Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tips for Kimono Newbies: Don't Go Out In Your Underwear

When I first started getting interested in kimono many moons ago, I knew very little about the topic. I cherished what I realize now was a tacky Chinese blue satin bathrobe as much as I did the authentic red wedding kimono I still have today.

The newbie phase happens to just about everyone in just about everything, and is nothing to be ashamed of. It gives you fun stories to tell later on! (Ask me sometime about my Crow Halloween costume as a Goth in the late '90s... ehehehe...)

That said, I'd like to offer some ongoing tips to the new folks out there in the kimono world, whether you're interested in wearing them normally or want the details at least in the right ballpark for a cosplay or costume.

This mini-series won't be about The Rules and How We Must Never Break Them, which is silly (I love seeing fun and funky modern takes on kimono), but rather the really, really big details newbies tend to miss without realizing it.

So let's get today's entry started with a pop quiz... what is the difference between these two women's kimono below?



Answer: The one on top is a komon (casual kimono marked by its fine, repeating pattern: usually worn with a half-width hanhaba obi or wider Nagoya obi).

The one on bottom is a woman's juban 襦袢. Juban are underwear worn under the top layer of kimono and are never, ever worn as the outer layer of an outfit. Now the title of this post makes more sense, right? ;) Here are a few more:







Occasionally you'll see sellers on and offline selling juban as kimono, which is technically correct because they are kimono, but they are underkimono. That's why they're often much cheaper than other kimono sold by the same Ebay seller, etc.

How can you spot juban? The most obvious way is to check the collar. Most juban have a white collar that is different from the kimono itself, because when worn under a kimono, the white of the underkimono juban will peek out at the collar. A few don't, but overall the collar check is a good way to weed out most juban and get to real kimono.

Another way is to look at the color and material: juban are most frequently plain white or variations of plain and patterned pink, orange, or other soft pastel colors, with the odd one occasionally red.

One final hint is their price: assuming the seller is not trying to pass it off as a normal kimono, just about all juban will be cheaper than the kimono around them.

Newbies often mistake juban for outerwear, and understandably so, due to the fact they are 100% kimono-shaped and made out of the correct fabrics. Misinformation from various sources (Halloween costumes, fantasy art, misidentifying Chinese outfits) can also lead one to believe the collar of an (outer) kimono should be in a contrasting fabric.

However, this is not true (the only exception I can think of off the top of my head is the black collar worn by geisha and fashionable women back in the 1800s, I believe it was: they sewed a piece of black velvet on their collars for an exotic touch). The collar of a kimono is cut from the same bolt of fabric as the rest of it, and so will always be the same color and pattern.

To wrap all this up, if you have a juban and have worn it out, don't feel bad! It's a common mistake, and at least you now have the first building block for a more authentic kimono outfit if you choose to make one. My blue satin bathrobe served no such purpose... ;)

Images copyright Ichiroya and used with permission.

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