Printer Friendly Version

Japanese Kimono

Samurai outfits (kamishimo) usually had three distinct parts.
Harunobu Suzuki, Young Samurai Looking at the Cherry Blossoms, c. 1767–68, color woodblock print, Bequest of Richard P. Gale

Kabuki actors were fashion trendsetters. They wore elaborate costumes on-stage to add more drama to their performances.
Hiroshige Utagawa and Seiemon Aritaya, Prologue, Edo period, color woodblock print, Gift of Louis W. Hill Jr.

Kimonos worn in the summer were made of lighter fabrics; patterns reflected the season, comprising flowers, butterflies, or fishing scenes.
Goyo_ Hashiguchi, Woman in Summer Kimono, 1920, color woodblock print, Gift of Ellen and Fred Wells

key idea
Tell us about yourself

Each traditional Japanese garment provided clues about its owner. It could reveal the age and social or marital status of the wearer. For example, a married woman wore a robe with short sleeves and small patterns, while an unmarried woman, who wanted to announce her single status, wore a vibrantly colored, boldly patterned, long-sleeved robe that would attract admirers. Colors were important indicators of status. Because red dye was expensive and labor-intensive to produce, a brilliant red robe announced the financial status and high social rank of its owner.

Specific garments and styles were associated with particular professions and activities. A fireman would often wear a quilted coat that would be soaked in water before he attacked a fire. Warriors, too, had specific sets of clothing. During the Edo period, a samurai would wear a three-part outfit called a kamishimo, which included an outer coat, inner kimono, and a long split skirt. Kabuki actors would wear outrageously patterned kimonos that would establish a dramatic tone and complement the stage set.

The designs themselves were symbolic. On a fireman’s coat, the design connoted the bravery of the man who wore it. Family crests, usually derived from nature, designated the robe wearer’s clan. A kimono decorated with auspicious motifs, such as cranes, tortoises, plum blossoms, and bamboo, reflected a new bride’s hope for a long and happy life. Other designs, such as fishing scenes or maple leaves, indicated the season in which the robe was to be worn.

Lavish kimonos were also worn in Noh dramas, another form of traditional Japanese theater.
Inner Noh robe, c. 1650, silk, embroidered, impressed gold, The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund
March 2008