Choosing Your Perfect Japanese Yukata: 30 Things to Know

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by Lucy Dayman

The yukata is Japan’s most versatile garment: adaptable, comfortable and stylish. It’s also easy to wear and is flattering on all body shapes. If you’ve ever wanted to know how, when, why and where you can wear yukata, or how to properly take care of your yukata, then settle down with our ultimate guide to everything you need to know about the yukata.

1. What is a yukata?

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The first question for beginners to the yukata is: what is a yukata?

The word yukata (浴衣) means bathing cloth; it was originally worn like a bathrobe while hopping between hot springs. In terms of shape and purpose, a Japanese yukata is a type of summery, streamlined kimono-robe, but its origins come from Japan's onsen (hot spring bathing) culture. The yukata is made from light, breezy, absorbent material like thin cotton or breathable synthetic material. It can be as basic or as extravagant as you like and these days it's most often worn during summer events like hanabi (fireworks) festivals or when visiting onsen resorts.

You can browse our selection of women's yukata here.

2. What’s the difference between a yukata and a kimono?

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A yukata is essentially a lightweight form of kimono, which is worn casually during the summer. They are made from thinner, lighter material than the traditional silk kimono, which makes them more comfortable in the hot weather, and easier to wash. Yukata are usually worn without extra layers, with simple underwear and no tabi socks. Visit our article to find out more about the differences between kimono and yukata!

3. What are yukata made from?

late 19th century yukata, LACMA

The main yukata fabric is cotton, sometimes mixed with hemp fabrics to allow fast drying. When selecting a yukata material, designers always aim for fabrics with sweat-wicking, quick-drying, and breeziness. Unlike kimono, silk is not used for yukata, as it is not conducive to the moisture-heavy uses of the yukata. These days some fast-drying synthetic fabrics have also started to become a popular option.

4. How are yukata made?

Shibori yukata, MFA

Similar to the kimono, the yukata is cut from a single roll of fabric. Because its silhouette is so simple, the most interesting part in the creation of the yukata is the pattern or design. While today many yukata are printed using modern cloth printing techniques, in the past yukata were all dyed by hand .

Chusen is a popular traditional method for creating yukata patterns. This 300-year-old technique involves folding the yukata fabric into the size of tenugui towels; then the dye is poured over the material, to create the design. Often dyers use stencils to create unique patterns that separate the colors creating images that permeate every inch of the fabric, inside and out.

Another notable technique is shibori dyeing. Like the ancient Japanese incarnation of tie-dye, shibori involves twisting and tying off parts of the fabric to create one-off designs.

Indigo dye is a very popular color for traditional garments. Based on a natural plant dye with antibacterial, and dirt repelling qualities, it became the dominant colour seen within Japanese working communities, especially during the Edo era (1603-1868).

5. How much does a yukata cost?

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The price of a yukata depends on how much you want to pay for it! The most expensive yukata can cost up to $1000. But what's great about this piece of clothing is that you can pick up an authentic Japanese design for less than a branded t-shirt. Japan Objects' yukata have all been designed in Kyoto by some of the nation's most reputable artisans, and cost $59.99.

6. What do the different yukata designs, colors and patterns mean?

Informal summer kimono, MFA

Yukata have less design-centric meaning than kimono, but traditionally they're very seasonally-based. As the classic style goes, wearers often select a yukata that anticipates the upcoming season. For example a yukata with momiji (fall leaves) or dragonfly motifs is worn at the end of summer to look forward to the cooler days of fall.

In general though, you don’t need to search to hard for meaning in Japanese yukata design, anymore than you would ask the reason behind the color of a dress. Pick the one you like and that suits you the best!

There are some tips that might help you, but they do not apply to everyone, so do not think of these as rules! Stronger, bolder patterns are usually suggested for taller women, while cute, delicate, and softer patterns often work better for shorter women. If you are fair-skinned, brighter yukata makes the skin look fresh and youthful, while those with darker skin look great in deeper tones like indigo dye.

7. Do Japanese people still wear yukata?

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In Japan, almost every woman owns some style of yukata. Go to any summer festival in Japan, and you'll see guests young and old dressed in brightly colored festive yukata. Yukata robes are also often worn in many of the country's onsen towns, where people go to hot bath hop and soak their stresses away.

Yukata are increasingly becoming part of the contemporary fashion scene, with modern designers reclaiming the home-grown inspiration of traditional Japanese fashion.

8. Are yukata comfortable?

Yukata are one of the most comfortable pieces of traditional Japanese clothing. They look sleek and stylish and require minimal upkeep, while staying cool, breathable, and drawing sweat away from the body.

9. How to wear a yukata?

A yukata can be much easier to wear than a kimono. When you’re in an onsen hot spring bath or at home, it is as simple as wrapping it around yourself like a bathrobe. Just be sure always to wrap left over right, as the other way is how the deceased are dressed.

Yukata can also be worn in the same way as the most elaborate kimono. Check out our How to Wear Kimono video tutorial above to see the easiest way to wear a kimono or yukata.

10. What should you wear with a yukata?

In terms of essentials, you need to wear some sort of underwear, and you’ll need koshihimo or ribbons to tie the yukata comfortably. On top of that you’ll need an obi or some sort of belt, and you’ll want to wear some sandals too if you’re leaving the house. That’s the basics.

The traditional style for obi is hanhaba (half-width) obi for women and thinner kakuobi for men. For a more dramatic look, women can also wear nagoya obi, which is very wide. It doesn’t have to be an obi though! Any long piece of fabric such as a scarf can be tied in the same way. Alternatively, you can wear a shorter belt, rope or strip of fabric, whatever you think looks best.

You can browse our selection of made-in-Japan obi belts here.

The most integral part of wearing an obi is making sure its color complements your yukata. There are a few basic combinations. Green, like tea, is a classic color: simple, adult, and not too feminine. White offsets a sense of elegance and refinement, while warmer tones like maroon are strong but feminine. Blue obi insinuate calmness, lighter blues feel airy, while dyed obi add a layer of texture and excitement. To give your yukata style an additional level of sophistication, you can add a thin obijime decorative, braided cord tied around the outside of the obi and knotted at the front.

11. How do you tie a yukata obi belt?

Check out our video above for a few simple ways to tie a beautiful obi knot.

12. What should you wear under yukata?

To prevent sweating on and staining your yukata, you should wear something underneath, preferably cotton, which is the most comfortable and absorbent during hot weather.

For women, there are dedicated yukata underwear known as the hadajuban, which can also come in an extended robe-like version. But, there’s no need to buy something especially: the simplest thing to do is to wear a light-colored V-necked T-shirt and light shorts.

13. What should you wear on top of a yukata?

Girl in Summer Costume by Hashiguchi Goyo, 1920

Usually Japanese people don’t wear anything over a yukata, because it’s a summer garment, and Japanese summers are too hot to wear much! However if you live in a different climate, or it’s a different season, or even if the night air has a little chill you can always reach for a haori style kimono jacket.

14. What shoes should you wear with yukata?

Traditionally Japanese yukata are worn with geta and without the tabi socks that are commonly seen with kimono. The other common type of Japanese shoe the zori is seen as too formal to wear with yukata. Wooden geta or simple flip-flops - especially tatami flip flops - are best. Men also wear geta or flat-soled setta with no socks.

15. What other yukata accessories are there?

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There are plenty of options for yukata accessories, including obi ita, a rigid board that is worn underneath the second layer of the obi to stiffens the belt and prevents it from folding or becoming creased.

An obijime is a thin decorative cord that’s tied around the obi to dress up the yukata, while a datejime is another under piece worn on the outside to keep the yukata in place. An obiage, also known as an obi scarf, can be worn to secure the bow of the obi.

Many women also like to accessorize with handbag or clutch (an you can check out some suitable options here), while men sometimes have a pouch bag known as a kinchaku for their belongings. There’s also another drawstring bag, known as a shingen bukuro, that men sometimes use.

A netsuke is a very unique and traditional accessory. It’s a miniature sculpture that is used similar to a wallet chain. The sculpture sits at the top of the belt, and belongings like tobacco, money, and seals can be hung from the cords.

Kanzashi hairpins are traditional hair accessories that can complement the yukata and are regularly worn with kimono. Classic Japanese-style umbrellas and fans are an easy way to accessorize and stay cool during the long summer days. If you want to wear a hat, we recommend something small and light like a straw cancan hat.

16. What jewelry is suitable for yukata?

Bijin in Yukata by Ito Shinsui, 1930

Traditionally the yukata isn’t worn with jewelry. But small earrings are a tasteful and subtle way to take the style to another level. Some people like to wear brooches, which can play a practical role if your yukata is coming open at the top!

If you want to wear a necklace, choker style is best, while bracelets can be good if the sleeves of your yukata are short and are not at risk of getting caught.

Some people like to extend the sleeves of their yukata by adding a length of lace underneath the garment. The beauty of the yukata is its simplicity, so feel free to use your imagination. You don’t have to be traditional to pull of yukata style!

17. When can you wear yukata?

These days the yukata is also most often seen at summer festivals and other festival celebrations like processions and picnics. Thanks to their ingeniously simple, but classic design and incredible comfort they're an easy way to pay homage to the aesthetics of traditional Japanese style.

In communal baths like onsen towns and sentos which are still popular ways to relax, they're is still worn as a quick, comfortable garment to slip on en-route to and from the bath. Head to a hot spring bath today, and chances are you'll be putting on a yukata robe yourself!

18. Are yukata for summer only?

Iris Kimono by Torii Kotondo, 1932

There were once traditional rules about what to wear when, but this was based on the seasons in Kyoto centuries ago. But if you don’t live in Japan, there is no reason you should be constrained by the Japanese climate! Even if you do live in Japan, customs around yukata-wearing are less traditional than for kimono, so ultimately you should wear yukata how and when you feel comfortable. If the weather is cooler, you can wear thicker underwear, a nagajuban, or a scarf or jacket over the top.

19. What’s the difference between a yukata and a 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!

20. Do men wear yukata?

Of course!

Often when we speak about the yukata, it's assumed that we're talking about women's yukata. However, men are big wearers of the garment too! There are a few differences between men’s and women’s yukata. Men’s yukata tend to be a little plainer in terms of design, they utilize strong, darker colors, but this wasn't always the case. In the past, some men liked to wear brighter fancier yukata patterns, dressing up with an ethos similar to dandies in Europe. These fashion-forward men were known as kabuku, which is the same root as the elaborate and dramatic kabuki theater.

You’ll see that on male yukata the sleeves are attached under the arms. On women's yukata by contrast, the sleeves have become open or unattached at the bottom. The reason for this is that whilst men wear the obi belt around the waist, women tie it much higher up the body.

Men often wear boxer-shorts-like undergarments called suteteko underneath the yukata. Their yukata also do not fold at the waist, so they need to be the right length. Women's yukata fold at the waist to adjust the height, so they’re closer to one-size-fits-all.

21. Can children wear yukata?

Many Japanese children wear yukata during special summertime events like matsuri festivals and fireworks displays. Beyond the size of the garment, boys' and girls' yukata are similar to their adult versions. They also wear the obi in the same way. Many kids’ yukata feature cute, younger designs with bold prints and bright colors.

From about Junior High onwards, children typically wear the same yukata as adults.

Because they can be a little bit of a tripping hazard, the yukata isn't recommended for toddlers. A better alternative for the unsteady on their feet is a traditional two-piece known as a jinbei.

Traditionally, custom and homemade yukata were designed to grow with the child. They were the same style as adult yukata, but with hidden folds that could be extended as they grew. An example is the folds on the shoulders known as kataage (肩上げ), which were let out when the child reached age 13.

21. How to fold a yukata?

To store your yukata, it's best to fold or hang it. You can watch our video guide on how to fold any kimono or yukata above.

23. How to wash a yukata?

There are a few tricks to take care of your yukata. The first is a preventative measure. To avoid staining easy to stain areas, like under the arms, you can sew a protective layer of material on the inside of the yukata. This will catch the sweat before it reaches to the outside of the garment. Simpler still, you can wear a V-necked short-sleeved T-shirt underneath, which will ensure you keep the yukata away from your skin.

If you have gotten sweat on the yukata, place the stained part on top of a dry towel and dab away the stain using a moist wet cloth. Dabbing away stains, like tea stains, is the best way to reduce the risk of fading through overwashing.

Another option is to use an old toothbrush and a little detergent to scrub at the stain to remove it. If washing via machine is necessary, fold the yukata into a laundry net and machine wash on a hand-wash cycle; don't use the spin cycle. Once out of the machine, roll the yukata into a towel to squeeze out the excess water before leaving it to hang dry.

24. How to iron your yukata?

Ironing a Kimono by Miyagawa Shuntei, 1898

To keep that yukata crisp, iron first from the collar, then fold as you iron. If you don't want to iron your yukata, you can fold it, then weigh it down with heavy cushions overnight and hang it the next day.

25. How to walk in yukata?

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If you are tied up in a formal, many-layered kimono, the normal advice is to take smaller steps, but when wearing yukata, try not to wear it so tight. You should be able to just walk normally. It's ok if it comes open or loosens up a bit as you wear it, that's normal. If you’re walking around a lot you might need to adjust it a litte now and again. A tip is that if you loosen it a bit around the crotch at first, it will be easier to walk. When you climb stairs, lift the yukata with one hand to prevent stepping on the garment or tripping.

26. How to sit in a yukata?

kimono stylist, and teacher, Billy Matsunaga

Once you're standing in front of the chair ease yourself down comfortably while placing your hands at the back to keep the front smooth. The typical mannered way is to sit with your knees together and not to cross your legs.

27. How to use the bathroom while wearing a yukata?

Essentially the experience of wearing the yukata is just like wearing a long tight skirt, so just be careful and do what feels most comfortable!

28. How to drive in a yukata?

Yukata are not very restrictive so there’s not much to worry about, just pay attention to your obi knot and your footwear.

If you have tied a large obi knot, you might have to sit forwards in the driving seat a little to leave a space for the knot. So, you would need to move the driver's seat back a bit to accommodate this. Remember to adjust your mirrors!

It's best not to wear footwear you are not totally comfortable in; you have to be able to use the pedals easily. If you don’t regularly wear geta or sandals, it could create a hazard, so bring some sneakers for the car!

29. How to cycle in a yukata?

It's best to wear leggings or pants underneath, then raise the kimono to mini-skirt length. This is the traditional way to do more active things when people used to wear kimono all the time. It's best to tie up the sleeves with an armband, a koshi himo or a length of ribbon or string, to make sure they don't get caught in anything.

30. How to take a good photo in a yukata?

kimono stylist, and teacher, Billy Matsunaga

To get the perfect photo while in a chair, sit forward and at a slight angle with your face to the camera. When posing lean forward slightly, with your back straight and head high. To complete the look, make sure your feet sit at a natural angle with your heels slightly raised.  

If you're standing, stand at a 45-degree angle from the camera with your face to the camera. Stand proud with your back straight, stomach in, and chest out. Put your weight on your left foot, with your toes together and your heels slightly separated.

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