May 30, 2009

Kimono Dressing For Dummies

Step one: Go to the bathroom.

Step two: Put on tabi.

. . . and then it gets more complicated.

The first time I was dressed in kimono for Japanese tea ceremony, I simply stood still with my arms held outstretched while my Sensei did the work. The process, which feels something like transforming from a caterpillar into a butterfly, involves 15 separate pieces and takes approximately 15 minutes for an experienced person to accomplish. Dressing oneself, especially when just learning, takes a bit longer. It goes something like this:

There are two layers of underwear. First put on the one piece slip and then the two piece juban (underkimono). Don’t forget to insert the collar stiffener. Be sure to cross the left side of the juban over the right and tie snugly. If you do not already possess a “cylindrical” figure, you will have to pad your middle to create a uniform shape. No hourglass figures allowed!

The word Kimono literally translates to “thing to wear.” Traditionally, kimono were made of silk, but today they are also available in a variety of synthetic fabrics and come in many patterns and styles. With the underwear securely in place, it is time to put on the kimono.

Take the kimono and put your arms through the sleeves, tucking the sleeves of the juban into the sleeves of the kimono so that they line up evenly. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, adjust the fabric of the skirt so that it hangs just above your ankles and fold left side over right. Wrapping a thin tie around your waist, secure the kimono so that it will stay closed, with the skirt hanging evenly. Smooth out the material to eliminate any wrinkles.

The obi is a straight piece of cloth, generally made of silk and sometimes elaborately embroidered. The obi is wrapped around the ribcage, leaving a tail which is then folded and tucked to create the traditional “drum” bow. Insert the obi stiffener to create a nice, smooth shape. The obi-age, a silk cloth, covers the pad that helps to shape the back of the obi and is tied in the front and tucked into the obi. Caution! Do not let too much of the obi-age show. This is considered to be quite flirty! Finally, the obi-jime, a braided cord, is tied in a square knot securing the entire creation.

Next, look in the mirror and behold the work of art that you have created. Wearing kimono is more than a series of folding fabric and tying knots. It creates a certain sense of elegance and a requirement for proper posture and dignified demeanor. Enjoy this other-worldly feeling.

Incidentally, I am not joking about using the bathroom first. If nothing else, heed this advice. You'll thank me later.


  1. Re step 1, very good piece of advice. I always used to follow this when wearing period costume, you wouldn't believe how difficult it is with a tight corset on! Much the same with kimono I guess.

  2. Yes, very essential, especially in Japan where they have squat toilets. Thank you Jenni for the kimono dressing lesson.