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The History of the Kimono

The word Kimono simply means clothes, and was once widely worn throughout Japan. Despite

the kimono being saved for special occasions now, it is still an iconic contribution to the world of fashion.

In the 5th century, Japanese dress was heavily influenced by traditional Han Chinese clothing and by the 8th century Chinese fashion began to influence Japanese style even more with the overlapping collar and, in 718, the Japanese ordered robes to be wrapped left side over right in keeping with the Chinese.

It wasn’t until the Heian period (794-1192) that the kimono really began to take shape, although an apron style skirt known as a mo was worn over it. The kimono of the Heian period was one of elaborate layers, and became a popular fashion among the Japanese women and aristocracy who were known to have worn up to twenty kimono layers weighing eight kilograms. Each layer was a different colour to contrast one another at the sleeves and hem where they were all visible.

By the Kamakura period (1185-1333) a sense of practicality was installed with the introduction of the kosode, a small sleeve, influenced heavily by the rising military where people simply couldn’t work with such elaborate kimono designs as seen previously.

The Muromachi period (1392-1573) saw the abandonment of the hakama trousers, which were traditionally worn underneath kimonos, and the arrival of the obi belt in its place.

Since the Edo period (1603-1867) the kimono has remained virtually unchanged. The sleeves grew in length, particularly among unmarried women, the obi belts widened and experimentation of tying the belts in various styles came into practice. In the 1650’s the sleeve openings also became wider. The kimono a Japanese person wore, placed them within their status in society, and the patterns and fabrics also reflected the wearer. The increase of the obi’s importance meant that kimono designers often had separate designs on the top half of the garment to the bottom half. The most artistic kimonos were made during this period, probably due to an increase in experimentation with decoration and fabrics. In 1853 when the American navy arrived in Tokyo, Japan opened its doors to the western world and over the next 100years, the wearing of the kimono began to decline as western clothes were introduced and adopted particularly among the men.

In the Meiji period (1868-1912) women began working outdoors and the kimono wasn’t practical enough for hard labour, contributing to its decline.

Silk production was decreased during the Showa period (1926-1989) as the Japanese government taxed it in order to support their military. As a result, the kimono designs included fewer colours and were less complicated in order to save on silk. After World War 2 however, the kimono began to be mass produced and were more affordable as Japan’s economy was recovering. The western world had still made an impact on the kimono patterns but the shape remained the same. People began to either choose to wear western clothes and thus show their allegiance and equality with the west or wear the kimono as a protest against their influence.

Posted On: 07/02/2011

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