Last modified on October 27, 2018, at 05:03


Geisha kimono.png
Literal meaning thing to wear
Japanese name
Kanji 着物

The kimono is the traditional clothing of the Japanese people. The kimono is an elaborate garment made of layers of long flowing robes, in a wrap-around style, belted at the waist, and traditionally made of silk. These days silk kimono are no longer commonly worn as everyday clothing, and are largely reserved for ceremonial occasions. Cotton kimono are called yukata (浴衣) and are commonly worn on hot summer days.[1][2]

The Japanese word kimono (pronounced kee-mo-no) translates as "clothing" or "things to wear".[3]

There are specific names for the various types of kimono, and each has a traditional style and color depending on the occasion for which it is worn and the age and marital status of the person wearing it.[4]


Traditional clothing of the Edo period, (1600-1868), included the kimono and obi as we know them today. The obi did not, however, become a prominent part of a woman's ensemble until the mid Edo period. It was then that designers, weavers and dyers all focused their talent on creating a longer, wider and more elaborate obi. Obi measurement was then standardised to 360 cm long by 30 cm wide.

Edo fashion was influenced by the design and style that courtesans and entertainers wear. Women of the samurai class continued to wear the simpler kosode kimono, tied together with an obi made of braided cords. Outside the samurai class, women experimented with a more elaborate kimono - the furisode, which is often seen on the Kabuki stage. Characterised by long, flowing sleeves, the furisode kimono was accented by a large, loosely tied obi.

For many years, the obi bow was tied either at the front or on the side. By the mid-Edo period, the obi bow was tied in the back position. It was said that this style started in the mid-1700s when a Kabuki actor, imitating a young girl, came on stage with his obi tied in the back. Another reason that the back position became more acceptable was that the sheer bulk of the wider obi became too cumbersome to be positioned in the front of the kimono.

The Meiji era, (1868-1912) witnessed a revolution in the textile industry with the advent of electric weaving looms and chemical dying techniques from the West. During this time, a woman's kimono ceased to be worn in the free-flowing style of the earlier days. The new fashion was to tuck the kimono at the waist to adjust the length of the kimono to the woman's height. These tucks and folds were visible and became part of the art of tying the obi.


Old meets new as a young girl texts a friend, her kimono's elaborate fu'kuro obi clearly displayed

The Japanese kimono obi (帯) is a traditional decorative cloth worn around the middle of a kimono.

In general, the obi used depends on the type of kimono worn in any given occasion. Most formal are the metallic or color brocade and tapestry, followed by dyed silk, woven silk, and non-silk obi fabrics. Brocade, tapestry and dyed silk obi are used for formal wear with the finest kimono, while obi made from raw silk, cotton or wool is used for everyday wear.

Maru Obi

The maru obi is the most formal obi, with both sides fully patterned along its length. The classic maru obi measures 33 cm wide. Maru obi with narrower width can be custom made for a petite client.

The maru obi is usually made of elaborately patterned brocade or tapestry, which is often richly decorated with gold threads. It was most popular during the Meiji and Taisho eras. However, due to its exorbitant cost and weight (which makes it uncomfortable to wear), the maru obi is rarely worn today, except for traditional Japanese weddings and other very formal occasions.

Fu'kuro Obi

The f'ukuro obi is a slightly less formal style than the maru obi and was created in the late 1920s. The fu'kuro obi is also made with a fine brocade or tapestry, which is patterned along only 60% of its length on one side. The back of the f'ukuro obi may be lined with a plain silk or brocade, making it less expensive and less bulky to wear than the maru obi. However, as its length and width are the same as for the maru obi, the f'ukuro obi can hardly be distinguished from maru obi when tied over the kimono and can thus be worn on formal occasions.

Nagoya Obi

The most convenient obi today is the nagoya obi, which was first produced in Nagoya towards the end of the Taisho era (1912 - 1926). This obi, is both lighter and simpler than the fu'kuro or maru obi and is characterised by having a section of the obi pre-folded and then stitched in half. The narrow part then wraps around the waist, whilst the wider part forms the bow of the obi tie. When worn, a nagoya obi is tied with a single fold, while a maru or a f'ukuro obi, being longer, is tied with a double fold. Most nagoya obi are less expensive a maru or f'ukuro obi, but can still carry striking designs.

Hanhaba Obi

The hanhaba obi obtains its name from the fact that it is only half the width of other obi. This is an obi for casual wear at home, or under a haori (kimono coat). It is also worn with children's kimono or with the lighter summer yukata. In the case of children's obi, they are often brightly colored, with patterns stencilled on, rather than embroidery.

The fabric and design of the hanhaba obi are usually simpler, as it is meant for daily, common usage. However, some of the more ornate hanhaba obi are made from old maru obi.

Other Obi

There are also plain black obi, made from the finest silk and woven with a barely discernible pattern. These sombre, plain black obi are worn as part of the mourning attire.

In a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony, a bride will wear a white obi. However, during the Edo era, a widow would dress in white to signify that she would never remarry. Thus, some of the older white obi in existence, may not have been used for weddings, but rather as mourning attire.

See also