Choosing Your Japanese Kimono: 30 Things to Know

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by Billy Matsunaga

Japanese kimono are having a renaissance, attracting new fans from all over the world. But whether you’re discovering kimono for the first time, or an experienced kimono wearer, there’s always more to learn!

Professional kimono teacher and stylist Billy Matsunaga shares her tips for enjoying kimono, from wearing and taking care of your kimono, to styling suggestions, and how to beat the summer heat or winter cold. If you have a question about kimono, we have the answer!

1. When Can You Wear Kimono?

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There are no rules about when you can and can’t wear a kimono. Don’t forget kimono were still worn daily in Japan by most people just a few decades ago, so kimono are really just normal clothing. Instead of the question “when can I wear kimono?” you should ask yourself: “When can I wear what kimono?” For particular types of kimono there are different options depending on the time, place and occasion, for example weddings, and other formal events. Outside of these times however, it is ok to wear and style casual kimono whenever and however you want to.

2. Can Foreigners Wear Kimono?

Kimono stylist and teacher, Billy Matsunaga

Yes! Japanese people love to share their culture with the world. Kimono and yukata are in fact one of the most popular presents given to foreign guests in Japan. Japanese language schools and other exchange facilities regularly plan kimono or yukata experiences for students from abroad. This shows quite well how Japanese want to share kimono with people from other cultures. It is much better to show respect to kimono than to neglect it. The kimono industry has shrunk by 90% in the last few decades, so today relies on new audiences to stay alive. Read more in saving the kimono.

3. How Much Do Kimono Cost?

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As there are no limits to kimono styling, there is also no limit to kimono pricings! A hand painted silk kimono from a very famous artist can cost more than $30,000. However, you can find second-hand vintage kimono in Japanese thrift stores very cheaply. At Japan Objects Store you can purchase brand new Japanese kimono for $79.99 and yukata for $59.99, all gift-wrapped and delivered straight to your home!

4. How to Wear a Kimono?

Putting on a kimono is called kitsuke in Japanese. According to the Japanese fashion designer and journalist Junichi Nakahara (1913-1983) kitsuke is as important for kimono as design is for western clothing: the way you wear your kimono changes the look completely. But don’t worry, it can be easy to do. Check out our How to Wear Kimono video above to find out how.

5. What do you Need to Wear a Kimono?

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When wearing kimono you usually would wear three layers. The first layer is kimono underwear (hadagi). Over that you would wear a nagajuban (kimono undergarment) that will straighten out the kimono and also form the collar. For that purpose you can use a kimono collar stiffener that is sewn on the nagajuban collar. The nagajuban is worn with one tie, which the kimono needs another two ties. On the outside of the garment you tie an obi, and an obiita (flat board for straightening out the obi surface) is also recommended.

If this sounds like a lot, don't worry, the only things that are really necessary are the ties to keep the kimono together, and an obi, or other type of belt to cover them up.

6. How to Tie an Obi Belt?

There are many ways to tie an obi, largely depending on type of obi you have. Find out three simple but beautiful ways to tie a heko obi in the video above to find out how. You can also browse our selection of obi!

7. Are Kimono Uncomfortable to Wear?

Kimono stylist and teacher, Billy Matsunaga

Not at all! If you’re feeling any discomfort in wearing kimono that could mean your ties are a little too tight or too loose. And of course, if you’re wearing kimono for the very first time, you might feel restricted in unfamiliar ways, but you will get used to it very quickly and start to feel comfortable and confident to wear kimono. One thing that can help is to swap from normal cotton ties to stretchable elastic ties.

8. Do You Have to Wear a Nagajuban?

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If you’re wearing a kimono to formal event then you would wear a nagajuban. It is like a second, simpler kimono that is worn under your kimono, and can only be seen at the collar. However, if you’re not dressing formally, you can wear your kimono how you feel comfortable. If you want to add your own style, you can also wear a shirt or blouse under the kimono. In winter also turtle neck shirts will help you to fight the cold. There are also more and more people who wear hoodies instead of a nagajuban. Changing the nagajuban into something totally different is so much fun and trendy.

You can even substitute the essential dressing items like the kimono ties. Try using elastics from a normal sewing supply store instead of traditional cotton ties. It will be so much more comfortable and flexible!

9. What To Do If Your Kimono Is Too Long or Too Short?

A kimono that is too long will never bother you, because a kimono should always be longer than you are tall. When putting a kimono on, you adjust the length by folding the additional fabric over at the waist. Putting on a short kimono, however, is like wearing short trousers. As vintage kimono are a big trend in Japan these days, which tend to be a little too short for modern consumers, lots of people have started to wear their kimono without the fold at the waist. This makes it possible to wear even too short kimono.

10. What To Do If Your Kimono Is Too Tight or Too Loose?

If a kimono is too tight you can sew another piece of cloth onto the right side (when wearing it, it is the lower skirt layer), to make the kimono wider. The right side will be hidden when wearing it, so no one will be able to tell. A kimono that is too loose should be tied up nicely (but not too tight) at your waist. Make sure to straighten out the wrinkles nicely. You can also hide them under the obi. One tip is to wear a brooch over the chest where the layers cross to keep them from slipping apart.

11. What Do the Different Kimono Patterns Mean?

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There are thousands of different traditional kimono patterns. Some of them are named after Kabuki artists who wore them for the first time. Others evolved from designs brought from China or the Middle East to Japan, and have taken on new meanings over the centuries. Lean about the most well-known kimono designs with these 19 Traditional Kimono Patterns.

12. What are Kimono Made From and What are the Differences Between the Various Fabrics?

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The main fabrics for traditional Japanese kimono are silk, linen, cotton, wool, and polyester. Silk kimono are very glossy and beautiful. They are easy to maintain, as you only need to air them from time to time. As they are all natural fibers, they feel very good on the skin. The main disadvantages of silk is that it does not cope well with water, it is easy to stain, and difficult to wash.

Cotton and linen kimono feel also very got on skin and are very fresh in summer. You can also wash them. However, linen and cotton shrink and wrinkle easily. Wool is very warm in winter and also easy to maintain, but you have to keep an eye on it when it is in storage, as it can come under attack from moths!

Polyester kimono have the advantage of being very easy to store and wash, even in a washing machine, without losing their shape. They can also recreate the bright color of silk kimono patterns better than cotton or linen. And of course they are significantly cheaper than silk!

13. What’s the Difference Between a Kimono and a Kimono Robe?

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A robe is a western-style bathrobe or dressing gown. If you want something to wear only at home as loungewear, but you still want beautiful kimono style and made-in-Japan quality, then this would also be a great option for you. Check out our selection of kimono robes here!

14. What is the Difference Between Lined and Unlined Kimono?

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Traditionally the type of kimono to be worn is dictated by the season. Kimono with an interior lining (awase) are worn from October until May. From June to September Japanese kimono wearers switch to unlined kimono (hitoe), which are made of normal kimono fabric. In the hottest months of July and August, another option is the thinner natsumono, made of sheer silk or cotton. Of course, whether you wear a kimono with or without a lining all depends on the climate where you live!

Yukata is a kind of unlined kimono, but are sometimes considered separately from kimono. You can find our more about the differences between kimono vs yukata, and well as checking out our 30 tips for choosing the perfect yukata.

15. What are Natsumono Summer Kimono?

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The kimono called natsumono, that are worn at the very height of summer, are made of a very sheer silk, polyester, cotton or linen. There are many different weaving methods for summer fabrics. The most common are called sha and ro. Those fabrics are very light and the see-through effect makes your styling fresh like clear water. The effect of the sheer fabric is not just to keep the wearer cool, but they also suggest coolness to anyone viewing them too.

16. What Can You Wear with Kimono in the Winter?

Kimono stylist and teacher, Billy Matsunaga

In winter it helps to wear a long sleeve shirt and leggings under your kimono to keep you warm. Wearing boots instead of zori (Japanese kimono sandals) can also help to fight the cold. To avoid cold wind blowing down your neck, don’t forget to wear a scarf to cover up your back collar. You can also try a turtle neck shirt instead of a nagajuban (under-kimono).

17. What Jackets Go Well With Kimono?

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There are many different types of kimono jackets. The most well-known are called haori, jackets that are not fully closed. They are very easy to wear, because they also look great combined with a non-kimono outfit. For rainy or cold days michiyuki coats or dochu coats (coats that are fully closed on the front with a tie or buttons) are very convenient to protect your kimono from rain. On very cold days, a hanten is ideal to keep you warm. Find out more about other types of traditional Japanese clothing here.

You don’t need to wear kimono to enjoy these traditional Japanese jackets. You could, for example, wear a long michiyuki coat with a belt like a dress or just wear a hanten as a jacket with any daily outfit. Kimono jackets are a good way to enjoy kimono-inspired style every day.

18. Besides Geta and Zori, What Other Shoes Can You Wear with Kimono?

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Combining your kimono with shoes other than Japanese wooden sandals (geta) or kimono sandals (zori) is a good way to introduce kimono into your daily life, with suffering from the discomfort of unfamiliar shoes. When you attend a party, high heels make your outfit really glamourous. If you want to go for a picnic, sneakers will definitely help to manage a long walk through the park, plus it makes your outfit really sporty and you can still attend a badminton tournament with your friends.

There are no limits to what kind of shoes work with kimono. However, when you want to combine western shoes with your kimono, make sure to wear the hem of the kimono shorter than you would usually do. This will make it easier to walk.

19. What Hairstyles are Good for Kimono?

Kimono are famous for the beautiful neck line at the back of the neck, and this of course should be shown. Wearing your hair up, even in just a normal bun, can work wonders for your outfit. If you’re really short on time, a casual ponytail will also look great with your kimono outfit.

For some other useful tips on how to style check out the video above on 8 Helpful Yukata Styling Tips, which can all be applied to kimono too!

20. What Kimono Jewelry Can You Wear?

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A traditional kimono covers up most of your body, so most of your favorite accessories won’t be visible! To add a little spice you can go for bold earrings, which are especially prominent if you’re wearing your hair up. If your kimono sleeves are a little short, which they often are, you can wear stylish bracelets to complement that space. Brooches that can be pinned on the obijime (a thin that goes over the obi belt) are also a great eye catcher for your outfit.

Like most women’s clothes, kimono lack pockets, so an essential accessory for a day out in a kimono is an appropriate purse or clutch. Check out our selection of unique clutches and wallets, all handmade in Kyoto from kimono silk, available with free shipping to anywhere in the world.

21. How and When to Wear Hakama with Kimono?

Kimono stylist and teacher, Billy Matsunaga

Hakama are a kind of very wide-legged pants, or sometimes undivided forming a long skirt.

Hundreds of years ago hakama were worn every day by both men and women. From about the 13th century it became the exclusive outfit of male samurai, but made a comeback at the beginning of the 20th century when the hakama found its way back into women’s wardrobes as a school uniform for girls. It was also often worn by women who were beginning to work at telephone companies and offices. Hakama were considered a comfortable outfit to wear while sitting on a chair for a long time.

These days hakama are most frequently seen at graduation ceremonies were girls often wear them under their kimono. This doesn’t have to be the only time however. In fact wearing hakama can be a great way to make kimono more convenient in everyday life, helping you to walk longer distances or even cycle in your kimono.

When you want to wear a hakama, wear the kimono shorter than usual by about a foot (30cm). Tie your obi in a bow and then wear the hakama on top.

22. What Kind of Kimono Can I Wear to a Wedding?

Irotomesode Kimono

When you are invited to a wedding, casual kimono with small pattern (komon), or even yukata, are a no-go. Make sure to wear a formal kimono like a homongi, furisode, irotomesode with a wide fukuro obi belt (find out more about different types of traditional kimono).

Most formal kimono have a very light color and obi have gold and silver woven into the pattern. If you don’t own a formal kimono, try to stay with light colors and bring gold or silver into your outfit. Just as with weddings anywhere, your goal should be look elegant with trying to steal the spotlight! This is also an unspoken rule that applies for most formal occasions.

23. How Do You Wash Kimono?

Protein based fibers like wool and silk don’t need to be washed. Airing a silk kimono after wearing is enough, but do not put leave it out in the sunlight! Chemical cleaning should only be done when your kimono is noticeably dirty. If your really need to wash silk kimono, you should take measurements before and after washing it, to see if and how much it shrinks. Only use cold water, and hand wash only. Polyester kimono on the other hand can be put in the washing machine. For best results, use a laundry net.

24. How Do You Fold a Kimono?

Of course you don’t have to fold a kimono at all; if you have enough space, you can leave it hanging in your closet. Folding a kimono, however, will help keep its shape and is a little easier to maintain. Take a look at our How to Fold Kimono video above to find out how to do it quickly and easily!

25. How to Walk in Kimono?

Contrary to what many people think, there is no special way to walk in a kimono. It looks best when you walk as usual in your kimono. If you feel it’s a little too tight, it could help to stand with your legs slightly further apart when you’re putting it on. This will loosen the kimono a little and will make it easier to walk.

26. How to Drive in Kimono?

If you are not used to the long sleeves and geta, or Japanese sandals, you should change shoes and tie up the sleeves to make sure you’re comfortable and have a full range of movement. You many need to adjust your seat backwards a bit so that you can sit forward and avoid crushing your obi arrangement.

27. How to Cycle in Your Kimono?

Kimono stylist and teacher, Billy Matsunaga

If you want to cycle in your kimono, make sure to tie up the front skirt, so it won’t open up when cycling. You should raise the bottom hem of the kimono to the height of your knees. It also helps when you wear leggings under the kimono.

28. How to Use the Bathroom?

Open up every layer of the kimono and lift! Hold the hem of the kimono, undergarment (nagajuban) and underwear (hadagi) at the height of the obi. Later you can put all layers easily back.

29. How to Reach for Things?

Kimono stylist and teacher, Billy Matsunaga

The long sleeves can be easily in the way, especially if you’re not used to them! To avoid struggling with your sleeves, hold up the middle of the length when reaching for things. This also will make sure that your sleeves won’t end up in cream, sauce, soup etc.

30. What Are the Differences Between Men and Women’s Kimono?

There are many differences between women’s and men’s kimono. The biggest is how the kimono is worn. Men wear kimono with only one tie and don’t fold the kimono over at the waist. This means men’s kimono must be the correct length, as they are not as easily adjusted as women’s. Men also usually wear a kimono jacket (haori).

There are other differences are in the way that kimono are tailored; for example men’s sleeves are fully fixed onto the kimono, while women’s kimono’s sleeves leave a gap at the bottom so that the obi belt can be worn higher up.

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