The traditional kimono is one of the most distinctively Japanese objects known all over the world. The Japanese place an extremely high value on its textiles, and the kimono is their ultimate symbol of tradition and grace. Its distinguishing cut makes it easily identifiable, and their vibrant colors and prints make them very fashionable.
Nowadays, the kimono is worn during special occasions, such as birthdays, festivals, weddings, and tea ceremonies, but in the old days, it was worn every day. Modernization and Western influence no doubt played significant roles in the changes that can be seen on the kimonos of late, as well as in the frequency by which they are worn.
Historical significance of the kimono
The different types of kimonos that were made and worn through the years also offer a view of Japan’s colorful historical periods. For instance, during the Nara period, the Japanese wore separate garments as their everyday clothing. It wasn’t until the Heian period that the straight line cutting method was introduced, which is characteristic of the kimono that everybody is familiar with. It is more remarkably more comfortable and more practical to use, as people could add or subtract layers to suit the weather.
After some time, men’s kimonos became representations of their allegiances, just like uniforms worn by soldiers. Women wore kimonos with shorter sleeves for added comfort. During the feudal era, kimonos bore identifying colors and patterns that associated an individual with his feudal lord. It was also during this era when the kimono had three parts – the main robe, the kamishimo, which is the sleeveless garment worn over the kimono, and the hakama, a pair of split-skirt trousers. Kimono making thus became a form of art, with intricate patterns and lush fabrics kept as heirlooms.
Modernization of the kimono
The kimono started to get modernized in the early 1800s. During this period, people who are part of the aristocracy wore suits and dresses in Western styles, with the traditional kimono being reserved for special occasions only. Family crests and insignias were sewn on to the garment as a way to honor the wearer’s background and lineage.
Then and now, the kimono is no longer considered their everyday garment, although it is still acceptable if some people, particularly the overly traditional ones, want to wear it even on days when there are no special occasions.
Cover ups and costumes: Modern uses for the kimono
Today, kimonos are not just limited to traditional use, and certainly not just for Japanese people.Recent years saw the kimono modified into a cover up, worn over plain shirts and pants, or even dresses. They are usually made with silk or other light fabric and have an “open” cut, meaning, they are not meant to be closed. It is highly acceptable for these to be worn with practically anything and impart an instant carefree, Bohemian feel to an outfit. Hollywood celebrities such as Nicole Richie and the Olsen twins were among the first few women who used the kimono as a cover up, and millions of women all over the world followed suit.
The kimono is also among the costumes of choice among cosplayers, or people who love dressing up in costumes. Cosplayers who opt for kimonos wear them the traditional way, in full geisha regalia, complete with kabuki makeup and hair.