Perhaps the item of clothing most synonymous with Japanese culture and style, the kimono has been a hallmark of Japan’s fashion industry for hundreds of years. However, the kimono style that we commonly recognize today was cultivated in the late nineteenth century and since then, has garnered much popularity abroad, being incorporated into Western fashion lines. Now, it’s easy to find a kimono with a quick search online, but how did this popular outerwear garment come to be?
Unwrapping the Origins of the Kimono
Kimonos have been worn in Japan for centuries, long before they made their appearance in Western fashion. The first known clothing items to resemble kimonos are estimated to have been made in the Heian Period of Japan, which lasted from 794-1185. At the time, kimonos were more formal, and the kosode is the basis for the kimonos we know today.
However, while a common item to own, not all kimonos were the same. For instance, in the Edo Period of Japan (1603-1868), kimonos were a class marker. This is because kimonos were worn regularly, if not daily, and were prone to wear and tear. While poorer citizens could not afford to replace their kimonos, those of the wealthier class could easily purchase replacements and kimonos of more excellent fabrics, such as silk. As a result, social statuses were showcased through the kimonos worn by different citizens.
However, as the late-nineteenth-century progressed and Japan began to open its borders to more trade with European nations, Western interest in the kimono grew and reshaped the garment’s purpose. Now, Japanese designers have begun to market kimonos for Western buyers. Some changes included adding additional fabric panels and an easy-to-tie sash of the same fabric so that kimonos could be worn as simple petticoats and robes. While not the traditional form of kimono created in Japan, this style of kimono became incredibly popular all across the globe and continued to be innovated into the form of Western kimonos we see in fashion today.
Kimonos in Western Fashion
Since their introduction into Western fashion, kimonos have become a vastly popular outerwear garment in Europe and the Americas. As kimonos garnered prevalence in the Western world, new patterns and fabrics became incorporated into the garment’s design. These kimonos are characterized by bright colors and intricate patterns that catch the eye. In America, kimonos have become far less formal clothing and more casual outerwear. Today, Western nations often wear kimonos as light coverups akin to cardigans or robes for home or at the beach. While vastly different from the kimonos of the Heian and Edo periods, they carry on the garment’s tradition.
Western high fashion designers have also taken a great interest in the kimono. For instance, in 2003, Alexander McQueen incorporated kimono elements to create a structured kimono-style jacket, which became wildly popular. Kimono styles are prevalent throughout McQueen’s work, with many of his pieces featuring long, layered fabric sleeves, intricate Eastern-style patterns, and cinched waist wraps.
Kimonos are an everyday fashion staple among popular Western musicians. Freddie Mercury of Queen was known to wear kimonos onstage in the 1970s. David Bowie incorporated kimono robe pieces into the Ziggy Stardust era. Bj ⁇ rk famously wore a traditional style kimono garment on the cover of her 1997 album Homogenic. Considering these examples, it’s hard to refute the kimono’s popularity in Western fashion.
Kimonos for Everyday Wear
As kimonos have become more Westernized, they’ve also become a more casual garment. Now, it’s easy to search online and find a beautifully patterned silk robe to toss on over your outfit – a far cry from the kimonos of the Edo era! Today, many people enjoy kimonos as outerwear and loungewear, uniquely incorporating them into their style. Kimonos seen in Western fashion outlets today tend to be of various lengths; some are short, about the length of a typical cardigan, while others can flow to the floor in a more traditional style. Fabric types of kimonos also vary from the traditional silk to velvet, to even lace.
The popularity of kimonos today is an enduring testament to the influence that Japanese culture has had worldwide. Though the way kimonos are made and worn have changed, they continue to be incredibly stylish and comfortable garment. With a vast array of fabrics, patterns, and styles to choose from, adding a kimono to your wardrobe is a great way to try a new outerwear style and celebrate Japanese culture and fashion.