A geisha kimono is a complex traditional garment worn by Japanese geisha. True geisha kimono must meet certain standards; they differ considerably than kimono worn by women who are not geisha, as well as from those worn by apprentices. The geisha kimono, along with its wearers, has a long and elegant history in Japan that stretches back for centuries.
Geisha kimono are not simply single dresses; instead, they are complicated outfits that comprise many pieces. Even a basic version will include an under-kimono, a colorful over-kimono, and a complicated belt called an obi. In colder months, the under kimono may be made out of thicker material or layered, while in summer, lighter versions are preferred. The main kimono is usually made of silk and may be hand-painted or hand-embroidered in complex, stunningly artistic patterns of birds and flowers. The top kimono is fastened by wrapping the layers of the robe-like garment around the body, then securing with the obi. Most kimono also feature floor-length sleeves that can be wrapped around the arms to prevent soiling or tripping.
Most geisha will have specific kimono for different seasons. Each shows a color palette and decoration that is considered seasonally appropriate; spring kimono may have spring flowers, but not plants seen in autumn or winter. Wearing a seasonally incorrect geisha kimono is considered quite tasteless; nearly as bad as a reindeer sweater in April.
Though geisha are usually required to have several kimono, they are quite expensive. Since many are handmade and the best feature elaborate hand painting, it is not unusual for geisha kimono to cost thousands of dollars. Traditionally, new kimono were gifts from patrons, but geisha who worked with a geisha house might also receive an allowance for clothing.
One feature common to a geisha kimono is an exposed neckline that dips slightly in the back. Geisha, along with being dancers, musicians, and artists, are renowned for their charm and flirtatious behavior. Since the neck is traditionally considered a sensual part of the body in Japan, geisha opted to take the slightly risque chance of allowing a peek at their necklines. This is not customary throughout all of Japan, however. Different regions have very specific and long-standing customs about the style and appearance of a geisha kimono.
Tying the obiof a geisha kimono can be done in many different ways. Apprentices spend hours learning to wrap and tie the traditional knots, each of which may have a special significance. Adult geisha wear different knots than apprentices, and in general the style of a mature geisha is more refined and muted than that of a young one. Nevertheless, the garments and the obi still make a striking combination, turning their wearers into colorful displays of beauty.