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Kimono Coordination

September 6, 2009

Get a cup of coffee and hunker down! This is going to be a doozy! I’m going to be giving you some tips on coordinating kimono, obi, and other accessories.

Are this obi and kimono a well-suited match?  It’s ok if you don’t know.  This guide will help you answer this question on your own.

There are so many things to take into consideration when coordinating kimono that things can get a little bit intimidating.  Factors to be considered are kimono/obi type, color, season, material, print/pattern, age, and how formal items are.  There are more, of course, but I’m sure you’re beginning to see how complicated this all is.

First, I’ll start with kimono/obi type, because this can help you immensely in coordinating an ensemble.  As was discussed in my previous post, Kitsuke Vocabulary, there are many types of women’s kimono, and several types of obi.  This article will be, by no means, all-inclusive, but it will discuss the most common of these items.

The least formal kimono is the yukata.  It is to be worn with hanhaba obi, sometimes called han obi.  Basically, it’s an obi that’s half the width of most other obi.  Maiko and geiko can wear nagoya obi with yukata, but the general public can’t get away with it.

Here’s DQ and me in yukata with hanhaba obi on Day 1 of AX. Like my bowler hat? lol

Next we have the komon kimono.  Komon have a small, repeating pattern on them, and can be quite casual.  Usually, they are worn with nagoya obi, but can also be worn with nice hanhaba obi.

Here’s a hanhaba obi (bottom) and a nagoya obi (top).

Now, this is where things get a little confusing.  Nagoya obi can also be worn with  houmongi, iromuji, or tomesode.  How formal an obi is will determine whether or not it is appropriate for these kimono.  I will discuss how to determine if an item is formal or not later in this article.

There is yet another obi type out there, called the fukuro obi, which can be worn with furisode, tomesode, iromuji, houmongi, or komon, depending on how formal the kimono is.  Fukuro obi are considered pretty fancy, they  are never seen in casual settings.

This is a fukuro obi. It’s patterned on only about 60% of its surface and it’s smaller than a maru obi.

It’s my favorite obi. Sugoi! Sadly, I don’t have a kimono that matches it well lol.

Finally, we have the maru obi, which is the most formal obi most women will ever wear.  The maru obi is only worn with houmongi, tomesode, or furisode. It has the largest dimensions of the obi mentioned thus far, and is usually patterned fully. It can be patterned on both sides, or just one.

Here’s one of my maru obi.

Now that we know which obi go with which kimono, we can start to look at how to create a well-matched ensemble.  One of the most obvious elements of matching is color.  First, you must decide which kind of ensemble you’re going for.  Do you want a youthful look?  Go for something colorful.  Do you want to look mature?  Go for muted tones.  But, wearing a colorful outfit doesn’t mean you need to look like clown vomit; by the same token, looking mature doesn’t mean you have to dress in drab grays or browns.  The trick is picking appropriate colors which look good together.

Some people have a good sense of which colors look good together, others don’t.  Fortunately, we have some tools at our disposal to determine whether or not certain colors will look “harmonious” together.  The color wheel and basic color theory are probably the best weapons in your arsenal.

In the following pictures, you can see I’ve divided the color wheel into the three basic color groups.

By looking at the color wheel, we can determine the relationship between colors.  Some of these relationships  are analogous, complimentary, or triadic.

Analogous colors are next to one another on the color wheel; they create calm combinations that please the eye.

Colors that are across from one another are complimentary; these are vibrant combos that really pop, but if not balanced well, they can be overwhelming.

Last we have triadic color combinations; these schemes basically use colors that are spaced evenly throughout the color wheel.

For a look at traditional Japanese color combinations, take a glimpse at this site:  Layer color. Further study of colors and their relationships and traditions will put you on the path to bulletproof kitsuke.

Season is a major influence in kimono coordination. Winter, spring, summer and fall.  Seems simple enough, right?  WRONG!!  There are purportedly 72 seasons of kimono.  There are motifs which can be worn only at specific times of the year, some of them only during a particular part of a certain month.  Flowers are worn in their blooming seasons. There is a right and a wrong time to wear certain fabrics. Some colors are best worn at particular times of the year. Learning to identify the motifs on your kimono and obi will be greatly helpful to you in coordinating your ensembles.

Here are some basic guidelines for what belongs in which season.

Plum, bamboo and pine (especially together)
anything with snow on it
trees without leaves
rinzu (shiny damask silk)
padded kimono

Here’s an example of a bamboo motif.

Sakura (Japanese cherry blossom)
Budding bamboo

Green grass
summer flowers such as roses
hitoe kimono (unlined kimono)

Fall/ Autumn:
dried grass
brown wheat
falling leaves

Sometimes you’ll come across an item that has motifs from several or all of the seasons. Guess what that means? You’ve just found a very versatile item which can be worn during each of the seasons represented on the item. Buy it. BUY IT!!!

Here’s a furisode with motifs from several seasons.  To name a few, we have ume (winter), new bamboo (spring), roses (summer), and red maple leaves (autumn).  I can wear this all year if I wish!

Now for a word on print and pattern. Print and pattern belong more in the category of seasons, but I feel the need to mention something here. Some patterns and prints just don’t go together, no matter if the colors are analogous,  if the seasons match, or if they’re both covered in metallic embroidery. Some things just don’t work together. Think of that old song from back in the day: “Polka dots, checks and stripes. Yipes!”

If you have a super busy kimono, pairing it with an equally busy obi may not be such a good idea. But, this is where personal tastes come in. This picture illustrates this well. Orange and blue look great together, but the kimono has tons of little, detailed images on it. The obi is covered in a repeating pattern with bright colors. Your eye has no idea where to settle first, and the contrast in the colors is liek WHOA!

My retinas!

Next, we’ll discuss age. A woman’s age is a very important thing when she’s wearing kimono. First, it will dictate the cut and style of kimono she can wear (for example, married women and women older than early twenties normally don’t wear furisode). Second, age will determine the colors of a woman’s kimono. Usually, the more colorful a kimono and the rounder the sleeves are, the younger the wearer is. Generally, this concept applies throughout all types of kimono. Younger women will wear brighter yukata, bolder komon, and more colorful houmongi. Older women can wear beautiful kimono, they just normally will be more demure in their color schemes. Older women wearing kimono are mature, they’re glamorous, they can wear tomesode with beautiful brocade maru obi and look fabulous!

Here’s my mom modeling a ro tomesode with a maru obi. Très chic!

Last, but not least, is determining if the item is formal or casual. As discussed previously, each type of kimono and obi has its own place and time to be worn. So, how can we tell how formal a kimono or obi is?

Well, first, there’s the material. Silk is more formal than wool, hemp or cotton. Certain types of silk are more formal than others (usually determined by the softness of touch). Dyeing techniques are also an indicator of how formal a kimono or obi is, generally the more labor intensive the dyeing technique is, the more formal the item. For example, the repeating dye patterns of komon are less formal than yuzen (free hand dyeing technique) on houmongi or furisode. Embroidery (nui), especially in gold or silver, and metallic leaf (surihaku) make an item formal as well.

Here is a wool kimono (woven) next to a silk bride’s furisode.  Notice the yuzen, nui and surihaku on the bride’s furisode.  I think it’s obvious which is more formal. ^^

Essentially, we want to be certain that our items are equally (in)formal. It would look super weird to wear a furisode with a han obi, just like a yukata with a maru obi would look weird. If items share formal elements, then they can most likely be worn together.

Take a look at this obi. Can you determine whether it’s formal or informal?

How was that?  I hope I was able to give you some useful information.  Again, feel free to leave comments or emails if you have any questions, or if I missed anything.  I look forward to hearing from you!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2009 4:47 am

    Wow! So much info! It’s a great post, and I am sure it will help a lot of people. I might even try this kimono business out. 🙂

  2. malcontentcontent permalink*
    September 6, 2009 6:38 pm

    Thank you. You should try kimono. It’s so AWESOME!!!!!!^^

  3. ohiokimono permalink
    October 3, 2009 2:29 pm

    Awesome post 😀 – I really love how you use the color wheel to bring everything together.

    • kawaiiiclare permalink*
      October 6, 2009 11:12 pm

      Aw, thanks. We love to hear positive things from our readers! I’m glad you liked the little tutorial on the color wheel. 😀

  4. January 4, 2011 4:05 am

    Very Nice!
    My obaasan once allowed me to wear a furisdoe to Obon, and I was so excited!

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