Kimono: they are an incredibly unique garment. A lot of us Westerners see cultural garments as a little alien because our European heritages have lost theirs over time to changing boundaries, war, and modernization. It’s hard to say extent garments are as prolific as ones native to Eastern cultures. But like any cultural garment, a lot of thought and care has to be taken into account when you wear one.
First off, I would like to say that wearing kimono in Japan and wearing them in America is different, but the general guidelines are the same. There is a lot of respect involved in wearing a traditional garment, but no one will know you have that respect unless you show it. And just because you are in America (or any other country save for Japan of course) does not mean you are suddenly not required to show it.
There are several distinctions I would like to make. The first one is that there is a HUGE difference between “I’m bending the rules because I know them” and “I’m breaking rules because I know them. Bending the rules once you know the main rules is fine. For example, how low you put your collar. By the very strictest rules, the collar actually gets closer to the neck the more casual the occasion/kimono. You can certainly walk out of your house with your collar lower because you like how it looks and it’s casual, so why not? Weddings, however, would probably not be the time to rip out your loudest, eye-hurty-est, tabi and drop your collar like a geisha. On the other hand there is rule breaking. Except for yukata, kimono require an under-kimono ((naga)juban). This is not optional. It’s considered to be part of the garment. It is also integral to how the garment lays; the stiff collar of the juban allows the collar of the kimono to stay in place. Also required for non-yukata kimono is tabi. This rule isn’t just for funsies. Back in the day, oiran (courtesans who worked along geisha and had the same skills) used their tabi-less feet among other things to distinguish themselves from regular geisha. So some rules have evolved not from fashion, but from traditions revolving around the garment. There really isn’t much you can do with these types of rules unless your purpose is obvious and has a reason. Let’s look at something that doesn’t fall under these kinds of rules. As I have outlined in a previous post, there are different kind of obi and they have ranks of formality just like kimono, therefore, obi and kimono need to correspond. There are a lot of gray areas here, and this is something that changes over time. Let’s take kuro-tomesode as an example kimono; they are the most formal kimono, therefore they need very formal obi. Formal obi are longer, and they are tied slightly differently. Their standard musubi is called nijuudaiko musubi. This o-taiko has two layers that superstitiously represent the doubling of one’s joy (kuro-tomesode are normally worn to weddings). Reversely, casual kimono shouldn’t be worn with obi that are suitable to be worn with kuro-tomesode. There are just some things you can’t do. It just doesn’t look right to a trained eye, and it might look like you don’t know what you’re doing when faced with someone who does.
The second distinction I’d like to make is the difference between kimono fashion and wearing kimono however you please. Believe it or not, kimono are still a living fashion. There are countless magazines that for kimono fashions, like Nana-oh and Kimono Hime. There are even fashions shows for kimono that feature furisode with high heels, but these kinds of things are fashion for the sake of fashion. So kimono aren’t all rules and regulations, but if you take a look at these magazines, you’ll notice that there are just some things about kimono that just don’t change. I know a few very fashionable kimono wearers in Japan, American, the UK and more, and I always look forward to their personal touches of style. These include boots, hats, scarves, wacky fabrics, vintage touches, wigs, and more! The basic rules are always there though, and I never look at any of them and think they are breaking rules or overlooking core facets of kimono culture.
I’ve been wanting to write a post on this for a while, and I’ll go into more detail when I write it, but there is this thing I like to call “ghetto kitsuke.” It’s not derogatory by the way; I do it all the time. The sad fact of kimono wearing is that all those little bells and whistles that go with kimono are usually more expensive than the kimono themselves. So being that my kimono priorities can be a little skewed, I always look at those things and think to myself “that’s $20 that can go to a new kimono!” In comes ghetto kitsuke. My obi-makura is a pantyhose leg with cardboard and scrap fabric, my date-jime is an AceBandage, my korin belt is homemade, and my waist himo is an old elastic belt. I actively encourage people to do this sort of thing, because I’ve heard it works better than the real deal. How it this relevant to the topic? Well it doesn’t matter if you have all the right accessories, but the ones that are inescapably needed can be easily made or faked.
What I don’t want you to take away from this post isn’t that kimono are scary things and you shouldn’t try them, but it’s important to learn why things are they way they are, and what’s okay and what’s not. Learn them from other people, reading, and even your personal experience. I also want to make a point that kimono are personalizable! There are a lot of ways to express yourself, just like any other piece of clothing.
1. bending is not the same thing breaking the rules
2. there are intrinsic rules that can’t be changed
3. not having major accessories does not mean they can be overlooked
4. just because you’re not in Japan does not mean you can do whatever you want
5. you can’t write off the disregarding of rules as fashion/artistic expression/what-have-you
6. don’t ever assume that what you’re about to do will definitely not offend someone
7. rules aren’t there for funsies
8. no one will judge you because you don’t have all the right things
9. respecting kimono is wearing them appropriately
10. kimono can be worn fashionably without being disrespectful
As a slightly detached closing, I want to say a few things. There is no expectation of you that you have to do everything right the first time. And you won’t. I can guarantee it. The point is that you learn from it. As long as you try your hardest (and you should with everything you do!), that’s what matters, and that alone outshines all the mistakes. That is what respecting kimono is all about.