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The Brief History of Kimono

To enjoy the beauty of kimono, perhaps it is best to dive into the history of fashion in Japan, as well as how kimono became how they are now.


Table of Contents:

Yayoi period

Back in the Yayoi period (300BC-250AC), men wore 'kanpui', and women 'kantoui'. These items had no sleeve, and were simply pieces of fabric with a hole for the head. A belt was used to secure the fabric.

Sleeves were later added for warmth and protection. The addition of sleeves made them difficult to wear, which is when people decided to cut an opening in the front. However, now the opening is not suitable for colder days, and so the 'okumi' was made. The okumi is the diagonal panel of fabric at the front to allow the two sides to overlap. Lastly, to protect the neck, the collar (eri) was added.

This is where we start to see major similarities with present day kimono.


Kofun period

You may be familiar with 'haniwa'; teracotta figures made in the Kofun period. The clothing worn in this period can be seen on these figures. They were two piece garments that resembled trousers and skirts. During the Kofun period, culture from neighbouring countries were brought in, which caused a rapid growth and change in clothing.


Asuka, Nara period

During the Asuka to Nara period, wearing the left side of the kimono on top became law issued by the emperor. Influenced by China, womens clothing became longer to cover the knees, the sleeves became looser, and a scarf-like item was worn around the shoulders. Men also wore looser sleeves with a 'hakama' (pleated bottoms).


Heian period

Entering the Heian period, Japan stopped sending their people to China to study. This is generally where Japan starts to develop their own individual culture.

Commoners wore 'kosode', which translates to small sleeve, however the sleeve in this case refers to the opening of the sleeve, and not the area the arm goes through.

The famous 'juni-hitoe' was worn during this period by noble ladies. The culture of layering kimono developed because of the dramatic changes in temperature each season in Japan.


Azuchi-Momoyama period

During the Azuchi-Momoyama period, sleeve size was determined by how much labour individuals do. The smaller the sleeve the more suitable for working. Often times, samurai would wear large sleeves to display their status.


Edo period

At the beginning of the Edo period, economic disparity was great, and fashion was only enjoyed by women of Warrior families.

From mid to late Edo, the standard of living improved, allowing commoners fashion trends to emerge. Japanese culture flourished in the urban areas, and remnants of life in Edo still remain in Japan. Life in Edo then closely resembles present day life, with fashion magazines, models, and trending new styles. The leaders of Edo fashion were stage actors; many patterns and styles were even named after them.

Extravagant designs including embroidery and dyeing rapidly gained popularity, as well as new creative obi-musubi (ways to tie the obi). Accessories were also loved in this time. Nonetheless, functionality of these items were also valued. An example of this is 'fukuromono', which translate to modern day pouches. These were either hooked to the obi, or stored in between the fabric near the chest, and vary greatly in design.

'Netsuke' are possibly the most well-known and diverse accessory that gained popularity amongst men in Edo. Netsuke are modern day keychains and charms. They were made with materials that were abundant in supply at that time, such as Hyoutan (bottle gourd), shells, wood, and seeds. What was first only enjoyed by samurai and merchants, quickly grew to become widely worn by workers and farmers. Even while the Sumptuary Law was taking place, people were able to enjoy small luxuries like the netsuke. Netsuke soon developed into pieces of high craftsmanship often made by animal horns and fangs.


Meiji period

At last, in the Meiji period the word 'kimono' became what we know today. This is also when Japan opened its boarders to the world, and western culture was brought in. Western clothing became the face of fashion, and new trends took place.


Taisho period

The Taisho period is where the term 'moga' comes up. Moga, deriving from 'modern girl' refers to trendy women and girls who wore western clothes. 'Mobo', meaning modern boy also existed but was less common. Moga style comes from 20s fashion popular in the West; pumps, short dresses, and short hair were the new trends. These women were seen as financially and emotionally independent, and inspired many women that were victims of gender inequality during this time.

That said, fashion was also enjoyed by people who continued to wear kimono. Perfection of kitsuke (wearing the kimono) was less emphasised than before, and people enjoyed accessorising and altering their kimono.

Another keyword that comes from the Taisho period is 'Taisho-roman'. Taisho-roman is a general term used to describe art and culture from this period. They are characterised by vibrant colours (especially deep purple and red), and a merge of Japanese and Western culture.

A famous type of kimono that is categorised into Taisho-roman kimono is 'Meisen'. Meisen, also called 'kasuri' is a casual plain woven silk kimono that has a distinct scraped colour appearance. Although meisen is viewed as a trendy item from the Taisho-period, it actually started in the Edo period, but only became largely worn in Taisho. This is because a technique called 'hogushi-ori' was invented mid Meiji. Hogushi-ori allowed meisen to weave new designs and use more colours. Meisen are comfortable, light, and can be made at a lower cost than other kimonos.

Kimono made in these style are greatly valued to this day.

The kitsuke style in this period is also worthy of mention. Wearing decorated haneri (under collar) became popular, leading to people adjusting the angle of the collar of the kimono to show more of the haneri. Naturally those who wear Taisho-roman kimono choose accessories that were also popular during this time, and adjust their collars to show more of their haneri.


Showa period

In the Showa period, two opposite kimono styles emerged; realism and modernism. While realistic dyed and embroidered flowers became more complex and beautiful, some enjoyed modern designs incorporating styles like art nouveau and art deco.

Many changes we see now in kimono also took place in this time. The nagoya obi was created in Kyoto and quickly spread to Tokyo, the kurotomesode (black tomesode) was produced from the influence of western cultures wearing black for formal wear. In addition fukuro obi was created based off of the maru obi, and houmongi adapted into the houmongi we wear today. 'Ro' and 'sha' which are summer appropriate see-through fabric were invented. The most significant change, though, is the ohashori; the fold at the hips, becoming the standard kitsuke (way to wear kimono).


Now

Although kimono culture has not changed significantly after the Showa period, as long as people still wear kimono, there will be new trends, styles, and ways kimono is worn.

We hope that our blogs and informational pages can encourage more people to wear kimono, and help continue this beautiful tradition.


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