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Kimono, symbol of Japanese fashion

Kimono, symbol of Japanese fashion

Costing more than a house

Originally, "kimono" was the Japanese word for clothing. But in more recent years, the word has been used to refer specifically to traditional Japanese clothing. Kimonos as we know them today came into being during the Heian period (794-1192). Nowadays, Japanese people rarely wear kimonos in everyday life, reserving them for such occasions as weddings, funerals, tea ceremonies, or other special events, such as summer festivals.

PanARMENIAN.Net - In the Nara period (710-794), Japanese people typically wore either ensembles consisting of separate upper and lower garments (trousers or skirts), or one-piece garments. But in the Heian period, a new kimono-making technique was developed. Known as the straight-line-cut method, it involved cutting pieces of fabric in straight lines and sewing them together. With this technique, kimono makers did not have to concern themselves with the shape of the wearer's body.

Straight-line-cut kimonos offered many advantages: they were easy to fold and were suitable for all weathers. The kimonos could be worn in layers to provide warmth in winter, and kimonos made of breathable fabric such as linen were comfortable in summer. These advantages helped kimonos become part of Japanese people's everyday live.

The kimono is a comfortable garment for people to wear who sit on the floor or on a tatami mat, a straw floor covering common in Japanese homes, as is done in Japanese culture. Its length can be adjusted by how much it is folded over when the obi, or sash, is tied; its width can vary depending on how much it is wrapped and how tightly the obi is tied; and it can be layered for changes in climate.

Japanese clothing was not traditionally accented with costly or decorative accessories, particularly jewelry, hats, or gloves, as Western dress traditionally is. Instead, all of the expression of taste and elegance was focused upon the kimono, the central and key garment in Japanese dress, particularly in the case of women. Thus developments in the kimono as the principal garment for men and women of all social classes revolved around patterns and colors. At first the only patterning used was in the weaving of the fabric, but, given that the expansive robe was a great canvas for the artist, distinctive designs stretching across the whole garment were created in tie-dye, resist-dye, embroidery, and other methods, particularly for wealthy customers. The wealthy could also layer more kimonos and coordinated the colors that peeked out at the neckline and cuffs. Some kimonos were painted upon with ink, like a brush painting on paper.

During the Kamakura period (1192-1338) and the Muromachi period (1338-1573), both men and women wore brightly colored kimonos. Warriors dressed in colors representing their leaders, and sometimes the battlefield was as gaudy as a fashion show.

The Edo period was one of unprecedented political and economic growth, as well as urban expansion. Kyoto, the old capital, remained the center of aristocratic culture and luxury production while Edo, the new headquarters chosen by the Tokugawa shōgun (military ruler), developed from a small fishing port into one of the largest cities in the world. In Edo and elsewhere, a dynamic urban culture developed in which fashionable dress played a central role.

Some kimonos could cost more than a house. People would keep their kimono and pass them down to the family.

The primary consumers of sumptuous kimono were the samurai, the ruling military class. Yet it was the merchant and artisan classes, or chōnin, who benefited most from the peace and prosperity of the period. However, the rigid hierarchy of Tokugawa Japan meant that they could not use their wealth to improve their social status. Instead they had to find different outlets for their money, such as buying beautiful clothes. It was this new market that stimulated the great flowering of the textile arts in the Edo period. The kimono developed into a highly expressive means of personal display, an important indicator of the rising affluence and aesthetic sensibility of the chōnin.There were even fashion contests between the wives of the wealthiest merchants, who tried to outdo one another with ever more dazzling displays of splendid costume.

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan was heavily influenced by foreign cultures. The government encouraged people to adopt Western clothing and habits. Government officials and military personnel were required by law to wear Western clothing for official occasions. (The law is no longer in effect today.) For ordinary citizens, wearing kimonos on formal occasions were required to use garments decorated with the wearer's family crest, which identified the family background.

The method used to make kimonos is unique. A piece of fabric 12 to 13 meters long and 36 to 40 centimeters wide is cut into eight pieces. These pieces are then sewn back together to create the basic form of the kimono. All of the fabric is used; none is thrown away. Most often, the fabric used is silk, but yukata (informal summer kimonos) are often made of cotton. The use of eight separate panels makes it easy to take the kimono apart in order to replace or repair old, faded, or damaged panels of fabric.

Although the modern kimono is generally a T-shaped robe, there are a variety of subtle variations for different wearers and different occasions. The furisode, which literally means "swinging sleeves," is worn by young unmarried women. The houmongi is the formal kimono worn by women once they are married. It might be worn to weddings or to tea ceremonies. It often has a pattern called eba, which spreads over the kimono without appearing to be disturbed by the seams through a special method of dyeing. The tomesode, sometimes called the "edozuma", is another formal kimono, worn by married women only to the weddings of close relatives. This kimono has a pattern on the lower front of the garment from around the knees to the hem. The bride in a traditional Japanese wedding wears the most formal kimono, called a uchikake. It is a long kimono coat with a padded hem, which is made either from stiff, thickly woven brocade or satin. The kimono trails the ground on all sides, and because of the length and stiffness of the kimono the bride must be assisted in walking.

Kimonos for men are usually made in subdued colors and patterns of black, gray, brown, and shades of dark blue. If they are decorated, the usual patterns are fine checks, polka dots, or bird's-eye designs. The formal kimonos for men are called monsuke, which means "with crests." They are made of plain black silk with five crests and are worn with a white under-kimono called a juban and with hakama, or trousers, in gray or brown. The Mofuku kimono is the most somber of modern ceremonial kimonos, and it is worn only for funerals and mostly by men. The Mofuku is usually made of black silk, with family crests at key places. It is worn with a long white undergarment called a naga-juban, black accessories, and black fabric zori, or sandals.

Lusine Mkrtumova / PanARMENIAN.Net
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