by Tani Wada & Lucy Dayman
When it comes to Japanese clothing, there’s no piece more iconic than the kimono. A traditional garment, steeped in history but still very much of the present day; there’s a lot to be said about the kimono and its summer counterpart, the yukata.
The question that comes to mind first though is: what is the difference between a kimono and a yukata? Here are the answers to your questions on these two most popular items of traditional Japanese fashion.
1. What is a Kimono?
The word kimono comes from two characters: ki (着) to wear, and mono (物) meaning thing, so basically, a kimono is simply a thing you wear!
For centuries Japan looked to China for inspiration, including in fashion. The kimono was essentially a localized version of the traditional Chinese garment, the hanfu. The kimono in its most essential form is four separate pieces of fabric sewn into a T-shape, held together with intricate folds, all secured with a belt known as an obi.
The kimono became a popular garment in Japan because, despite its many layers, it was relatively practical. In the snowy winters, a thickly layered kimono made from cotton and silk could be worn as a way to battle the elements, while still looking good.
Today a similar ideology still exists but in a more modern form. These days polyester kimono are particularly popular with Japanese women as they’re warm, versatile, available in a broad range of colors and easily machine washable. These types of kimono are also excellent for first-time users. You can take a look at our selection of women’s kimono here.
2.What is a Yukata?
As a T-shaped thing you wear, the yukata is a type of kimono. They are sometimes described as yukata kimono, a type of summer kimono, but are more often referred to as a separate category. Far lighter (in terms of material), more casual, and versatile; their role sits somewhere between breezy summer dress, kimono, and robe.
Typically worn during the sweltering summer months, a yukata is most commonly made from breathable fabrics like cotton or thin, synthetic fabric. The name yukata (浴衣) translates to bathing cloth, which is how the original item came about. Similar to a bathrobe or dressing gown in the west, they were originally worn by bathers hopping from one hot tub to the next.
These days however, the yukata has evolved into a summer kimono owned by all discerning Japanese fashion fans. You can browse our selection of women’s yukata here.
3. So, What’s the Difference Between a Yukata and a Kimono?
Let’s run through the main differences between kimono vs yukata, including the materials, style, and when & where they are worn.
Materials: A traditional version of a yukata is most commonly made from cotton. This is for two main reasons: firstly it’s one of the most comfortable and breathable fabrics, ideal for Japan’s long hot summers. Secondly, cotton is quick to dry, making it the ideal material for soaking up any extra moisture left on the body post-bath. Modern yukata designed to be worn at festivals are also sometimes made from synthetic materials, which can be even more efficient at evaporating moisture away from the skin.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between a kimono and yukata, at least if you’re wearing it yourself, is that kimono usually (although not always) have an interior lining, whereas yukata never do, and are sewn from a single layer of fabric.
Girl in Summer Costume by Hashiguchi Goyo, 1920
Style: The yukata is quite similar to a bathrobe or dressing gown in terms of style, and is usually worn with less formality and accessories than a kimono. Expensive silk or ornately decorated kimono are very rarely washed, so are worn with an inner layer, known as a nagajuban, which keeps the outer garment clean and dry. Yukata on the other hand are much easier to clean, and so are usually worn without a nagajuban.
Occasion: Yukata are festive, and are often worn for parties, festivals, and events such as firework displays. Unlike kimono, however, they are not worn at formal ceremonial events. Although it may be difficult to tell the difference for an outsider, wearing a thin, brightly-colored yukata to an auspicious occasion might come across as too casual!
4. What About for Men? What’s the Difference Between Kimono and Yukata for Men?
As with women’s kimono, men’s kimono and yukata are mainly distinguished by materials: kimono are usually silk, whereas yukata, lightweight robes for the summer months, are usually made from cotton or linen.
This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule however, as kimono can also be made of cotton or linen. Are more useful metric is the pattern. Men’s kimono are often in subdued natural tones like navy, brown, or black, emphasising the material itself rather than elaborate patterns. If you find a thinner men’s kimono with more patterns and colors, then you’re probably looking at a yukata.
SHOP THE LOOK | Men's Jinbei
An alternative to the yukata for men to wear in the summer is jinbei. Jinbei are two-piece garments consisting of a kimono-like top and loose-fitting, mid-calf length trousers. The best are made from natural fabrics; you can take a look at some men’s jinbei in our collection.
5. What are the Differences Between Obi for Kimono and Obi for Yukata?
SHOP THE LOOK | Vintage Obi Belt
The primary difference between obi belts for yukata, and obi belts for kimono is the formality. Yukata are usually paired with simpler, narrower hanhaba obi, whereas kimono are more often worn with elaborate and formal silk obi. You can also wear a hanhaba obi with a kimono, depending on the occasion and personal taste, but it’s less common to wear a formal kimono with yukata, mainly because they tend to be too thick and heavy for the summer months.
Both cotton and silk obi can be decorated with obijime and obidome. Obijime are decorative cords that hold the obi sash and the rear knot in place. An obidome is a brooch or buckle-like item that attaches to the obijime. They can be made from tortoise shell, lacquer, glass, pearls and precious stones, or wood carvings.
Obijime and obidome can be used to accentuate the knots and twists on the obi of a yukata and kimono. Think of these pieces as a way to add depth to your outfit!
6. What are the Differences between Underwear for Yukata vs Kimono Underwear?
SHOP THE LOOK | Nagajuban
The classic undergarment for a kimono is a plain robe-like garment called a nagajuban. They are usually made from cotton or synthetic materials such as polyester, and layered underneath the kimono to prevent wear, tear, and stains. Nagajuban have a white or contrasting collar, but the collar is only visible when paired with a kimono.
7. What are the Differences Between Footwear for Kimono and Yukata Footwear?
SHOP THE LOOK | Japanese Geta
However, when you look at their soles, you will see noticeable differences. Geta are usually made from wooden with wooden stilts, while zori have a tilted platform. Setta, on the other hand, are flat. You can read more in 12 Things to Know about Japanese Sandals.
SHOP THE LOOK | Zori
Kimono and yukata can be worn with any of these shoes, but traditional zori tend to be very formal and so are not usually worn with yukata. Our zori (for men or women) however, are a much more causal style that can be worn with yukata – or indeed with any outfit!
8. What are the Difference in Hairstyles for Kimono compared to Yukata?
SHOP THE LOOK | Kanzashi
Kimono hairstyles are decorated with combs and hairpins called kanzashi. More elaborate hairstyles, such as those associated with geisha, maiko, and brides sometimes use wigs.
Outside of these occasions, hairdos are a matter of personal taste. As yukata are associated with the summer months as the preferred outfit of festival, people tend to wear their hair in a way that will be comfortable in the warmth of a summer’s evening.
9. What are the Differences Between Yukata and Kimono Jackets?
SHOP THE LOOK | Hanten
Yukata are worn during the summer months in Japan, and are rarely paired with any sort of jacket. With that said, it’s not uncommon to wear a yukata if you’re a guest at a traditional inn known as a ryokan, where you’ll find a yukata in your room, even during the winter.
In this case, you might wear a hanten, or tanzen. Both are padded outer garments with the primary difference being length. Tanzen are full-length outer robes worn like a kimono or yukata, and fastened with an obi (sash). The hanten, on the other hand, stops mid-thigh, and fastens with front strings.
SHOP THE LOOK | Men's Haori
10. What are the Differences Between Kimono and Yukata Fabrics?
Broadly speaking, kimono are more often made from silk while yukata are usually made from cotton or linen. The source and quality of the fabric, embellishments, and craftsmanship can increase the value of a kimono or yukata.
11. What’s the Price Difference Between Yukata and Kimono?
Understanding what makes a kimono different from a yukata is key to understanding the cost between these two garments. To the untrained eye, kimono and yukata look similar, but the formality involved makes a big difference in price.
Let’s start with the materials. Formal kimono of the highest order are often made from Nishijin brocade sourced from Kyoto, the capital of Japan’s silk industry. These kimono are hand dyed, stitched together by hand, and embellished with fine embroidery using gold and silver threads.
Fine kimono of this calibre become valuable heirlooms passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter. They are worn proudly on auspicious occasions like weddings and Coming of Age ceremonies. and Shichi-Go-San celebrations.
At the other end of the scale, a simple cotton yukata, made from commercially dyed fabric, will be considerably less expensive than a yukata made domestically.
As a rule of thumb, casual yukata can be purchased from between $50-150, while the more expensive pieces can go for up to $500. For a new silk kimono however, $500 is just the starting price, and the most expensive kimono can cost thousands of dollars.
A great way to reduce the price tag on silk kimono is to consider vintage kimono, whether for men or women. In this way you can find premium one-of-a-kind kimono, handcrafted in 100% pure silk in almost perfect condition at a fraction of the original cost.
12. Where, When and How to Wear Yukata?
Today, the yukata is also most often seen at summer festivals, processions and picnics. Their light, breezy comfortable fit, but aesthetic nod to traditional Japanese style makes the yukata the ideal apparel for the festive, warmer spring and summer months.
In Japan where public communal baths like onsens and sentos are common, the yukata was also (and still is) worn as a quick, easy 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 one on yourself!
Given the still high-level popularity of the yukata in recent years, it’s become more intricately designed. Mirroring the aesthetics of the kimono it’s most common to see women in brightly colored floral designed yukata, while men wear more muted or block-colour style pieces.
Putting on a yukata can be as simple as wrapping it around yourself like a bathrobe (always remembering to wrap left over right!). It can also be worn in the same way as the most elaborate kimono. Check out our How to Wear Kimono video tutorial to see the easiest way to wear a kimono or yukata.
13. Where, When and How to Wear Kimono?
Different types of kimono are worn in Japan depending on the event. For example, formal occasions such as weddings, call for men to wear black kimono, hakama, and haori while women will select a kimono based on their marital status or proximity to the bride/groom.
The biggest difference between how kimono are worn on these occasions is in how the obi is tied. Check out our video on How to Tie an Obi Belt to find out more.
14. What Other Types of Kimono are There?
Over the centuries the kimono morphed into something quite removed from its Chinese roots. As a uniquely Japanese garment, a kimono was an artisanal item, decorated with beautiful art and imbued with nuanced meaning. What kimono one could wear depended on a multitude of criteria including profession, marital status, gender, and event, as we have seen with one example in the yukata. To explain just how many mini-kimono categories exist, here are the most common kimonos you may see in Japan:
Homon-gi (訪問着): If there were one party kimono it’d be this, the semi-formal Homon-gi. Worn by all women regardless of marital status, you’ll typically see this kimono at weddings and tea parties. It’s characterized by a common pattern that features across the dress, known as an eba-moyo.
Tsuke-sage (付け下げ): A more casual, simple version of the Homon-gi, it features separated decorations, which do not link together across the garment. This kimono is typically worn by women during semi-formal events like fancy dinners and school reunions.
Kuro Tomesode (黒留袖): Also known as just tomesode this is the most formal kimono you’ll see worn by married women. Often used for milestone events like weddings, this predominantly black kimono features prints on the bottom part, and are also often fringed with gold.
Iro Tomesode (色留袖): If a woman is unmarried but is also attending an auspicious occasion, then she may wear this. However unlike the tomesode, marital status doesn’t dictate whether or not you can wear this kimono, as many married women wear them too. It’s essentially a colored version of the kuro tomesode and only has patterns along the hem as opposed to across the whole garment.
Furisode (振袖): This single’s version of a formal kimono is traditionally worn by unmarried women only. Covered in vibrant, attention-commanding patterns, it’s typically worn at coming of age festivals or for events like wedding, specifically by the bride when she’s changing dresses during a wedding.
Komon (小紋): A more casual incarnation of the kimono, komon are worn to special events, but are not considered suitable wear for ceremonial occasions. Usually worn for activities like going to the theater, shopping or heading out for dinner.
Iro-muji (色無地): Potentially the most versatile of all kimono, iro-muji kimonos are single, block color garments that can be worn both at celebrations and condolences. Women often pair the kimono with different accessories and obi-belts as a way to signify the meaning of the kimono.
Kimonos for men are far less varied, and typically feature much more muted colors and designs. The most common type of men’s kimono you’ll see is the montsuki (紋付). It’s a typically black, often silk-made kimono worn over traditional Japanese clothing known as hakama. It’s actually more common to see men in a yukata than a kimono.
15. Should I Buy a Kimono or Yukata?
If you’re thinking about yukata vs kimono in terms of which you want to buy, then it all comes down to two main questions: where do you want to wear it, and how hot is it?
If you’re buying it to wear to a formal event, such as a wedding, or if the weather is cold, then you should get a kimono. If it’s very hot, you’re better off buying a yukata.
In any other circumstances, you can be free to follow your heart! Don't worry about what type of kimono you’re looking for, and instead find the color, pattern and material that you love. Like fashion the world over, the most important thing in choosing a kimono is to feel great and enjoy yourself!
16. Where to Buy Kimono and Yukata?
Looking to buy an authentic kimono or yukata directly from Japan? You’ve come to the right place! At the Japan Objects Store we have a selection of vintage kimono, new washable kimono and yukata for both men and women. In addition, we have all the accessories you need to complete your look, from head to toe – literally!