The Beginning of Kimono

In the ancient times, Japanese people wore a very simple tubular cloth with small sleeves. As time passed, the shape of their clothes began to change.

During the Nara period to the Heian period, wide sleeved kimonos known as Karaginu were worn by aristocrats. They wore short, a small sleeved top underneath the outer kimono which was the prototype of the Kimono.

Today, the different lengths and sizes of the sleeves influence the types and design of the Kimono.

History of Kimono

Yayoi period – Japanese Pre History (300BC – 700AD)

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Before the Yayoi period, people used to wear a tubular dress with holes to put their arms through, like a sack dress.

By the time of the Yayoi period, people mainly wore a top and a bottom. Men wore trousers and women wore long skirts and both wore a round-neck wrap top.

During the Asuka and the Nara periods when relations with China and Korea flourished, we saw styles which were influence by the Chinese and Korean such as the style similar to a china dress. However, by the end of the Nara period, the sleeves became long and wide and a style distinct to Japan began to take shape.

Heian period (794 – 1185)

During the Heian period 794-1185,
the custom of elaborate layers of coloured kimono robes became popular with Japanese women. It is thought that they layered the kimono to avoid the cold. They used the straight line cut which enabled the layering of kimono because the material would not become too bulky when worn layered.

Even now, a member of Imperial family may wear Junihitoe (twelve unlined robes worn layered with the sleeve edges and collars showing the shades of each kimono) and the colour combination represents the seasons and it reminds us of the sensitivity to the delicate beauty which was valued during the Heian period.

Kamakura period – Muromachi period
(1185 – 1574) (794 – 1185)

During the Kamakura period (1185-1133) with the rising influence of the military class and warriors, people had no need for elaborate kimono. Practicality prevailed and during this period, the kosode, meaning small sleeve, was introduced into the kimonos.

Kimono merchants flourished during this period and the wealthy would order the kimono from available samples. Unlike Western clothes, the shape of Kimono is not prone to change by trends, therefore, the emphasis fell on its colour and pattern design.

The sample pattern books were known as “Hinagatahon” and it was the basis of the current fashion catalogue of the kimonos. Popular designs and styles during this time were influenced by what courtesans and entertainers wore such as seen in Kabuki.

Edo Period – Modern days (1603- )

Chonin (townsman = merchants) flourished socially and economically during the Edo period. The pattern and designs of Kimonos became more elaborate and fashionable. The new ideas developed for Kimono hairstyles, material, patterns and bow styles of Obi. It is during this time the greatest artistic accomplishments were made with the kimono which can be seen in today’s styles.

During the the Meiji Period, the Western living was introduced into lives of Japanese which influenced the way people dressed. However, the kimono remained, as part of important Japanese tradition, and continues to be a symbol of luxury for special occasions.
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