Whether you are celebrating the New Year, attending a tea ceremony or simply taking a stroll around a historic area like the Gion District of Kyoto or the Asakusa Shrine of Tokyo, wearing a kimono adds a special elegance to any outing — as well as being fun!
Learning to put on a kimono is an art which can take years of careful training to master. But here is a simplified guide for those who want to learn the basics of how to wear kimono.
Wearing Kimono: What You Will Need
This list of items can be quite extensive if you want it to be as there are lots of extra bits and pieces and accessories that go with the kimono itself. Some of these items make the process easier but you can dress properly without them.
The basic essentials include:
Tabi are socks with a separate big toe, ankle-high, made to be worn with zōri or geta. Traditional tabi are white but today, you can find them in many colors and patterns that can complement your kimono or personal style.
The nagajuban is an undergarment used to separate the kimono from your body. Traditionally it is made of silk. It has a collar which can be seen when the kimono is worn over it.
Koshi-himo are thin sashes used to tie the nagajuban and the kimono closed (need at least 2). They are usually plain cotton and are completely hidden under other more beautiful layers.
A kimono is the decorative robe itself. Traditional kimono were made from silk though other types of materials are not uncommon today. There are many types of kimono, though one of the more recognizable types is the furisode, worn by unmarried women with sleeves that nearly touch the ground. When people think of the kimono that geisha wear, they usually think of the furisode. Yukata are type of light, unlined cotton kimono worn during the hot summer months. The main difference between a yukata and kimono is that you do not wear a nagajuban under a yukata, just normal undergarments.
The date-jime is a wide sash to tie the kimono worn underneath the obi. It helps to define the cylinder-like figure that is the ideal body shape for wearing kimono.
The obi is the large outer belt tied around the kimono in various styles and materials. Maru obi are the most formal type, with full-length patterns on both sides of the obi, often with metallic threads and elaborate embroidery. Fukuro obi are slightly less formal, with a partial pattern on the back of the obi in the area that might be seen when it is tied. Nagoya obi were invented as an obi of convenience, partially sewn together at one end to make tying it easier. Hanhabi obi are half-width obi generally worn with yukata or more casual types of kimono.
Obi-jime are decorative cords tied around the obi to keep it in place. The most beautiful and expensive cords can be handmade from silk.
Zōri (草履) and Geta (下駄)
Zori and geta are traditional sandal footwear, made from a variety of materials. Zori are flatter and modern ones, generally made of synthetic materials which gives you endless options for colors and patterns. Zori are considered more formal footwear than geta. Geta are made of wood and make the familiar “clip-clop” noise as you walk in them. Some are rectangular in shape while others are cut to be more foot-shaped.
How to Wear Kimono
Put on your tabi. Simple!
Put on your nagajuban. Be sure to fold the left side OVER the right (the opposite way is only used to dress someone who is deceased, so be careful not to make that mistake!). Tie the nagajuban in place, around the waist, using a koshi-himo (thin sash).
- Make sure that the back of your neck is revealed (about 5cm) and the front is close to the bottom of your neck. You should be able to fit the sizeof your fist between the back of your neck and the nagajuban.
- Both sleeves should be symmetrical and the hem not too close to your feet. The proper length of a nagajuban is about 80% of your height.
- Ideally, only a thin strip of the collar of the nagajuban should be seen under the kimono.
Put on your kimono. Slip the sleeves of the nagajuban into the sleeves of the kimono. Hold one side of the kimono in each hand, measuring from the bottom to the top of your hip (don’t worry if it’s too long, simply hoist up all the excess material in one swift motion). Check that the hem is just above the top of your feet. Once again, fold the left side over the right and tie it in place, this time just above the hips, using another koshi-himo (thin sash). Insert your hands through the slits in the sleeves under your arms to pat down the top half, creating a neat single layer of material over the koshi-himo.
- The top layer (the left side) should be ever so slightly raised above your feet.
- Make sure the back of your neck is revealed, with a thin strip of the nagajuban showing above the kimono collar.
Tie your date-jime. Wrap the date-jime around your waist, just under the bust, tying it at the front and tucking in the ends.
- Some date-jime come with velcro: much easier, and no knots necessary!
Other Kimono Resources
Kimono are more than just traditional wear in Japan; they are also becoming fashionable for young and old alike. If you are interested in learning more about kimono, try these resources:
The Kimono Closet Facebook Page – A kimono project documenting the kimono collections of 50 Japanese women, written in English and Japanese. Learn some of the stories behind some amazing kimono collections of real people.
Kimono Yamato (some Japanese) – Website of one of the largest kimono makers in Japan.
Kimono Sheila Instagram – Instagram account of kimono expert and influencer, Dr. Sheila Cliffe, who has published several kimono related books and contributed to the Victoria and Albert Museum kimono exhibit in February 2020 in London.
Next time, I will teach you ‘How to Tie an Obi‘! Enjoy wearing kimono!