Kimono – what do you know?


How would you describe modern Japanese fashion? Architectural, folded, structural, challenging, monochromatic, deconstructed? However you look at it, I think it is important to see its roots in the Kimono. A kimono, the quintessential traditional Japanese garment, is made from a single piece of cloth measuring about 36cm by 11m. Overall a kimono it is a T shaped garment, with the sections joined in straight, vertical seams. As can be seen in the photograph there are four widths of fabric from left to right. This is a very fine embroidered Kimono from the V&A collection.

Classic Kimono V&A
Classic Kimono V&A

Comparison of Western fashion versus Japanese Kimono style

  • three-dimensional v  flat
  • form fitting v angular
  • weave v surface decoration
  • made in various sizes v made in standard sizes, with a one-size-fits all approach
  • designed to be worn in a certain way v styling can be customised (eg how the fabric is bunched up or how deep openings are)
  • male and female have different clothes v kimono are unisex
  • male and female fastenings differ v left over right always
  • use of many different (permanent) fastenings v kimono secured each time with a belt (obi)
  • quality in style and of cut and fabric v social significance of colour and decoration

A kimono (which means “thing to wear”) is made from a single bolt of cloth, cut into seven straight pieces. Two panels, which go up the front and down the back, make up the body. The two sleeves are made in the same way, and two more for the overlaps. A narrow panel is used to make the neckband. The traditional and simple construction meant that most Kimono would be made at home.  Additionally many women wove (on narrow looms) their own fabric – which would usually be cotton or wool. The wealthy would wear luxurious silk kimonos that would be embroidered, painted, dyed, or stencilled. For the hottest weather an unlined cotton or silk kimono is worn; when it is cold a kimono can be lined, quilted or made from thicker woollen fabric.

These marvellous images are from the V&A which always has many kimono on display. I like looking at them for inspiration both for silk painting, block printing, embroidery and shibori.

In order to clean them, the garment would be unpicked, carefully washed and restitched. Because of the difficulty in getting stains off, and the quality of the surface decoration, Japanese people rarely eat in a Kimono. Isn’t that interesting?



5 Responses

  1. Jenny

    My son worked in Japan many years ago and he was asked to pose in Japanese dress for a magazine. They particularly wanted a westerner and we have one of the photos. In fact he loved wearing Kimonos – they were very comfortable, and he brought some home with him.

  2. mrsmole

    I have a collection of pre-WW2 kimonos that I bought from a private seller in OZ 20 years ago. While I thought I could use them to cut up into new garments, I don’t have the heart to do it. Some of them have a plain white cotton neck sections and many have stains from tea and the linings have been replaced many times as they do not match in places. Thinking of how many times these were worn for events and taken apart to be cleaned and repaired, just makes them even more precious. Thank you, Kate for sharing the definition and the links!

Leave a Reply