Kimono are T-shaped, straight-lined robes that fall to the ankle, with collars and wide, full-length sleeves. Kimono are wrapped around the body, always with the left side over the right (except when dressing the dead for burial) and secured by a wide belt called an obi, which is usually tied at the back. Kimono are generally worn with traditional footwear (especially zōri or geta) and split-toe socks (tabi).
Today, kimono are most often worn by women, and on special occasions. Traditionally, unmarried women wore a style of kimono called furisode, which have floor-length sleeves, on special occasions. A few older women and even fewer men still wear kimono on a daily basis. Men wear kimono most often at weddings, tea ceremonies, and other very special or very formal occasions. Professional sumo wrestlers are often seen in kimono because they are required to wear traditional Japanese dress whenever appearing in public. They commonly wear the kind of casual Japanese attire that is referred to as yukata, which is of plain unlined cotton.
Kimono hobbyists in Japan can take courses on how to put on and wear kimono. Classes cover selecting seasonally and event-appropriate patterns and fabrics, matching the kimono undergarments and accessories to the kimono, layering the undergarments according to subtle meanings, selecting and tying obi, and other topics. There are also clubs devoted to kimono culture, such as Kimono de Ginza.
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 – 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Kimono can be expensive. A woman's kimono may easily exceed US$10,000; a complete kimono outfit, with kimono, undergarments, obi, ties, socks, sandals and accessories, can exceed US$20,000. A single obi may cost several thousand dollars. However, most kimono owned by kimono hobbyists or by practitioners of traditional arts are far less expensive. Enterprising people make their own kimono and undergarments by following a standard pattern, or by recycling older kimono. Cheaper and machine-made fabrics can substitute for the traditional hand-dyed silk. There is also a thriving business in Japan for second-hand kimono, which can cost as little as ¥500. Women's obi, however, mostly remain an expensive item. Although simple patterned or plain colored ones can cost as low as ¥1,500, even a used obi can cost hundreds of dollars, and experienced craftsmanship is required to make them. Men's obi, even those made from silk, tend to be much less expensive, because they are narrower, shorter and less decorative than those worn by women.
Kimono range from extremely formal to casual. The level of formality of women's kimono is determined mostly by the pattern fabric, and color. Young women's kimono have longer sleeves,signifying their unmarried status, and tend to be more elaborate than similarly formal older women's kimono. Men's kimono are usually one basic shape and are mainly worn in subdued colors. Formality is also determined by the type and color of accessories, the fabric, and the number or absence of kamon (family crests), with five crests signifying extreme formality. Silk is the most desirable, and most formal, fabric. Kimono made of fabrics such as cotton and polyester generally reflect a more casual style.
Many modern Japanese women lack the skill to put on a kimono unaided: the typical woman's kimono consists of twelve or more separate pieces that are worn, matched and secured in prescribed ways, and the assistance of licensed professional kimono dressers may be required. Called upon mostly for special occasions, kimono dressers both work out of hair salons and make house calls.
Choosing an appropriate type of kimono requires knowledge of the garment's symbolism and subtle social messages, reflecting the woman's age, marital status, and the level of formality of the occasion.
In contrast to women's kimono, men's kimono outfits are far simpler, typically consisting of a maximum of five pieces, not including footwear.
Men's kimono have long sleeves which are attached to the body of the kimono with no more than a few inches unattached at the bottom, unlike the women's style of very deep sleeves mostly unattached from the body of the kimono. Men's sleeves are less deep than women's kimono sleeves to accommodate the obi around the waist beneath them, where as on a woman's kimono, the long, unattached bottom of the sleeve can hang over the obi without getting in the way.
In the modern era, the principal distinctions between men's kimono are in the fabric. The typical kimono has a subdued, dark color; black, dark blues, greens, and browns are common. Fabrics are usually matte. Some have a subtle pattern, and textured fabrics are common in more casual kimono. More casual kimono may be made in slightly brighter colors, such as lighter purples, greens and blues. Sumo wrestlers have occasionally been known to wear quite bright colors such as fuchsia.
The most formal style of kimono is plain black with five kamon on the chest, shoulders and back. Slightly less formal is the three-kamon kimono. These are usually paired with white undergarments and accessories.
Traditionally Kimono were worn with hiyoku or floating linings. Hiyoku can be a second kimono worn beneath the first and give the traditional layered look to the kimono. Often in modern kimono the hiyoku is simply the name for the double sided lower-half of the kimono which may be exposed to other eyes depending on how the kimono is worn.
Old-fashioned kimono styles meant that hiyoku were entire under-kimono, however modern day layers are usually only partial, to give the impression of layering.
In the past, a kimono would often be entirely taken apart for washing, and then re-sewn for wearing. This traditional washing method is called arai hari. Because stitches must be taken out for washing, traditional kimono need to be hand sewn. Arai hari is very expensive and difficult and is one of the causes of the declining popularity of kimono. Modern fabrics and cleaning methods have been developed that eliminate this need, although the traditional washing of kimono is still practiced, especially for high-end garments.
A new custom-made kimono will be delivered to the customer with long, loose basting stitches placed around the outside edges. These stitches are called shituke ito. They are sometimes replaced for storage. They help to prevent bunching, folding and wrinkling, and keep the kimono's layers in alignment.
Like many other traditional Japanese garments, there are specific ways to fold kimono. These methods help to preserve the garment and to keep it from creasing when stored. Kimono are often stored wrapped in paper.
Kimono need to be aired out at least seasonally and before and after each time they are worn. Many people prefer to have their kimono dry cleaned, although this can be extremely expensive, it is generally less expensive than arai hari and may be impossible for certain fabrics or dyes.