History

As kimono has another name gofuku (呉服? literally “clothes of Wu (呉)”), the earliest kimono were heavily influenced by traditional Han Chinese clothing, known today as hanfu (漢服? kanfu), through Japanese embassies to China which resulted in extensive Chinese culture adoptions by Japan, as early as the fifth century ce[4]. It was during the 8th century, however, when Chinese fashions came into style among the Japanese, and the overlapping collar became particularly a women’s fashion[4]. During Japan’s Heian period (794–1192 ce), the kimono became increaslingly stylized, though one still wore a half-apron, called a mo, over it [4]. During the Muromachi age (1392-1573), the Kosode, a single kimono formerly considered underwear, began to be worn without the hakama pants over it, and thus began to be held closed by an obi “belt” [4]. During the Edo period (1603-1867), the sleeves began to grow in length, especially among unmarried women, and the Obi became wider, with various styles of tying coming into fashion [4]. Since then, the basic shape of both men’s and women’s kimono has remained essentially unchanged. David Bowie made it a fashion statement on stage in 1972 with his Ziggy Stardust character. Kimonos are a great work of art. [4].

Textiles

Kimono for men are available in various sizes, but kimono for women are typically of a similar, larger size and are adjusted to body size by tucking and folding. An ideally tailored kimono has sleeves that end at the wrist when the arms are lowered. Men’s kimono should fall approximately to the ankle without tucking. A woman’s kimono is longer to allow for the ohashori, the tuck that can be seen under the obi.

Kimono are made from a single bolt of fabric called a tan. Bolts come in standard dimensions – about 14 inches wide and 12½ yards long[4] – and the entire fabric is used to make one kimono. The finished kimono consists of four main strips of fabric – two panels covering the body and two panels forming the sleeves – with additional smaller strips forming the narrow front panel and collar[4]. Historically, kimono were often taken apart for washing as separate panels and resewn by hand. Because the entire bolt remains in the finished garment without cutting, the kimono can be retailored easily to fit a different person.[4]

The maximum length of the sleeve is dictated by the width of the fabric. The distance from the center of the spine to the end of the sleeve could not exceed twice the width of the fabric. Traditional kimono fabric was typically no more than 36 centimeters (14 inches) wide. Thus the distance from spine to wrist could not exceed a maximum of roughly 68 centimeters (27 inches). Modern kimono fabric is woven as wide as 42 centimeters (17 inches) to accommodate modern Japanese body sizes. Very tall or heavy people, such as sumo wrestlers, must have kimono custom-made by either joining multiple bolts of fabric together or weaving custom-width fabric. source

Traditional kimono are sewn by hand, and their fabrics are also frequently hand made and hand decorated. Various techniques such as yūzen dye resist are used for applying decoration and patterns to the base cloth. Repeating patterns that cover a large area of a kimono are traditionally done with the yūzen resist technique and a stencil. Over time there have been many variations in color, fabric and style, as well as accessories such as the obi.

Kimono and obi are traditionally made of silk, silk brocade, silk crepes (such as chirimen) and satin weaves (such as rinzu). Modern kimono are also widely available in less-expensive easy-care fabrics such as rayon, cotton sateen, cotton, polyester and other synthetic fibers. Silk is still considered the ideal fabric, however, and is a must for formal occasions.

Customarily, woven patterns and dyed repeat patterns are considered informal; Formal kimono have free-style designs dyed over the whole surface or along the hem[4]. During the Heian period, kimono were worn with up to a dozen or more colorful contrasting layers, with each combination of colors being a named pattern[4]. Today, the kimono is normally worn with a single layer on top of a slip style undergarment. The pattern of the kimono can also determine in what season it should be worn. For example, a pattern with butterflies or cherry blossoms would be worn in spring. Watery designs are common during the summer. A popular autumn motif is the russet leaf of the Japanese maple; for winter, designs may include bamboo, pine trees and plum blossoms.

Old kimono are often recycled in various ways: altered to make haori, hiyoku, or kimono for children, used to patch similar kimono, used for making handbags and similar kimono accessories, and used to make covers, bags or cases for various implements, especially for sweet-picks used in tea ceremonies. Kimono with damage below the waistline can also be worn under hakama to hide the damage. Historically, skilled craftsmen laboriously picked the silk thread from old kimono and rewove it into a new textile in the width of a heko obi for men’s kimono, using a recycling weaving method called saki-ori.