When in doubt, in terms of formality, choose a houmongi.
This was the second houmongi I bought, in 2004, and is from Ryujapan. Overall, it’s probably the most beautiful kimono I own, because the yuzen is of a very high standard and the overall balance of the garment is just perfect.
Houmongi (houmon – visit, gi – wear) are ‘visiting wear’ kimono, worn for visiting people, tea ceremonies, weddings of friends, formal dinners and events that are less formal than those requiring tomesode (weddings of immediate family, funerals of friends etc) and more formal than those requiring tsukesage (pretty much everything else).
Choosing when to wear a houmongi, in Japan, is a tricky balance to strike, but since the Japanese generally prefer more formal rather than less, if in doubt, go for a houmongi.
As houmongi go, this one is at the formal end of the range, as the design is hand-painted rather than woven. If the design was more confined to the hem, it would more properly be called a tsukesage, because the design ‘reads’ the right way up and some, in fact, might call it a houmongi-tsukesage for this reason. On the other hand, it lacks a crest at the back, which makes it less formal.
It’s in hitokoshi chirimen silk – a tightly woven silk crepe with a dead matt finish, which is a very high-end fabric, and it weighs about 1100 grams, so is a pretty serious kimono to put on.
The design is ‘eba’ style – ie: it runs right across the seams of the garment, and is hand-painted in yuzen, with additions in gold leaf around every motif, and filling in the cloud patterns. The lining is ombre-dyed in grey, which is a beautiful colour balance with the grisaille bamboo design.
All in all, this is an extremely high-end kimono, clearly commissioned by someone specially, probably in the 1970s.
I am guessing a woman in her 30s-40s who practised the tea ceremony. My reasons? Houmongi can be worn by married or unmarried women, but the owner of this was probably married because the sleeves are squared-off, not rounded.
She may have been out of her 20s, as the sleeves are also quite short and the pattern on the garment is beautifully subdued – longer sleeves and busier patterns are considered more suitable for younger women.
The shorter sleeves might also make it easier to practise the tea ceremony.
The pattern comes all the way up to the shoulder, whereas the houmongi of a woman in her 50s or 60s might confine it more the hem.
There is no crest at the back, as you might wear for weddings or formal dinners.
But in the end, this is all conjecture. I will never know who commissioned this piece of wearable art.
I am ashamed to say I have never yet worn this kimono as I am too afraid of spoiling it. I don’t live a fancy life, so striped meisen and tsumugi are more my kind of daywear and wearing it out to dinner or something would feel too much like dress-up. But perhaps I’ll one day be brave enough to put it on when I have people over for the evening, maybe with my equally subdued bamboo fukuro obi.