It’s no secret that the kimono is one of the most iconic garments in the world. With it’s many layers, patterns, and styles the kimono has become more than just a garment – it’s been raised to the level of art. We even have a few kimono in our permanent collection. We asked our Chief Curator and Cultural Director, Tamara Joy, to give us a quick primer on the history and significance of the kimono – here’s what she had to say:
The kimono is one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese national identity. Having evolved from seventh-century Chinese court robes, the Japanese traditional dress has undergone many transformations in structure, length, shape of sleeve and type of sash. It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that the general term kimono (literally “thing to wear”) came into common usage, and the elegant wrapped-robe with the swinging sleeves and wide, tightly bound and bowed sash (obi) would become synonymous with the beauty, grace and exoticism of Japan.
Even as Western-style clothing replaced everyday wear in the mid-twentieth century, kimono continued to be favored for formal dress and celebratory occasions such as weddings and at the New Year. Now, in the twenty-first century, kimono have enjoyed a huge resurgence of admiration and study, both inside and outside Japan. Increased travel to Japan has exposed a much broader world population to traditional Japanese arts, such as tea ceremony (chanoyu), the practice of which incorporates kimono culture. With the explosion of popularity in the world of anime, manga, gaming and cosplay younger generations have been introduced to the beauty and theatrical qualities inherent in this many-layered icon of the Japanese culture.
If you’re interested in learning more, we have a couple of resources for you. First – our kimono culture demonstration coming up on December 13th (casual kimono) and January 17th (formal kimono) would be a great place to start. You’ll observe how a kimono is worn, and learn about the important differences between formal and casual kimono. We also highly recommend checking out some of the images and resources from our past exhibit Kimono: Art, Fashion & Society and feel free to stop by the museum’s Donald B. Gordon Library for more in-depth information.