Understanding Japanese Style Clothing (for Americans)
A basic guide to traditional japanese style clothing.
Traditional clothing of Japan varies depending on both season and situation. The traditional dress is the kimono, a garment running from shoulders down to one’s heels.
For everyday use, the kimono is much more simple. Made most often of silk, although other materials such as cotton and linen are used, the kimono comes in one size, although there are three major types, for men, children, and women. Beyond that, they are only one size, adjusted by a variety of strings on the robes.
To don a kimono:
- Put on a pair of tabi (socks with only two toes, one of the big toe, the other encompassing the rest)
- Put on undergarment (referred to as hada-juban)
- Put on inner kimono (referred to as naga-juban)
- Secure with a string around the waist
- Put on outer kimonos
- Secure in place with another string
- Fasten belt with ornamental knot
For women, the kimono is more complicated than the man’s counterpart (true in most fashion however, no matter what the culture), often featuring 10 different pieces, replete with up to four types of string. However easier they are to wear, men’s kimonos require a hakami (large pants like garment) and a haori coat.
The different in informal and formal wear can be told by both make and style. Woven and repetitive patterns, as well as dyed clothing, are considered a mark of informality. Formal clothing is designated by either very elaborate, or very elegant and simple. The type of dress can also indicate both age and marital status. Younger unmarried women advertise their status with bright hues and long sleeves. More aged and married women show their status with simpler clothing and more demure colors. The most formal kimono is referred to as the Uchikake, used in various formal visits and activities, such as a wedding, whose special kimono is called the Shiro-maku.
Different seasons call for different colors and styles. Spring shows with a proliferation of bright colors and flowered patterns. In both summer and spring, light cotton material is used. The summer kimono has a special name, referred to as Yukata. Autumn shows the autumnal colors, and patterns of chrysanthemums. Winter dress typically shows symbols of good luck and prosperity, among them the bamboo or plum blossoms. Both autumn and winter feature the heavier clothes, or lined inside for extra warmth.
A new clothing trend that has been gaining popularity is the adaptation of the Happi coat, originally worn by shop keepers and bearing the family crest. Nowadays, they are used in all sorts of functions, such as sushi restaurants and festivals. It is also used as a type of short robe, used for night attire, beach wear, and more, due to its wide appeal and myriad colors.
In addition to their own clothing, carried on through years of tradition, the Japanese clothing industry has also been influenced by western clothing, with many clothes popular in North American also having a solid following in Japan. Jeans and other such attire is simply easier to get around in, with a greater freedom of movement than the traditional kimono.
With both the strong Japanese traditions, and a blend of openness to ideas, the cloths that many Japanese wear now are slowly being changed to meld many different ideas of comfort and style, and perhaps soon you will be hard pressed to tell who influenced who.