All over the world, we view clothing as a daily essential. We wake up in the morning and before we enter the world we all have to decide what to wear. Fashion all over the world has a unique story, especially in Japan. We often see new modern day trends in terms of fashion being borrowed or reimagined because of the history significant pieces or statement items had in previous decades. These items that were worn decades or even centuries ago will usually find themselves in our modern time with a cute “new” twist but often containing the same structure.
In Japan, the Kimono is the most common idea of a piece of clothing. Most people imagine a long draping robe with beautiful patterns and colors; But originally, in english and in Japanese the meaning of the word Kimono was translated to mean “clothing” or “wearing thing”. However over the recent years it’s translation has changed to become more closely understood as the actual garment instead of a name for all clothing.
A kimono is a long and loose fitting robe, typically with long flowing sleeves. It can also be worn with an Obi belt that is a long decorative belt that is wrapped around the body and drapes with the Kimono.
The Kimono came around during the Heian period in Japan (794-1192). The kimono was sewn from straight cuts of fabric to be able to fit every body shape and find ease in creating the traditional piece without having to worry about varying sizing.
Beyond the advantage of Kimonos being able to fit every body shape, they also were easy to fold, and extremely efficient during weather changes. They were adaptable to layering for cold weather and breathable for summer and spring with Kimonos made out of linen. Because of these advantages, Kimonos soon became a part of everyday life and wear in Japan, essentially becoming a traditional clothing piece.
As time went on, the Kimono began to take on a new shape in their wear. People began to bring kimonos to life by using varying colors to make fashion statements and even represent political standings. In typical daily life men and women began layering kimonos with bright and beautiful colors and it became a statement of fashion but also a part of daily life. The colors could represent your political class, or even match with new seasonal colors.
During the Edo Period (1603-1868) Samurais of the respective and dueling domains would wear specific colored and patterned kimonos to represent who they were fighting for, in a way these specific colors and patterns on their kimonos became a version of a uniform. They would also add specific garments and pieces to fit into a uniformal look, however the main piece of their uniform was always the kimono.
Between the changes in time periods, the Kimono did not change majorly in terms of traditional clothing wear. main changes were to fabric and colors meaning that the Kimono held a huge space in Japan for over a thousand years before any major changes came to the country with regard to clothing and fashion.
During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan became largely influenced my foreign cultures and began to adapt to more westernized standards and also worked hard to begin modernizing the country. As this mass modernization began taking place, clothing specifically took a significant change. In 1872 the court of Emperor Meiji passed a mandate to dress in western clothing for men, and 1886 for women. From then on the Kimono slowly faded into a traditional clothing piece worn only for formal scenarios and receptions such as weddings, funerals, specific summer events and tea ceremonies.
Of course there are no longer any rules or mandates against wearing kimonos or strictly western clothing, but , this mandate has sent a long standing shift in the culture of when and how kimonos are worn and even the meaning of the name. As stated before, because kimonos are now worn and used for a specific time and place it takes on the meaning of specifically describing the piece of clothing instead of it’s original meaning of just “clothing.”
It’s important to remember that as cultures and countries evolve through turmoil and prosperity that these changes affect more than just the economy and daily life. It may seem small from some perspectives, but the Kimono was essentially a piece of clothing that lasted as the main piece of wardrobe for almost a thousand years and one mandate affected the way it was worn and seen in the last 200 years.The kimono is a beautiful piece of clothing and can also be a way to express yourself and see fashion and life from a new perspective because of its rich history.