A little bit of Kimono historyThe modern kimono began to take shape in the Heian period (CE 794-1192). Since then the basic shape of both men's and women's kimono has remained essentially unchanged: a T-shaped, straight-lined robe that falls to the ankles, with a collar, and sleeves that fall to the wrist. The sleeves also fall from the wrist to approximately the waist if the arms are held straight out (though some styles have extremely long sleeves (see below); the sleeves of some kimono fall almost to the floor). The robe is wrapped around the body, always with the left side over the right, and secured by a wide belt (called an obi) which is tied in the back.
Women's kimono are basically one size, and are tucked and folded to accommodate different body heights and shapes (in modern times, however, men's as well as women's kimono are increasingly available in sizes. Very tall or heavy people (such as sumo wrestlers) have to have kimono custom-made.
In the past, a kimono would often be deconstructed entirely for washing in separate pieces, and then re-sewn for wearing. Modern cleaning methods and fabrics have largely eliminated this practice. "Basting stitches," long, loose stitches, are sometimes placed around the outside edges of the kimono for storage. They help to prevent bunching, folding and wrinkling, and keep the kimono's layers in alignment.
Over time there have been many variations in color, fabric and style, as well as accessories such as the obi.
There are styles of kimono for various occasions, ranging from extremely formal to very casual. The level of formality of women's kimono is determined by the shape (mostly the length of the sleeves), pattern and fabric, and also the color. Men's kimono are usually one basic shape and are mainly worn in subdued colors. Formality is determined by the type and color of accessories, the fabric, and the number or absence of mon (family crests). Silk is the most desirable, and most formal, fabric. Cotton is more casual. These days there are polyester kimono as well; they are generally more casual.
Kimono are made from a single bolt of kimono fabric. Such bolts come in standard dimensions, and all the fabric is used in the making of the kimono. This is one reason why larger-size kimono are difficult to find and very expensive to have made.
Kimono in general are expensive. They are sewn by hand, and the fabrics from which they are created are also frequently hand made and hand decorated. A single woman's kimono can easily exceed US$10,000; a complete kimono outfit, with kimono, undergarments, obi, ties, socks, sandals and accessories, can exceed US$20,000; it is not uncommon for a single obi to cost well in the thousands of dollars. In practice, however, most kimono owned by typical kimono hobbyists or practitioners of traditional arts are far less expensive. Enterprising people can make their own kimono and undergarments fairly easily as they follow a standard pattern, or they can "recycle" older kimono. Cheaper and machine made fabrics can be substituted for the traditional hand dyed silk. There is also a thriving business in second hand kimono in Japan. Women's obi, however, remain an expensive item. Even second hand they can cost hundreds of dollars, and they are difficult for inexperienced people to make. Men's obi, even those made from silk, tend to be much cheaper. This is largely because they are much narrower and much shorter than those worn by women.
Kimono are never wasted. Old kimono are recycled in various ways: they may be altered to make haori, or kimono for children; the fabric may be used to patch similar kimono; larger parts of fabric are used for making kimono accessories such as handbags; smaller parts can be used to make covers, bags or cases for various implements, especially things like the sweet-picks used in tea ceremony. Kimono that are damaged in the lower portions can also be worn under hakama so the damage does not show.
Today, kimono are mainly worn only on special occasions, and mostly by women. Men wear kimono most often at weddings and tea ceremony. Kimono are also worn by both men and women in certain sports, such as kendo. There is a large number of kimono hobbyists in Japan, where it is possible to take classes on wearing kimono. Such classes cover skills such as selecting seasonally and event-appropriate patterns and fabrics, matching the kimono undergarments and accessories to the kimono, selecting and tying an obi, etc.
Most Japanese women would be unable to properly put on a kimono unaided, as the typical woman's outfit requires twelve or more separate pieces which must be worn, matched and secured in prescribed ways (men's kimono outfits are far simpler, typically consisting of a maximum of five pieces, not including socks and sandals). For this reason there are still professional kimono dressers who can be hired to help women wear kimono, usually for special occasions. Kimono dressers must be licensed, and while they often work out of hair salons, many make house-calls as well.
There may still be older women and, probably to a far lesser extent, men who wear kimono on a daily basis. Except when in the ring, professional sumo wrestlers are required to wear kimono whenever they appear in public.
The main distictions between modern men's kimono are in the fabric and the design. Most men's kimono are of subdued, dark colour; common colours are black, dark blues and greens, and occasionally brown. Fabrics are usually matte. Some have a subtle pattern, and textured fabrics are common in more casual kimono. More casual men's kimono may be of slightly brighter colour, such as lighter purples, greens and blues, but sumo wrestlers have occasionally been known to wear quite bright colours such as fuchsia.
The most formal style of men's kimono is plain black with five kamon on the chest, shoulders and back. Slightly less formal is the three-kamon kimono. These are usually paired with white undergarments and accessories.
Almost any kimono outfit can be made more formal by wearing hakama and haori.
For a very good report on the History of Kimono visit the links below:History of Kimono, Part 1 - Prehistory through the Asuka Period
History of Kimono, Part 2 - Nara and Heian Periods
History of Kimono, Part 3 - Kamakura through Azuchi-Momoyama Periods
History of Kimono, Part 4 - Edo Period
Nara period (710–794)
Heian period (794–1185)
Kamakura period (1185–1333)
Edo period (1603–1868)