Bebe Taian: Kimono: A Whole-Picture Process

December 11, 2010

Kimono: A Whole-Picture Process

What the heck do I mean by that? "A whole-picture process"?

I mean that if you're running around in kimono, chances are it isn't just for the heck of it. You probably don't put on kimono just to sit in your house and scrub floors all day. And people in kimono are conspicuous- let's face it, people will think we're dressed up to really go somewhere, even if were just wearing cotton or wool! Therefore, I think that when seen in kimono, you have to really have yourself together. Just like you probably wouldn't wear a cute prom dress with no makeup and boots, you probably wouldn't wear a formal tomesode and then have styrofoam flip-flops and not even a trace of lipgloss. If you go for a look, go for the whole picture!

I'm not even going to try to get into coordination of kimono themselves today. I could dedicate entire books to that process! Today, I want to talk about the little things that you need to think about once you've already decided on an outfit- hair, makeup, and handbags.

Hair and Hairpins: 

Most girls wear their hair up when wearing kimono. It has been done this way for centuries. Even if it's just a ponytail, pigtails, or a cute side-braid with some tiny flower pins in it. Entire hairstyle books devoted to "kimono hairstyles" are published every month in Japan! Furisode-appropriate styles are a major selling point for these publications because it is usually the only kimono a girl will ever wear, unless she one day decides to don kimono for a festival or a funeral. Usually these styles "fit" with the theme of the kimono. If the kimono is traditional and elegant, maybe even very formal, an elegant hairstyle (perhaps a French Twist) will be adopted and hairpins selected. The older you get, the fewer you will wear.

- Ofurisode Styles:

These tend to be somewhat flexible. ofurisode (the most formal furisode type, with ankle-length sleeves) are always "formal", but styles range from flirty, casual-feeling, and fun to dark, elegant, traditional, and decadent. There are cute stripe-and-flower patterned pink ofurisode and there are old-style black ofurisode that could perhaps have the sleeves cut to be made into kurotomesode after the wearer is married. There are 'gothic'-style ofurisode, 'kawaii' hearts and roses ofurisode, Disney Princess ofurisode... any kind you can think of! Hair is always worn up with ofurisode, but style is up to the wearer based on the theme of the kimono.

For example, if wearing a Disney Princess furisode, you'll probably want Cinderella or Belle-style hair with a tiny sparkly Swarovski tiara. If you are wearing a 'gothic' style ofurisode, maybe high-up bun/pigtails with the ends hairsprayed into something visual-kei reminiscent, sprayed with an unnatural colour at the tips (the kind that washes out of course- most of these girls will go to school or work the next day!) and some black beads or tulle arranged in it. Are you going for cute and flirty? Try a pixie-style short hair cut with little pom-pom pins in tiny twists or waves in your hair! Ofurisode are over-the-top, colourful exhibits of flair and style. Enjoy them while you can wear them, for their usability is short-lived!

- Tomesode Styles:

These are somewhat less flexible than other styles because normally, tomesode-wearers are older or are married. In Japan, if you are married or over 25 years old, you stop wearing ofurisode. With this change, you are expected to have more sophisticated, demure taste. High-swept buns or twists are the norm. Real differentiation occurs with hair accessories only. For old-style taste, antique brass or shell hairpins may be used. For contemporary wearers, plastic or glass pearl combs or pins, plastic tortoiseshell accessories, or maybe tiny silk flowers can be seen. Any flair a person shows will likely be inconspicuous- a higher-end handbag, real pearl hairpins or obidome, a kimono that everyone knows is handmade Nishijin silk just by looking at it. The key here is to be iki- 'cool', but not overdone.

- Houmongi, Tsukesage, or Iromuji Styles:

Houmongi are for married women to replace furisode in some capacity. The colours are more subdued, the sleeves are short, and the pattern is relegated to the hem and sleeve. They may be worn to weddings of friends or other family members (if you are not the mother of the bride), to some tea ceremonies, etc. Therefore, formality level can be dressed slightly up or down. If going to a wedding, think 'tomesode rules'. If going to a tea ceremony, you may not have to be SO formal, but you do not want to be informal either- no braids here, unless they are tastefully pinned up into a pretty bun.

Tsukesage are the next down in rank. They can be worn by married and unmarried women to formal or semi-informal events- lunches with friends, going to a park, whatever. Formality here is determined by crests, company, and location. You can afford to be a little less traditional with accessories here! Personal taste is something you learn to acquire, and takes practice. If there is a more formal hairstyle that you know isn't too much when wearing a tsukesage, and you really look good in it, use it! If there is a slightly less formal hairstyle that works with where you're going and you have the cutest acrylic pale blue and crystal hairpin you want to wear, do it. Take notes from furisode books, since they have such a wide range of styles based on 'look' of the furisode, regardless of actual formality level.

Iromuji are also flexible in rank and may be worn by anyone. They may have no crest or three crests. Like with the tsukesage, use your best judgment! Are you going to sado (tea) practice, or to a park? Then decide!

- Komon, Yukata Styles:

Very informal clothing means that you don't have to think so much about what is appropriate and what isn't. Remember Takehisa Yumeji and his Taisho-era fashion plates? Shoulder-length hair flipped up at the ends, maybe with a cute clip on one side, braids, pigtails, anything is really acceptable. Yukata are not really worn out of the house in most places, except for at festivals like Obon, but they may be sometimes fashionable in Tokyo for outerwear if a juban is underneath! In Tokyo, yukata (literally, bathrobes) are being dressed up with strings of fake pearls, use of two obi or two-toned obi, mesh fabric for cute bows instead of an obiage, really the possibilities here are endless, as are possibilities for hairstyle.


Makeup is usually a must, unless you're going out in komon or yukata. Even then, most girls seem to be choosing to wear just a little makeup to even out skin tone or hide blemishes. Lipgloss alone is a minimum! Remember that with kimono, the kimono is as much a part of the show as the wearer. You do not want to be overdone and overshadow the kimono, but you also don't want the outfit to be the only thing in the spotlight!

With furisode, a natural face with a very light hint of visible makeup seems to be favoured. Foundation and concealer to even out the skin paired with a tinted gloss or vibrant lipstick and eyeshadow that matches the kimono is what appears in magazines frequently. If it is a dark kimono, more bold lipstick paired with often-pastel or metallic wet-look eyeshadows and eyeliner are seen. If it is a pale kimono, slightly more vibrant eyeshadow that pairs well with the outfit and more subdued lipcolour is used. Think a bright pink gloss vs. bright pink solid lipcolour. The gloss provides colour and depth without being overwhelming.

Tomesode have slightly less room, depending on whether it is an irotomesode or kurotomesode. With irotomesode, you may be able to get away with furisode rules. With kurotomesode, the most natural look is preferred. Foundation and concealer with perhaps a paler colourful lipgloss that isn't too bold or vibrant can be worn. Eyeshadow should be inconspicuous- no bright blues or pinks here! A very close to skin-tone colour such as pale gold or a very slight shimmer might be worn.

Any other outfit really depends on formality. You must decide if your houmongi, tsukesage, or iromuji is formal or more informal, and how much leeway you have with it. With komon, you can pretty much just match your event with your outfit and figure out if you even want to bother with makeup. Yukata, the same. Some people dress it up as previously stated, complete with the circle eyes lenses, false lashes, and big, bright colours on their faces, and some just wear eyeliner and lipgloss.

My personal recommendations for makeup include Shiro Cosmetics, a brand that formulates their own brands' cosmetics, list all ingredients that they contain, and doesn't not use bismuth oxychloride. [EDIT: I also liked Orglamix, until I found out that she outright lied about the origin of her makeup and materials, and had run several other shops that did the same! The true origin of her foundation that I purchased at gross markup is from Smile Jars, where I can get 12 jars for what Orglamix charged for 2 or 3.]

I was skeptical about coverage and adherence when I first tried mineral makeups, especially after major brands like BareMinerals and idMinerals broke my skin out and brands like Estee Lauder and Lancome (as well as anything drugstore-bought) either made my skin itch or become hideously oily. I've used the tiniest, and I mean TINIEST, amount of powder foundation, and the red on my face has disappeared completely, no corrector needed. It's been hours, and I've had no issues with this makeup. Shiro Cosmetics makes over 80 shades of awesome eyeshadows as well- so far, I've used about ten different colours. Midna (a grey tone with blue glitter) and Veran (a dark blue-purple with pink and teal glitter) are my favourites! They can be applied faintly or heavily for varying amounts of drama and flair. The best part is? I paid barely anything for them. They compete with Wal-mart prices, and each set arrived within a week of purchase.


Handbags are another look at formality! Would you wear a designer handbag with a yukata? Probably not. Might you wear it with a kimono between a furisode and a tsukesage? Likely! With yukata and komon, bottom of the formality range, maybe a lower-end kinchaku or even a well-tied furoshiki would be appropriate for carrying around. Remember that if you are wearing an obi-ita beneath the obi, it has a pocket for money and credit cards in case you worry about most valuable things being lost. In the middle? Try a bamboo or basket-bottomed kinchaku? Or a cute fabric purse- it could be from anywhere. Just make sure it goes with your outfit! Kimono handbags are usually small and able to be held on the wrists or in the hands, like clutch purses. They are not the huge hobo bags so fashionable (and so bad for your shoulders) in stores today. Make sure your bag is proportional. It is an accessory, not a main outfit.

Hopefully this guide helps you in your quest of putting together only the best outfits when going out! Remember: dressing in kimono is a whole-picture process. Once upon a time, when more people wore them, maybe not so much. These days, everyone is looking at the exotic girl in the "geisha outfit". Make sure you look great!

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