The do’s and don’ts of buying kimono

What the Japanese will and won’t do in kimono.

The New Kimono

I’ve been reading some kimono books lately, especially The New Kimono by the editors of Nanao magazine.

It’s intriguing to me as a Westerner which rules the Japanese are willing and unwilling to break, and also which colour combinations they feel are chic, old-fashioned, permissible, not permissible, indicative of spring or autumn. It is very different from English sensibility.

The New Kimono is a collection of articles from the mag, translated into English. I find the delicacy of feeling incredibly admirable and sensitive – the use of a plover-shaped obidome for summer, to create a feeling of coolness because plovers love water; the contrast colour of a ‘tsubo’ – the little bit of leather that holds on the zori straps between the toes (a detail I had previously been unware of, I must admit); the use of a striped fabric for a yukata so that it can be worn in more formal situations.

I’m picking up some tips, too: one kimono, three obi – apparently an old-time rule, as a good way of making your kimono go further. In the days when women had their kimono specially made, at a very expensive rate, having a light obi, a dark obi and a colourful obi could effectively give you three different outfits. I, on the other hand, have far more kimono than obi.

The use of obi-jime, obi-age and obidome to contrast or complement is also fascinating to me. I just tend to make do with whatever obi-jime I have lying around the place, from my one pack of five, but I will definitely pay more attention to this in future and look at investing in some nicer obi-jime to go with my kimono, and perhaps making some obi-age, as I have a ton of suitable fabric lying around.

It was quite a relief to see one Japanese woman in a poloneck sweater worn with wool kimono and boots, because this is pretty much how I dress in winter. But I had never thought of using arm warmers, or legwarmers worn as armwarmers – what a great idea, because kimono sleeves are rather chilly in winter. I will definitely try that when the weather gets colder.

Another great interview was with a woman who remakes old kimono and haori into obis, including tsuke obis that have a clip on taiko. Since this is exactly what I’m planning to do with the black obi I just bought, this interested me greatly. Even more fun were tips for cutting out a stencilled plastic obi ita using a box cutter, using a sponge as a makura so you can lean back on it, tucking an icepack into your obi in hot weather and wearing a sarong or similar as a susoyoke.

Also interesting, however, from an anthropological point of view are the things that are not suggested: that a woman wear a man’s kimono, for instance, or that a kimono be crossed right over left – as the dress of a corpse, one suspects this is a step too far for most Japanese. Or that an obi be tied in the front, or simply to use a wide belt instead. Some or all of these are probably tried on the streets of Japan, especially by the kimono hime brigade, so I guess I must look elsewhere for ideas here.

There has also, so far, been no indication of footwear other than geta and zori. This is a shame for me, as the one pair of zori I bought were agonisingly uncomfortable, and I have no access to a shop to try any on. So Western footwear is something I’m stuck with. Luckily, my taste for flat, chunky shoes or boots with socks doesn’t look all that different from Japanese footwear.

I am enjoying this book more than I can tell you and I look forward to going to bed each night to read a few more pages – I only wish there were more like it, or that I could read Japanese so I could benefit from the actual magazine.

1 thought on “The do’s and don’ts of buying kimono

  1. Lori B

    I have issues with footwear too. I’ve purchased “geta” online only to find they were made in China and fit and look more like wooden flip flops. Just this week I found woven flip flops at a one dollar store that were obviously knock off zouri. I did buy a few of those. They look more convincing than the fake geta. At least they’re comfortable.


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