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Traditional Japanese Fashion 101: Yukata vs Kimono

The long-sleeved, belted robe is a staple look of Japanese fashion, but not all kimono-like clothes are, in fact, kimonos. A newcomer to the Eastern daily wardrobe, the yukata is commonly mistaken for a casual kimono, but upon a closer look, these two garments are very different in modern Japanese society. What is the difference? In short, their fabrics, levels of formality, and origins.

The "kimono," meaning “something to wear,” was historically inspired by Chinese regalia and for many years was the template for everyday clothes in Japan. Classically, kimonos were made from silk, and even when using modern fabrics, they tend to have a luxurious satin-like material. A proper kimono, being a rather complex garment to wear, has underlayers as part of the full outfit, and it requires its own proper undergarments. Kimonos must be worn with socks and either Japanese sandals or shoes.

The yukata is derived from the kimono and is an unlined cotton robe without the flair of the more complex kimono. Yukatas have simple prints, such as a repeated floral pattern, and are too light for cold weather. Literally translated, the word "yukata" means "bathing clothes," and in the past yukatas were used solely as bathrobes. (In fact, it has been said that today’s modern terry cloth bathrobes were patterned after the yukata, both in function and in design.) In recent years, it has become acceptable to wear yukatas not just to the bath but also at casual events such as summer festivals and outdoor events. Sandals without socks are the most common footwear paired with the yukata.

While they were once very commonplace, kimonos are now often reserved for special occasions like weddings, funerals, birthdays, tea ceremonies, and the like, serving the role of tuxedos and evening gowns in the West. Yukatas have replaced the casual kimono as the Eastern garment of choice in much of Japan, and as such, both have claimed their own individual niches in modern Japanese society.

Japanese Style carries a selection of both yukatas and kimonos!