What is a Traditional Kimono?

Rhonda Rivera

A traditional kimono is a Japanese robe that wraps around the body and falls to the ankles. It is often described as a t-shaped garment because the body is tall like the stem of the letter ‘T’ with the sleeves forming the uppermost half of the letter. Generally, a traditional kimono is crafted from a fine fabric like silk or satin, and may be hand painted and hand sewn. These garments are normally treated with much care; for example, a kimono owner might fold or hang the garment in a specific way to help it retain its shape or always have it professionally cleaned. Kimonos have largely fallen out of style among young people in Japan, but some still wear them, especially for special occasions.

The traditional kimono is still worn in Japan, but is mostly saved for special occasions.
The traditional kimono is still worn in Japan, but is mostly saved for special occasions.

Kimonos can be worn by both men and women, but the styles differ somewhat. A man’s traditional kimono is normally less elaborate than a woman’s kimono outfit. This is not always true, however; for example, when a kimono is worn to a funeral, it is generally all black with few to no adornments, no matter the gender. Either gender’s garment can have five to a dozen pieces, or sometimes more.

Traditional kimonos are usually made from satin or silk.
Traditional kimonos are usually made from satin or silk.

Modern kimonos may differ from traditional kimonos in significant or subtle ways. The fabric might be cotton or of a synthetic fabric, instead of silk or satin, to cut costs which can exorbitantly expensive for a high-end garment. Instead of being designed by hand, a modern kimono might have machined-printed patterns. Even if a kimono is perfectly crafted in the style of a traditional kimono, it may not be worn in the same way as people once wore kimonos. Traditionally, kimonos were used to display very specific social messages, such as a woman’s age and martial status.

This wrap robe is no longer regularly worn by the citizens of Japan. Some blame may lay on the fact that a traditional kimono outfit is complicated to don, and many people do not have the know-how to put it on without assistance from a licensed professional. Another possible reason for its decline in popularity are the cleaning methods used to upkeep a kimono. Arai hari is a Japanese term that refers to the traditional way kimonos are washed, which involves removing all stitching, washing each piece, and hand sewing the kimono once again. There are other ways to clean a traditional kimono, but in general these methods are time-consuming and expensive.

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Discussion Comments


@literally45-- Yes, cost is a big thing. I'm Japanese and I do have a traditional kimono. It was made for me for my coming of age ceremony. It's made of pure silk and it's very beautiful but it was also very expensive. Most people only have one or two kimonos at most for special events for this reason.


@burcinc-- That's very interesting. I agree that it would be too difficult to wear a kimono every day. It has to be wrapped and tied in a special way and one cannot do it alone. And there are many layers and the fabric changes according to the season and climate. It truly is a lot of work.

But at the same time, it's kind of sad that Japanese is losing out on this great tradition which really has a social and emotional importance. The fact that traditional kimonos represented an individual's stage of life or position, means that these garments were important aspects of Japanese culture and social life. On one level, it had a spiritual, psychological importance as well. For example, a women's traditional kimono in spring often had brighter colors and floral designs. It sort of united her with the season.


I think efficiency and cost have been important factors affecting the decline in popularity of traditional kimonos.

I read that several decades ago when some Japanese still wore traditional kimonos in the day to day life, those wearing the outfit became a target for pickpockets and thieves. Since it was practically impossible for someone in a traditional kimono to run quickly and defend themselves, the government actually issued an order not to wear these types of kimonos.

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