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Kimono (着物) and Kitsuke (着付け)

Traditional Japanese Clothing and the Art of Dressing

Japans traditional garb is more than just a method to cover one’s body, it is a living work of art. From the informal summer Jinbei for men, to the elaborate formal Kimono and Hakama, there are so many styles, fabrics, and uses for traditional Japanese clothing. Naturally, such beautiful clothing cannot simply be ‘worn’, rather, the wearing of the clothes itself is an art.

The art of dressing in Kimono is known as Kitsuke (着付け). Kimono saw its greatest boom in the Nara and Heian periods, with garments becoming more and more elaborate. With the introduction of western culture in the Meiji era, Japan saw a continued increase in western clothing. The majority of modern Japanese no longer can dress themselves in Kimono, or at least not correctly. Those who can are trained in the art of Kitsuke.

My mother is a Kitsuke teacher, and as such, I was lucky enough to learn at a young age the basics, and am able to dress myself and others. For people who have rented kimono or yukata when visiting Japan will know the many layers and steps to dressing. And I highly suggest undergoing this experience to anyone with the chance. There is such depths to the history, and customs associated with Kitsuke, here is just a brief few fun facts about Kimono to get you started.

Interesting Facts about Kimono and Kitsuke

A Man’s Job

When one thinks of Kimono, you think of primarily of the bright and colorful women’s kimono, and for many there first image may be that extravagant kimono worn by Maiko and Geisha. What many do not know, is that behind closed doors, these beautiful women are dressed by men. The obi for a Maiko is over 6.5 meters long, more than double that of the usual obi (3.6 to 3.8 meters). Its sheer length and weight makes tying the obi a job for more than 1 man. These men are known as Otokoshi.

Dead or Alive?

When wearing kimono always put left over right. The only exception to this is for when dressing the deceased. When dressing the dead for burial, the kimono is placed right over left, and in older times, and still practiced by some conservative traditionalists, direct family members of the deceased would wear the kimono with the right over the left. In olden times those directly related to the deceased would wear it in this way for roughly a year and avoid festive occasions such as weddings and births etc., as it was believed they were surrounded by bad luck and bad omens.

Mutton Dressed as Lamb

Acting and dressing appropriate to one’s age is especially important when wearing traditional kimono. Brightly colored, patterned, elaborate kimono and obi are reserved for young unmarried woman generally under 30 years of age. Furisode, a kimono with particularly long sleeves and often brightly colored with floral designs is only worn by young woman, particularly for the coming of age event.

Married and older woman are expected to wear more demure patterns and designs, with obis folded in simpler knots.

Despite the many methods of tying knots in the Obi, known as Musubi, few are appropriate for formal occasions and older woman.

Furisode and fancy Obi Musubi as worn by young unmarried women. The one pictured is a Furisode as worn for coming of age (20 years old).

Dress for the Season

Traditionally the color, pattern, and style of kimono changes dependent on the season.


In winter awase (lined), rich and warmly colored, patterned with plum blossoms, pine, or bamboo, camellia and other winter flowers are worn.


Spring, as a transitional season between winter and summer, has some distinct rules. The main kimono remains lined until May 15th, from then it changes to hitoe (unlined). The obi changes to hitoe (unlined) as of the 10th of May. Then on the 10th of June the obi changes again to an even lighter summer fabric, but the main kimono remains hitoe (unlined).

The kimonos warn are light and fresh in color, patterned with sakura (cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, and all manner of blossoms that flower in spring and summer.


In summer the kimono changes to usumono, a see-through fabric made with open weaves, and is worn for the months of July and August. On the 20th of August, the obi fabric changes from the see-through summer fabric to the hitoe (unlined) fabric. Summer kimono are patterned with flowing water, rain, summer blososms and also autumn grasses, etc., and colored in cooling colors to create a cooling sensation in the heat of summer.

A well-known garment worn in summer is the yukata, a colorful cotton informal garb often worn to festivals and to watch fireworks.

A summer kimono decorated with autumn grasses, both breezy and cooling as well as indicating the coming season. 


For the month of September, the kimono is hitoe (unlined), but on the 20th of September the Obi changes to a lined, and from October so does the kimono. Despite being unlined, the colors and patterns worn should be warm colors representative of autumn such as purple, orange, red and yellows. Often the obi is patterned or colored to indicate the coming of winter.

Competing with the Flowers

Contrary to what seems normal, it is considered fashionable to wear floral patterns of blossoms ahead of season. Hence, wear cherry blossom patterned kimonos before they actual bloom, not whilst actually going to watch them. Although not a hard and fast rule, the reason behind it is quite deep. Out of a certain reverence for the beauty of nature, it is said that wearing blossom patterns during the season is ‘competing with nature’. Now no one will side-eye for trying, but it is hard to beat the real thing.

Although this is only a very brief introduction to Kimono and Kitsuke, I hope you can start to see how it is an art in itself.

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Getting one of your own

A new Kimono can be a hefty investment, but you are sure to find a beautiful second hand vintage kimono at one of Chicago’s many stores across Tokyo or Kyoto.


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