Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Things Not Seen

There is a lot that goes into the wearing of kimono beyond simply putting on clothes. Where am I going? What's the weather going to be like? Who might I be meeting? How much do I need to carry? All of these questions influence my decision but I haven't yet talked much about the actual wearing of kimono.

I don't mean the donning and arranging of the garments; there are many books (including the one I just reviewed) that can cover that in great detail and accuracy. Instead, I'm going to take a moment to introduce some of the unseen players in the wearing of kimono. These are items that are indispensable for creating the right look, but if you were to look at someone fully dressed, chances are good that you would never even know that they're there.

Starting from the top, we have the eri-shin:

This is a store-bought eri-shin but it is quite possible to make your own, too.

The eri-shin is a collar stay. It gets slipped between the collar and then han-eri (the detachable, decorative half-collar that goes over the collar of the juuban) and works to give the collars a little more structure and support. Without one, the collars can slouch and crumple, and do not give a crisp, fresh presentation. Most eri-shin that I have encountered are made of some sort of mesh material, so that the fabric might still breathe when worn.

Next, we have the koshi-himo:

From left to right, we have a homemade himo in black silk, a purchased vintage silk himo, a shorter cotton himo (that had originally been attached to a yukata I found in a thrift store) and finally a home-made cotton himo from patterned fabric.

These are both purchased himo. The bright colors and shibori will not be seen if these are worn.

Koshi-himo are simply sashes, usually silk, used to keep juban and kimono closed and in place.  Once they are in place, they would be covered by the obi. They can be anywhere from 70" to 90" long, but if you are making some for yourself (and this is really very easy to do) then the ideal length is one that will circle your waist twice, leaving enough to easily tie a bow.

Now, we  move on to the tools that help the obi do its job. First, there is the obi-ita:

Front view. This is the side that would face away from the body.

Back view. This would face the body. The little pocket is quite thin, and given placement, I don't recommend trying to  keep anything thicker than a credit card or a few dollar bills.
When putting on most styles of obi, the fabric of the obi is folded in half with the fold down and the open ends up. On the second wrap around the body, the obi-ita is slipped into the fold of the fabric at the front of the body. It helps the obi maintain a smooth and crisp appearance and keeps it from crumpling.

Finally, we have the obi-makura:

The one on the left is slightly larger than the one on the right, which has had additional sashing added for it to reach around.
While there are many ways to tie an obi, I like to use the taiko musubi for most of mine. It's relatively simple to arrange and shows off the brocades of the obi to their best advantage. It is this little item that helps to make it so easy to arrange. The obi-makura, or obi pillow is tied at the back, under the wide portion of the obi which is held back from being wrapped around the body. It gives the taiko musubi volume and a nice crest; I like to use the larger one which is generally appropriate for younger women. The smaller one is more appropriate for older or married women

These are the four unseen players that I make the most use out of when I'm dressing to go out. Without them, I would not be able to present the refined, crisp appearance that I like to present in kimono.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: The New Kimono

While much of my commentary here has been on what I personally wear and how I style myself for going out, I cannot deny that at least some of my tastes and sensibilities have been inspired by this book. "The New Kimono; From Vintage Style to Everyday Chic" from the Editors of Nanao Magazine is wonderfully written, elegantly illustrated, and far, far too short!

For a Westerner such as myself, interested in kimono but seriously hindered by an inability to read Japanese, this book provides a fresh, approachable format, as well as insights into the wearing of kimono by the modern person in modern Japan.

This book is actually composed of several articles taken from Nanao Magazine, a kimono fashion magazine published quarterly in Japan since 2004. While there are several books on the making and wearing of kimono (and I do plan on reviewing some of those as well), this one is the one I find myself referencing most for ideas in styling. It is a thoroughly modern take on wearing kimono (and, indeed, having fun with kimono) but it does not suggest modern refashioning of the garment. Instead, it is a reaffirmation of kimonos' traditions in today's settings.

In particular, I have found the book very useful for the articles on accessorizing. The kimono is not treated as a blank canvas from which you build up your look, but is the centerpiece around which everything else falls into place. There are several photo spreads with "Styling Points" for different seasons, and articles for how to dress to best reflect the season while remaining comfortable.

I think that one of the best features of the book is that, throughout all of the articles, one never gets the sense that there is a "right" or "wrong" way to style an outfit. Suggestions and rules of thumb are offered, but the focus is really on enjoying the garments and presenting a fresh look so that others might share in that enjoyment.

You can find the book for yourself at Amazon if you can't find it at your local book store.

Monday, September 17, 2012


When I have a day off from work, I like to think a little more about what to wear if/when I go out. Since I was planning on just doing a little bit of shopping, I wanted to wear one of my more simple kimono and obi, but first, it needed a little repair.
Kuma is always so very helpful.
All that it really needed was a bit of reinforcement where the sleeves meet the body at the shoulders, and even with our cat being helpful, the repairs didn't take me very long at all. This was last night, and this morning, I picked out the rest of what I wanted to wear:

The obi is a relatively new acquisition from Nichi Bei Bussan, as is the purple obijime. The hair-sticks were a find through Fire Mountain Gems.
Given that we're on the cusp of the seasons, I wanted something light and refreshing, with hints of cooler weather to come. I was really quite happy with how everything looked together. That is, I was until I put it on and was not happy with how little overlap I had at the front. I could have made it work, but if you're not happy with what you're wearing, it can show.

With my roommate's help, I decided on a different kimono. I consider it a little more formal, but it is one that I enjoy wearing.

Same obi and obijime. The only new addition to the ensemble was the kanzashi chrysanthemum. The only reason the original hair-sticks aren't in the picture is because they were still in my hair.
I was certainly able to keep the same color scheme and feel of the ensemble, and the addition of the floral kanzashi helped to further the motif. The soft obi helped to keep the ensemble from being too stiff and formal and I was set to go out.

Front view... the basket was a Goodwill find!

Back view. The tail on the taiko bow is a little long, but that falls into the realm of "Who's really going to notice?"
Today's shopping adventure was at Nichi Bei Bussan, a store in San Jose's Japantown. I'm very fond of the store, and I plan on writing more about it in the future. Even though I had my room mate with me for today's excursion, we didn't really get any pictures there, nor at the coffee-shop where I work when we stopped by there afterwards to get some tea.

Looking around Nichi Bei is always a pleasant experience, and though I did not get the michiyuki (This is a sort of overcoat that closes in front with snaps or buttons. It has a squared-off collar that shows off the crossed collars of the kimono underneath quite nicely.) that had caught my eye the last time I was in, I did come away with a very smart looking haori (this is also a sort of overcoat, but it does not close or overlap in the front; instead, the collar falls straight down the body and it is usually held closed with decorative ties that span the distance) that will be a much more versatile addition to my wardrobe.

The next stop on the day's agenda was stopping by my work-place, as I'd promised another co-worker that I would stop in 'dressed up' while she was there. Of course, my timing was impeccable and I got there while she was out to lunch. While in the store, though, I did have the opportunity to talk about what I was wearing with two of our regular patrons and in that conversation received one of the most flattering comments I think that anyone who wears kimono could receive:

"Just seeing you makes me feel so refreshed."

How can one not be flattered by such a comment, especially after spending time and effort in putting together the day's ensemble? It simply isn't a comment that western fashion inspires, though when I dress in kimono, it is the effect that I strive for. There is undeniable pleasure in being assured that one has succeeded.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Please Don't Say "Sayonara"

First, let me offer an explanation of the title. I was once told that when saying sayonara to someone, there was an implication that one would never see them again (probably because they were going off to war and did not expect to return). Why is this appropriate today? Well, today was the last day of work at my location for one of my coworkers and I promised her that I would dress up to come in and say goodbye. That she is leaving us is a happy thing, because she's transferring to a location in Portland while she pursues her education. 

To that end, I wanted to dress in a manner that would be appropriate for the occasion, hence a somewhat subdued kimono paired with an auspicious obi. You can see the ensemble below:

Obi with cranes and chrysanthemum motifs, komon (?) kimono,  kanzashi (hairstick), and  obi jime (cords)
For wearing under this kimono, I took the time this morning to temporarily tack down a haneri (half-collar) onto one of my juban (kimono-shaped undergarment) so that the color would coordinate a little better where it showed at the neckline.

All told, I think it took me a little over an hour to get dressed, and that was not without some frustration. I don't have any trouble getting into kimono anymore, and I feel that I've gotten quite good at getting the ohashori (the extra fabric that is taken up when getting kimono to fall to the proper length for wearing) in place. What gave me the most consternation was the obi. Usually, I have someone around to help and all I really need to do is stand and hold things in place. This morning, however, I had no one around and had to dress myself entirely.

Maru obi are heavy! All that brocade! It really took a great deal of perseverance in getting everything in place. Even when I had everything on, I wasn't really happy with the overall effect. The ensemble itself was quite lovely, but all I saw were the little details that kept it from being a really clean presentation. I wanted to look nice for my friend, and slightly skewed collars are not nice. As I was fussing in the mirror, I remembered that the only person who was going to see all of these 'mistakes' was me. Anyone else who was looking would simply see a lovely ensemble.

This is a lesson that I need to remember for myself more often, and one that I would like to remind anyone who considers going out in kimono, whether for special occasions or because they want to bring kimono into their every-day life. People will appreciate your efforts, especially when you dress with respect for your garments and for the occasion.

This is the front view. I didn't get these until after I got home from seeing my coworker off, so everything is definitely not as neat as I would like!

This is the taiko musubi, or drum bow that is appropriate for this kind of obi. Under ideal conditions, it would not look skewed as it does here, but would hang with the folds parallel to the ground. My roommate kindly pointed out that geisha's obi do this too, and that I shouldn't feel too bad about it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


For some years now, I've found myself attracted, not only to kimono, but to the culture that comes with it. As a consequence, I've found myself asked the same few questions repeatedly when I admit to my fascination, so I'm going to go ahead and clear those out of the way now.

Q: Are you Japanese?
A: No. Not even a little bit. Not even a chance, as far as I can tell. I'm originally from Pennsylvania, and come from very solid German and Irish stock.

Q: Have you been to Japan?
A: Not yet. I have a dream of visiting Kyoto. And Tokyo. And anywhere else I could manage to get, really, including visiting Okinawa, the home of some of the martial arts I have had the pleasure of studying.

Q: Well... why ARE you so interested in kimono?
A: I really wish that I had a decent and well-thought-out answer for this one. That kimono are artistic and stylish, there is no doubt. I have never considered myself to be particularly stylish OR fashionable where western fashions are concerned, but with kimono, I feel that there is a lot for me to work with. And have fun with. After all, what's the point of wearing something if you don't enjoy it?

Q: You made that? Really?!
A: Yes, I did. I take a great deal of pride in wearing the kimono that I have sewn myself. Most of my handmade wardrobe at present consists of cotton hakamashita-- foreshortened kimono that I make specifically for wearing with hakama, the pleated skirt-like pants often seen sported by samurai or kendo players. Most of my kimono (the full-length silk or synthetic robes that most people associate with traditional Japanese garb) are wonderful vintage pieces that have been given to me or I have rescued from swap meets or other unlikely origins. I do have fabric in my stash (some of which was brought over from Japan by friends) to make "proper kimono" of my own. I also make a lot of my own hair accessories to wear with my ensembles.

Q: That's great, but... where do you wear this stuff?
A: Some of my hair accessories I'll wear to work. They're fun, they get lots of compliments (and let's face it, who doesn't like compliments!) and they keep my hair out of the way, so they're quite practical too. My wafuku used to only come out when I was going to a festival in San Jose's Japantown. Then I started to dress in my hakama and hakamashita if I was going out to one of the little walk-able shopping areas around San Jose (I still find those much more practical than dressing in "proper kimono" because I don't need any help to get dressed in those-- I still fumble quite a bit in tying my obi). Now, I want to make an effort to wear kimono out more for every day things. I'm not likely to wear this at work, as work is a coffee shop, but that doesn't mean I can't wear them on my weekends!

Q:What do you mean by "wafuku" and "proper kimono?"
A: I'll be honest, I've never actually gotten this question before, but I realize that there are people out there who don't live with me, and aren't necessarily students of Japanese or Japanese fashion, but might still stumble across this blog. Technically speaking, wafuku and kimono mean essentially the same thing: things to wear.

When I talk about wafuku, I'm usually referring to my hakama and hakamashita; clothes that I consider to be easy to wear and quite informal. In my personal wardrobe, these are also all styled as men's clothes (though I am not male myself) because I find them easier to wear. While hakama are unisex, all of my hakamashita are sewn together in the men's style.

When I talk about kimono, on the other hand, I am talking about what most people think of as kimono-- the long, robe-like garment that is worn with an obi-- an elaborate sash. In my personal wardrobe, all of the kimono that I own are styled for women (this mostly means that the patterns and colors are more feminine and that the sleeves attach to the body in a different manner from men's kimono). Until quite recently, I found it very difficult to dress myself in these because of all of the little steps involved but since being inspired to wear more kimono (and realizing that I can craft all kinds of accessories that would be appropriate for wearing women's kimono), I have been learning how to dress myself. Sometimes, I still need help with the obi, but I am getting better!

I'm sure that this is quite enough of an introduction, and I look forward to meeting more like-minded, kimono-loving people as I continue this adventure!

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu! Please regard me kindly!