How to price a kimono

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Only you can decide what to pay for a kimono, but here’s the rough guide I use.

Geisha hikifurisodeI thought today that I’d write a word or two about pricing.

What a collector is willing to pay for kimono depends on a number of factors, including your income and the purpose to which you’re going to put the kimono. And I can only write about how I calculate prices – your own method might be different.

For instance, I like to wear my kimono, not just display them, so my prices are calculated accordingly. There is little reason for me to buy an expensive hikifurisode like this black one, even if I could afford it, because I simply won’t get much use out of it and my only display space in the house is already alternating my two uchikakes. I don’t mind the odd bit of damage, such as a moth-hole, because it means I don’t feel bad about wearing an old item, but I draw the line at wide, diffuse stains because you just can’t get them out.

Generally speaking, you can expect to pay more for higher-end kimono such as furisode, tomesode, houmongi and uchikake, more for hand-done techniques such as yuzen and shibori, and more for rarity. Everyday kimono in woven patterns are generally less, as are komons, with overall small prints. Pale-coloured iromuji can often be expensive, though, as very few survive for long unscathed.

1930s furisodeI buy pretty much all of my kimono on Ebay. It’s the cheapest source I’ve found and the power sellers such as Yamatoku, Ryujapan, Kofudo and Kimono Best Buy are all very bona fide and provide a lot of information. Buyers who are less sure of themselves should buy from a shop, or make sure that returns are very easy, as it is possible to make mistakes.

When it comes to placing bids, I use a snipe service, set my price and then walk away – I don’t sit around watching the auction (in any case, they tend to end the small hours, French time). If you do so, it is too tempting to keep increasing your bid.

When I first began collecting, I lurked for a long time and watched the prices that things were fetching. That was in 2004, and I would say that by and large, prices have come down quite a lot. Back then, I’d pay $30-odd for a tomesode, and $60 for a furisode but these days, I am more of a tightwad, and I generally calculate like this:

1 Yukata: $5.

$5 extra for an extra colour; $10 extra for a technique such as shibori. Favour Japanese patterns. Sometimes for a very bright yukata, I’ll go up to $15.

2 Haori: $5. $5 extra for vintage; $5 for extra length; $5 for long sleeves; $5 extra for yuzen, shibori, embroidery or urushi; $10 extra for a rare shibori technique; $5 extra for a pretty lining.

3 Juban: $10. $20 extra for quality shibori. $10 extra for vintage.

4 Komon and daywear kimono: $10. $10 extra for Showa; $20 extra for Taisho; $10 extra for a red lining; $10 extra for shibori; $20 extra for rare shibori; $20 extra for yuzen; $5 extra for long sleeves, $10 extra for meisen, sha, ro or tsumugi.

5 Tsukesage: $23. $10 extra for more pattern; $5 extra for long sleeves.

6 Houmongi: $25. $10 extra for embroidery. $10 extra for good yuzen; $5 extra for long sleeves; $5 for pattern that comes up to the waist.

7 Tomesode: $23. $10 extra for iro-tomesode. $10 extra for Taisho; $10 extra for a red lining. $10 extra for a pattern that reaches both sides; $10 extra for pattern that reaches waist-high; $5 extra for long sleeves, $5 extra for each technique used (yuzen, shibori, embroidery, surihaku).

8 Furisode: $27. $20 extra for Eba pattern. $10 extra for embroidery; $20 extra for yuzen, $20 extra for shibori, $20 extra for hikifurisode, $50 extra for kakeshita.

9 Uchikake: $100. $20 extra for embroidery, $50 extra for more colours.

I don’t buy michiyuki, or much in the way of men’s kimono.

As you can see, a plain, modern komon merits $10 for me, while for a red-lined Taisho version with long sleeves I might bid as high as $45. That is not to say that I actually end up paying that much, merely that it’s what I consider to be the top price. In practice, most daywear kimono suffer some damage, and you can reduce the price, mentally, for every ding on the garment.

Wedding furisodeThe kimonos that really stroll on in price are the furisode because they can have so much handwork (all the garments pictured here are furisode, though none of them is mine, and look how different they are), so while a bolt-silk printed furisode only merits $27 for me (because basically you could make this yourself), a wedding furisode (kakeshita) such as this blue one decorated with yuzen, embroidery and couching, could go as high as $200 or $300.

The above is only a rough guide, of course, but it’s a good idea to have some tickboxes when you collect things. For instance, for me, vintage is always better than modern, while for other women, modern might be preferable. I favour Taisho items, then Showa, and I like stripes, long sleeves and red linings. I will also pay more for subtle yuzen, such as the beige furisode shown above, but modern, zingy, bright kimono don’t appeal to me at all.

embroidered furisodeWhen I want to bid on an item, I download a picture of it and compare it with the kimono I already have. All bar two are from Ebay, so I have pictures of them all, and I try to be careful not to duplicate things too closely. For instance, purple is a colour I have plenty of, while I don’t have any gold-coloured kimono, so I try to avoid purple items. Recently I cancelled a bid on an iro-tomesode that was otherwise utterly beautiful because it was purple, as I already have five purple kimono.

I’ve also tried hard in my collection to build up a balance of different weaves, techniques, fibres and types of kimono. Overall, though, the majority are komon, meisen and tsumugi because these are the kimono out of which I get most wear. When it comes to haori, I favour urushi (with LOTS of urushi) and shibori. Other women, who are doing more kitsuke, might find that they get the greatest mileage out of a relatively subdued tsukesage, with which they can ring the changes with different obi and obiage.

Everyone’s preferences are different and in the end, you partly have to go with your gut instinct: because there is no better reason for bidding on a kimono than simply falling in love with it.

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