Bebe Taian: Getting A Stylish Look, pt. 1

April 25, 2017

Getting A Stylish Look, pt. 1

It is no secret that geisha are the premiere wearers of kimono, and have access to luxury designers for every aspect of wearing, from collars that can reach over $1000USD in cost, to kimono which can fetch $40,000 easily. Even for informal, day-to-day running between classes, geiko in Kyoto must exude a luxury image to maintain their status. Therefore, a geisha should always be stylish as well.

Of course, the average person has no such luxury. Who of us have even $50 (considered cheap) to drop on a single piece of plain chirimen, a few feet long and all of 8" wide? Not many.

To clarify, we use the word 'kimono' today to mean the classic traditional Japanese garment. But actually, 'kimono' just means 'things to wear'. The outer garment with rectangular sleeves is called a 'kosode'. The distinction is necessary because different social classes wore different items depending on their jobs. Obviously, a farming girl will not be wearing the same clothing as a dancer or teahouse worker. A merchant will not wear the same clothing as a hunter or samurai. 'Average' women wore 'working clothes', rough cottons or hemps, or monpei- like pants and a shirt. Kosode were not for everyone only a short time ago, historically-speaking. Only at the turn of the 20th Century were we seeing a reduction in difference between classes, a major social upheaval that lasted well into the 50's when Western dress truly became the norm and use of traditional clothing fell out of favour.

Back to kimono:

How do we imitate the look while wearing kimono that is made for today's activities? By this, I mean that in the upper classes, kimono were once longer and trailed behind a person, making it easier to walk indoors. These were then tied up at the waist with shigoki obi. Today, they are shorter, and are tied automatically at the waist (ohashori). Only hikizuri trail behind a person, kimono reserved for dancers, actors, and other professionals. We must not only work with everyday kimono, but also on a budget that we can afford, which means most often buying secondhand and taking what we can get instead of having each kimono custom-tailoured to us.

But there is more! Rules of wearing are not always easily discerned outside of Japan, and there are four major seasons to follow, with 72 mini-seasons to think about timing for, plus many types of fabrics with their own seasonal meanings, etc. Seasons where you can wear lined kimono, but unlined juban; or situations where you can wear silk, but not hemp. Nana-no-ha for this week- next week, a butterfly is most appropriate. Does your look blend in with the season, enhancing the image? Or attempt to compete with the beauty of nature, and lose because of it?

With time and experience, these rules become easy to follow and you will know them by heart.

In the meantime, I can't even pretend to know every pointer, season, flower, etc. etc., nor do the vast majority of women have nearly the grandiose collection necessary to cover this entire spectrum. Not even geisha often have this many kimono!

In this short series, I can give pointers on how to achieve a good outfit, following what has been established as iki by kenban (geisha houses). Until you gain confidence in your own ideas, it is good to learn a solid base of what is/isn't worn together.

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