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What is a Kimono Dress?

By Jessica F. Black
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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A kimono dress is a traditional full-length Japanese robe worn by both genders. In the 21st century, the kimono dress is predominantly worn on special occasions, but it was considered everyday attire until the beginning of the 19th century. A woven silk is cut into rectangular strips to allow the kimono dress to be easily taken apart, repaired and re-dyed. The kimono dress is not figure-flattering because of the straight-edged pattern, but it provides glamor with intricate prints, colors and various styles.

The male kimono is less extravagant, and there is a wider variety of styles for women. The yukata is a summer robe that is made from extremely light cotton and has flowery spring prints. The furisode kimono, which is made of the finest silk with flowing floor-length sleeves, symbolizes that a woman has turned 20 years old and has officially entered adulthood. The houmongi robe, an elegant solid-colored kimono dress, is a representation of marriage and sophistication. Kimono dresses far exceed a simple fashion statement because they exhibit different phases in life.

The obi, a wide satin belt, is a vital accessory for the kimono. This cross-front dress is accentuated by the embroidered, hand-painted or gold-and-silver woven sash. The male kimono is often made with dark materials and nearly invisible patterns. The dark colors represent enlightenment and have been rumored to ward off evil entities.

Although the kimono dress is simplistic in pattern, it often takes an experienced family member or friend to assist in the dressing process. The robe requires certain creases to be smoothed and adjustments to be made to its length by creating folds and overlapping. A number of less-visible ties called koshi himos are used to hold the different folds and alignments in place.

After all of the material has been properly arranged, the obi ita, an oval-shaped piece of cardboard, is set across the stomach to allow the sash to keep its wide form. The price of a kimono dress depends on material, pattern and occasion. One of the more expensive kimono dresses is the furisode, which can cost thousands of US dollars (USD). The summer kimono and used kimonos are drastically cheaper and typically can be purchased for less than $200 USD.

The expensive material and personalized designs distinguish these dresses from average bath robes and housecoats. The kimono style has been incorporated into Western fashion, but alterations have been made. The shortening of a kimono dress to knee length has become popular as a design for prom dresses. Although the kimono has become a modernized commodity, it still represents tradition and culture in Japan.

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Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Oct 02, 2014

@bear78-- There are definitely differences. The kimono dresses worn by geishas are more elaborate with brighter colors and more designs. The style is also different because the kimono has a cut in the back, revealing the neck and upper back. It's also slightly lower in the front in comparison to a regular kimono.

Aside from this, the kimono itself is longer, meaning that the tail is longer and the geishas usually lift them while walking. This reveals a smart part of the under-dress and also the shoes which are distinctive for geishas.

By bear78 — On Oct 01, 2014

What about kimonos worn by geishas? Are they the same as kimono dresses worn by others or are there differences?

By ddljohn — On Oct 01, 2014

What's most beautiful about the kimono dress is that it carries a lot of meaning as the article said. I've read that people used to own different kimonos with different patterns for each season. For example, floral designs were reserved for summer and spring seasons.

Now that most Japanese only wear kimonos on special occasions and holidays, I'm sure that they don't own so many kimonos. But I still like that a kimono can represent the stage of life one is in, as well as something like season. It seems like wearing a kimono is also carries spiritual significance. I think it prepares one for various stages of life. It's kind of unfortunate that it is no longer the every day dress although I understand that a kimono isn't the most efficient attire for every day use.

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