identify an individual, family, or an institution). To show respect, visitors are also expected to wear black clothing. After the funeral, the family of the deceased may slowly replace each part of the Kimono with regular yet dim fabrics.

II. Semi-Formal Kimono 

Other than Kuro-tomesode, Iro-tomesode is another formal dress that is can be worn by both married and unmarried females. The difference of this Kimono from Kuro-tomesode is that this can come in various light colors other than black. On the other hand, this Kimono can be easily recognized because just like Kuro-tomesode, it lacks design on the upper body while having grand designs at the lower part.

Unlike the Tomesode, Houmon-gi typically has patterns woven or dyed displayed both on the sleeves and on the shoulder. It can also be worn by both married and unmarried females. It can be worn at wedding ceremonies, wedding parties, prestigious parties, visiting somebody's house, and the occasion of a family celebration. It can be worn by most of the participants of a certain formal event.

Tsukesage has a rank lower than Houmon-gi. The difference between these two is that patterns of Tsukesage are staggered within the garment while the patterns of Houmon-gi are in smaller areas than of Tsukesage.

In Japanese, the word “iro” means color while “Muji” means flat. As the name suggests, this type of Kimono has solid colors and has the same usage as Tsukesage, but the difference is that it has no design and comes in various bright colors aside from black and white since these two colors are used in more formal events. It is commonly worn during the Japanese tea ceremony, which symbolizes simplicity. It is mostly worn by young Japanese people since flashy and bright colors are often associated with youth.

It has the highest rank in the semi-formal Kimono types. During the Edo period, this type of Kimono was worn by the samurai classes. Today, Edo-Komon can be worn by anyone and is recognized by its intricate and extremely small repeating patterns.

 III. Neat Clothes

This type of Kimono is informal and is used for everyday wear. The sleeves of this Kimono are fairly short. Komon is usually made of informal materials like cotton, linen, hemp, polyester, and synthetic blends. However, this Kimono should not be confused with Yukata, a least-formal type of Komon that is originally used as a bathrobe.

Tsukesage-komon is usually worn to parties, but not on highly formal events. This Kimono is a step below Houmongi, and can only be worn with one and three Kamon, thus, it is not considered formal wear. Tsukesage-komon has smaller and more scattered designs while Houmongi has bigger and less scattered designs. These days, these two are a bit difficult to tell apart and usually comes in hybrid form.

IV. Every day clothes

Tsumugi is another type of Kimono which is popular among the people who occasionally wear Kimono. It is known for its rough but strong fabric made from floss silk of irregular-shaped cocoons. Its difference from other types of Kimono is that Tsumugi has woven designs instead of dyeing. Kimono makers first dye the silk threads before they are woven. This type of Kimono cannot be worn at formal events since it is made of uneven silk yarn. This is because, in the Edo period, high-grade silk cocoons are made for the clothing of Japanese lords (Daimyo), while uneven or junk cocoons are woven for commoners and family's clothes.


This is the least type of Kimono that is originally used as a bathrobe. Today, Yukata is a casual type of Kimono which is worn at festivals and hot springs during summer. Unlike most Kimonos, Yukata can be worn in absence of white undergarments and is made from lighter materials like cotton which makes it a comfortable choice in the summer. Just like Tsumugu and Tsukusage-komon, it is considered a casual Kimono at cannot be used in formal events. 


A traditional Kimono is often put together by a Kimono dresser, a qualified person approved by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Japan. These days, however, most people are able to wear casual kinds of Kimonos, such as Yukata, as it's easier to put on. There are certain ways and rules on wearing a Kimono. The most important thing is that both the undergarment and the kimono should be worn with the left side over the right side. Other basic rules are the position of the collar, which needs to be firm and shows the back of the neck, while the collar in the front should be high

Kimono is a one fine garment that is worn together with other parts to accompany it. Below are the essential accessories that come with a Kimono:

  1. Nagajuban – this is the undergarment that looks like a Kimono but is lighter and comfortable to go along with Kimono. It is also used to protect the Kimono from sweat and is easier to maintain and wash than the Kimono itself.
  2. Obi – this is a broad, stiff sash that acts as a belt for Kimono. The obi is usually about 12 inches (30 cm) wide and 13 feet (4 meters) long.  It is worn to hide the excess fabrics of ties that hold the Kimono. The other purpose of wearing an obi is to keep the female’s posture straight. This sash can also be made into different kinds of bows to put in the back of the Kimono.
  3. Koshihimo- These are thinner belts used to keep the Kimono tightly tied together. Koshihimo is supposed not to be seen, that’s why it is placed under the obi.
  4. Tabi – white split-toe socks. Traditionally, Tabi is more of shoes rather than socks. Eventually, Tabi is used as socks to be worn with straw sandals, and today, they are like socks that are made with comfortable materials like cotton and patterned with different designs.
  5. Zori- these are traditional thonged sandals that are worn together with Tabi. Zori can be made up of different materials like rice straw, wood, leather, cloth, or synthetic materials.
  6. Geta- these are wooden sandals that are elevated from the ground with the use of supports made from wood. They resemble flip-flops in modern time, but with “teeth” or wooden supports. The advantage of wearing geta in the olden days is that during the rainy season, a splash of water and dirt won’t get into the back of the legs while walking, unlike today’s flip-flops. However, wearing Geta for the first time might cause blisters and make balancing more difficult.

Now that we are familiar with the additions that make a complete look with Kimono, let’s proceed on how to wear one in a more modern way.

 The first step is to wear the undergarment first called nagajuban. If this undergarment is not available, one can wear a white and light shirt and a wrap skirt.

 Next, check the desired length of the Kimono you are wearing. Then, keep in mind the most important rule - wrap the left side over the right side of the Kimono while holding it closed.

 Take the first tie and place it above the hip bones. Tie a half bow on the front by pulling one end through. Take a second tie and wrap it around the waist, securing the kimono.

 Tighten the top of the Kimono inside by slipping your hands through the slits. Put your pointer under the tie and slide to the side to remove wrinkles. Now that you have two layers of tie on the front, take the left side of the layer below and put it diagonally up. Take both layers on the right side and pull them down.

Kimono Dressing Manual in English
"Eazy & Cool Kimono"

This is a book that explains how to easily and beautifully wear a kimono by yourself. It is also written in Japanese, so it is useful for Japanese people to teach foreigners how to wear it