Kimono Basics #2: Black and White Furisode

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There are several types of kimono, and you can tell them apart by looking at the shape and the design. Today, we’ll just look at what you can tell from the way a kimono is cut and worn, which says quite a bit about its wearer even independent of the color, pattern or type of fabric.

The way the two sides of the kimono are crossed over each other is important for two reasons: It tells you whether the wearer is alive or dead, and about how old the person is. This first point being of some importance, if you intend to draw or wear kimono, please take care you’re doing it the right way! Living people wear kimono with the left edge lapped over the right one; corpses are dressed the opposite way. I always mix up left and right, so I find this hard to remember sometimes. In Girl Scouts, for making a square knot, I was taught “Right over left, then left over right, makes the knot neat and tidy and tight.” When trying to remember which way it is for kimono, I adapted the rhyme: “Not right over left, but left over right, will prevent nice little old ladies from being horrified at the sight of you and trying to fix your kimono right then and there.” This rhyme is maybe a little less elegant, and it is probably easier to remember that the lines should look like a “Y.” As for the other point, generally young women wear the kimono crossed high on the throat, while a slightly deeper V is how older women wear it.

The sleeves of all kimono end at the wrist bone, but the part that hangs off of the arm has significant meaning attached to it. (It’s called the furi (振り、ふり), if we’re going to get really technical, and the part that the arm actually goes through is the sode-tsuke (袖付け、そでつけ). I didn’t know those terms until I looked them up, though.) For young, unmarried women’s formal wear, that part is so long it nearly reaches the hem of the kimono, and the corner furthest from the body is rounded. For all other types of women’s kimono, that part is shorter (falling slightly below the fingers, when the arms are at the side) and less round, while for men’s kimono the corner is square.

Since the nape of the neck was traditionally considered especially alluring, the neckband of the kimono is set off from the neck. Young unmarried women, who are supposed to be the most prim and reserved, have about a fist’s worth of space from the neck to the collar; older women can set it off just a little bit more (although my book on wearing kimono, which I sense is a little on the conservative side, recommends one fist’s worth of space for everyone) while geisha wear it so low that they’re nearly showing their shoulders.

As with the way the neck is crossed, an obi tied higher on the ribcage indicates a younger wearer, and one tied a little further towards the waist indicates an older one. The obi-age (帯揚げ、おびあげ, a sash that goes under the obi and partially shows above it) is very prominent on a younger wearer, while for an older one it just slightly peeps above the obi.

The most common knot the obi is tied in is called the “taiko musubi”: this is the knot that looks rather flat and boxy. For young, unmarried women’s formal wear, it can be tied in more elaborate ways.

This kind of kimono is called a furisode, and it’s not the last time you’ll be hearing that word. Now, what can you tell me about the person wearing this kimono? If you’ve been following along carefully, you should be able to come up with five things about the wearer.

Edit: I wrote that the first one to post all five things in a comment would win my standard prize, and Janani got all of them in the first comment: the wearer is alive, female, young and unmarried, and wearing it for a formal occasion. Congratulations!

Kimono Basics #1: Pink Naga-juban with Red Date-jime

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I was once asked why I never drew Japanese clothes, and the answer was simple: not only do I not know enough about them, but I know I don’t know enough about them. If I was a Civil War historian or a Marie Antoinette fangirl, it would probably bug me to draw inaccurate clothing from those time periods, but I’m not, so I do my best based on historical sources, and if the general shape and decoration are plausible, it’s fine with me if the colors aren’t quite right. However, I studied Japanese literature and culture in college, and I still study the Japanese language off and on even now, so if I drew Japanese clothes with imperfect understanding, it would really bother me. I had picked up a book on kimono in college, but had only skimmed everything about the history of kimono and modern-day kimono because the part I was interested in was clothing from around 800-1000 A.D., as I was studying Heian-era literature. But I did manage to pick up that modern kimono were bound by rules and the patterns, colors and way of wearing them were all laden with significance.

At the same time, I wasn’t all that interested in Japanese clothes: as you might have guessed, I like crazy full skirts, ruffles, interesting things to shade and varying silhouettes: kind of the opposite of the kimono in every way. Kimono just seemed boxy, prim and plain to me. Plus, I didn’t understand the underlying color sense: for example, what makes a particular obi go with a particular kimono? I’m well aware that what seems aesthetically pleasing to me is in large part influenced by my cultural background, and if I looked at a kimono I just felt like I didn’t even know how to start understanding it, much less draw one on my own.

This was around spring of 2010, and since then, I’ve been educating myself about kimono. My primary English source was the excellent Kimono: Fashioning Culture, which answered most of my questions, but I’ve also been reading other books such as The Book of Kimono and Japanese Costume and Textile Arts, I picked up a Japanese book, 家じゅうの着つけと帯結び (Wearing Kimono and Tying Obi for the Whole Family) which makes a lot of this information much less abstract, and I’ve spent a lot of time looking at online stores, magazines and reading things such as The Kimono Lady, Japan Now and Then and the Immortal Geisha forums, where English-speaking kimono enthusiasts post pictures of themselves in kimonos, the latest accessories they’ve bought or made and questions about everything related to kimono. I love and appreciate kimono, now, and although I expect to make a great many mistakes I’m ready to start drawing them. I want to explore kimono colors, patterns, history and so on through my paperdolls, and I hope you all enjoy it too.

Before we get into all that, we’ll start with the most basic of basics. The kimono (着物、きもの) is an ankle-length robe with a lapped front and long sleeves, worn with a wide, stiff sash called an obi (帯、おび). Historically, for America and Europe, “fashion” has meant the way the shapes of garments changed: think of the differences between 1860s hoop skirts, 1890s bustles and 1920s flapper dresses. In Japan, the basic shape of the kimono has changed very little since it was adapted from China, especially since Western clothes became popular for daily wear, and it is color and pattern that really show a garment’s age, worth and purpose. Originally, the kimono was called a kosode (小袖、こそで, meaning small sleeve), and it was white and worn under pants and other robes; as time went on, it was freed from these other layers and became elaborately decorated. In the same way, the obi was once just a regular fabric sash, but it widened to balance out the kimono and often became more expensive than the kimono itself. Modern-day kimono are mainly worn by women as a formal garment, and the way the kimono is cut, worn, colored and patterned indicates things like the wearer’s age, the season and the occasion.

I’ve gone with the most basic of basics for today’s drawing, too: kimono underwear! First, you put on the white split-toed socks called tabi (足袋、たび), because after you’re wearing the full kimono, it’s hard to bend over enough to put them on. Next, you wear a kimono bra (和装ブラジャー, わそうブラジャー), which looks like a sports bra and flattens the chest, and over that a short-sleeved overshirt called a hada-juban (肌襦袢、はだじゅばん) and a wrap skirt that ends about below the calves called a susoyoke (すそよけ), which mainly serve to trap sweat. It looks like you can also get a single garment that combines those last two, as well, although my book doesn’t have a picture of it. The ideal body shape for wearing kimono for a formal occasion is basically cylindrical, so at this point, you might use a towel or other fabric to pad out areas such as your waist or shoulders.

Over all this goes the naga-juban (長襦袢、ながじゅばん), which is just a little shorter than the actual kimono but otherwise has the same shape. The neckband of the naga-juban is covered by a collar called a han-eri (半襟、はんえり), which is sewn on to prevent the neckband of the naga-juban from getting dirty and can be easily replaced. The han-eri and the inside of the wrists of the naga-juban are the only parts of the underwear that show when the kimono is worn. Generally, and particularly for formal kimono, the han-eri is pure white, but there are also colored and embroidered han-eri. The naga-juban is secured around the waist with a thin sash called a koshi-himo (腰紐、こしひも), then a date-jime (伊達締め、だてじめ), a wider sash, is tied around the waist again. This is because when you put on the naga-juban, you determine where the back of the neckband will be. It isn’t worn right on the neck like you would wear a robe: it’s supposed to show the nape of the neck a bit, but not too much. The purpose of the date-jime is to keep the neckband in place.

At this point, you’re ready to put on the kimono itself! At some point, we’ll look at what the shape of the kimono can tell you.

This is a naga-juban and date-jime based on the pictures from Wearing Kimono and Obi Tying for the Whole Family, which was also the source of my information about kimono underwear. (I couldn’t resist adding some embroidery around the collar, though.) Most of the historical information is from Kimono: Fashioning Culture.