Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Kimono

(This post is by Carolyn. Carolyn, thank you very much!)

The kimono is the national costume of Japan. Literally it means “thing to wear” (ki-“wearing”, mono- “thing”). Kimonos are T-shaped, straight-lined robes which are wrapped around the body, the left side over the right (except when dressing the dead for burial) and generally fall at the ankle. They are secured by a wide belt tied at the back called an obi. They are generally worn with split-toe socks called tabi and traditional footwear (zori or geta).

Compared to western dress, the kimono is much more conservative. Rather that the focus being on the shape of the dress, the areas of fashion are the colors the patterns and the decorative details. The kimono has a large surface on which the artist can display his art. All garments of kimonoed genealogy have in common four elements: geometric use of standard fabric widths sewn together with minimal cutting; an open, overlapping front; an attached neckband sewn around the front opening; and sleeves consisting of a width of fabric attached to the selvages. The various parts of the kimono garment have changed over the years but the basic form of the kimono remains.

An adult kimono is made from a bolt, which is approximately 12.5 yards, of standard width cloth of approximately 14 inches. The ready-to-wear kimono is a relatively new phenomenon; traditional stores still display their wares as rows of fabric rolls. Two straight lengths of fabric make up the kimono body which are joined together up in the middle of the back and left open at the front from the shoulders down. Two half-width sections (okumi) are sewed in to each side. The okumi provides an amplitude of fabric where the gown is lapped, left over right, and held together by a sash (obi). The sleeves are attached to the sides of the body and are very wide. The size of the kimono depends on the individual, but the fabric is never cut to be made smaller, rather, the excess fabric is folded into the seams making the kimono fundamentally adjustable because the original bolt width is retained in the seams.

The kimono has its origins in China. From the time of the Han dynasty (approximately 200 B.C.- A.D. 200) the basic shape of Chinese clothing consisted of a front-wrapping robe with an attached collar and rectangular sleeves. It is believed that a Han-style kimonoid garment first made an appearance in Japan as early as the fourth century. During the seventh through tenth centuries, the reigns of the Sui and Tang dynasties provided the model of civilizations for the Far East and any culture aspiring to be recognized would have been drawn to adopt Chinese culture. An adoption of their aristocratic clothing is therefore expected.

~guest blogger, Carolyn Dandenault