Bebe Taian: May 2017

May 27, 2017

Getting a Stylish Look, pt. 3

Oda, 1920s - Beauty
Resting, Summer Evening
Whether a person is more or less experienced, you can always remember that fashionable women in the 'water business' were always considered stylish and sexy, whereas a 'proper wife' was demure, almost asexual. Whether you look to modern geisha or to ukiyo-e, you can get a historical sense of what kinds of style has lasted the test of time, and therefore is 'classic'- like the ever-present Western "little black dress".

I prefer the older styles, but it is important to recognise what is modern and what belonged in Edo period so that what I wear is appropriate to the modern era and does not look like an odd costume. For example, obijime did not exist until the mid-1800s, so copying exactly how something from before then looked today would appear strange or only partially done. Black silk contrasting collars were more frequent many years ago when clothing was washed much less often, so they can still be appropriate with certain outfits (such as machiko, "town girls"), but for the most part, you do not see these now. Wearing tabi is a matter of style; sex workers would sometimes not wear tabi, either because they are so lowly that it isn't worth the fabric expense, or because they are so high-ranking that a few toes peeking out of volumes of fabric, a sign of extreme wealth, was considered highly erotic. But for "normal women", generally, tabi should be worn except with geta. Geta are summer shoes, so it's often too hot to wear tabi. Today, many people choose lace tabi to prevent blisters from their shoes in the heat and humidity, so that gives more options that did not exist historically.

Hakuhou, 1930s -
Summer Clothing
Figuring out what works for you is a matter of experience. Figuring out what components keep cropping up in popular fashion takes work and can help provide experience. Figuring out what is routinely expected according to modern-day rules takes effort.

Sometimes, I just want to wear an outfit without needing to research it like I'm writing a capstone thesis.

Planning an outfit sounds so involved and tedious when I write out my thought process. But... now that I've done it so long, it's natural to me. Sometimes I don't even notice little connections until after I have the whole outfit on... You will get there, too.

In this case, the serenity of these two early Showa ukiyo-e show so much serenity despite the early stages of rising fascism and war in Japan, and have such excellent technical details for their medium that they are amongst my favourites during summertime. Taking cues from these, pairing black summer kimono (either sha or ro) with hakata obi and invoking the blues of water is essential to the height of fashion. Note the pale blue collar in Hakuhou, or the blue geta and matching obiage/obijime combo in Oda. The splash of deep royal purple in Oda's work is a colour associated with deep cold- a refreshing nod of hope on what must have been an oppressively hot, humid day, not unlike the ones we have in Florida. Bare feet are exposed, being far too hot for tabi in this weather. Jade hairpins are the norm, putting away the warm coral pieces for the chilly Autumn season. I paid close attention here- tiny hints of red are frequent, and it was a matter of pride to expertly pair a juban with the transparent kimono, the pattern of the lower layer being sighted through the upper layer, much as in the Cult of Beauty days of the Heian era. In Hakuhou, the juban colour is matched with the obiage colour, and a tea-green obijime is paired to literally and visually tie the disparate-looking elements together for an overall image of beauty. In Oda, she dresses more conservatively, matching komono (accessories) together for a cohesive feeling of total coolness.

I have a few black and deep blue summer kimono now, and bought a hakata obi some years ago. a knot that Tokyo geisha are known for. I own a red summer obiage and a narrow green obijime already- now I only need more appropriately-coloured geta! Although with a red obiage, my red hanao are quite nice. Appropriately, my favourite black summer kimono is a Taisho antique, made just before these two paintings! But it is also exceedingly fragile, so I have to be very careful when wearing it.

White base with blue or deep blue are most popular and fetch a higher price. Today, you mostly see hakata weave in men's kaku obi, on hanhaba obi, or on dancers. I have a special love for hakata weaves; they are tight, repeating patterns which make the fabric quite strong despite it's thinness, and every pattern has a story. The one I purchased is 'komochi Yoshiwara', a chainlink pattern which symbolizes enduring relationships which cannot break. Yoshiwara is also the former pleasure district of Tokyo, and the women there relied entirely on repeat patrons for their livelihoods. Unpopular courtesans did not fare well. I keep this in mind when I tie it in yanagi-musubi,

These paintings show exactly what I should buy by example, and how to put the outfit together- and you know what? This combination still looks as fantastic today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

May 11, 2017

Getting a Stylish Look, pt. 2

To get a stylish look, you have to know some basic rules and terminologies. This is because if you do not know these rules and attempt to mix something improperly, it shows inexperience, not fashion-forwardness. In order to artfully break rules, you have to know how to properly wear kimono first!

Lining: 
- Lined kimono are awase (quilted kimono are long gone these days, but once, there were two types of awase: quilted deep winters, and lined for regular cool days). These are worn most of the year.
- Unlined kimono are hitoe. These can be a few types: 'plain' unlined with a heavier fabric, transparent sha fabric, and transparent ro fabric. These are worn in increasingly hot summer days, and outside of Japan, maybe throughout the year in tropical climates.

Formalities (Note: there are shades of formality in each category; we won't delve into that now):
- Yukata: Literally, a bathrobe. Not normally worn outside unless for festivals during hot months, but today are sometimes worn with juban to 'elevate' formality. Certain types cannot be elevated; they stay in the sauna or onsen.
- Komon: Small-patterned or all-over-patterned informal kimono. These are the jeans of kimono formality.
- Iromuji: A fallback kimono for beginners, these can have 0-3 crests. They are single-coloured and plain, making them popular for people with few to no kimono, who want to dress it 'up' or 'down' with the obi.
- Houmongi + Tsukesage: These are most easily confused, and there are many hybrids since there were once many more shades of formality. Generally, however, these have patterns at the bottom of the kimono and on the sleeves, but not the main body. Also, these are usually coloured, not black. They are the flashiest kimono a married woman can wear.
- Irotomesode: These have designs only at the bottom of the kimono, none on the sleeves, and usually have 3-5 crests. Generally, married or women older than 25 wear these to quite formal events.
- Furisode + Kurotomesode: These are the most formal kimono a person can own for 'regular use' (ie, not a dance kimono or wedding outfit). Furisode are generally for children and young women. Kurotomesode are for married women or older women.

Obi (These also come in lined and unlined!):
- Hanhaba: Half-width, usually only 6" wide, and thin. Today these are usually synthetic, or more expensive wool or cotton. These are the least formal and can only be paired with yukata and lower-end komon.
- Nagoya: Invented in the 1940s, these are also informal, although vintage ones exist which were made from maru obi since they use only around 1/4 of the fabric necessary. Wear them with komon and crestless kimono. If they have metallic threads, a single crest kimono might be appropriate.
- Fukuro: Appropriate for more formal kimono and many furisode. Fukuro that are less patterned or without metallic threads may be able to 'downgrade' to komon status.
- Maru: Appropriate for kurotomesode, wedding outfits, and furisode. These are much harder to find these days, so most people only have fukuro obi.


There are, of course, more shades and formalities than this, like komon made of luxury shiny silk which should be paired with fukuro obi, and komon-tsukesage kimono, or other interesting mixes. You can figure these out when you've got a better footing. These are the basics. The accessories change throughout the year as well, but take your time and choose those based on the 'big things' you have: kimono and obi.

In this case, I'll show you one example:

This is a komon made of very shiny, upscale silk, paired with a silk Nagoya obi which has metallic threads. In daylight it is a warmer green, mint in colour with fewer blue tones, but the indoor light brings out the metallic gold in the brocade obi.

The weave of the komon is in a pattern much like coral, with pampass grass, ohagi (another type of grass), and small orange flowers that look like daisies, which mimic the shape of chrysanthemums. The obi is white and orange, as the patterns of the kimono are, with gold threads to imitate the tans and golds of the grass patterns. You can see that the exact flowers do not have to match; they just have to be in season, and compliment each other. Of course, my juban is also silk, woven and dyed with chrysanthemums in such a small pattern that the overall affect appears as pale pink mist. The obijime cord is flat, white, and woven with golden squares to imitate the obi pattern. Obiage is partially shibori, to pull in line the higher formality of the komon and the Nagoya obi, with patterns of rivers.

It was an outfit inspired by timing while shopping online for new pieces, and by a love for geisha-watching. Here, you can see that Umechika of Kamishichiken (Kyoto) is wearing a white obiage, black obi, and green kimono are paired for the late Summer (June 23, 2016), with a touch of purple, a colour that hints at deep cold, precious in the humid days of end of summer. (Original image source here.) The pattern on her obi is the same pattern that is woven into the fabric of my kosode!

Of course, normal wearers do not wear trailing hikizuri kimono, so we do not have certain garments like the red under-obi peeking out of geisha's clothing constantly, nor do we usually wear shigoki-obi, a kind of long scarf under the obi, to help tie up the long hem of the kimono while we walk. That is the purple cord you see under her sleeve. The ohashori (waist tie) of a regular kosode should be what ties up the hem to your ankles. Shigoki are sometimes still worn for fashionable effect, as I did with this outfit, but that is strictly optional and can look more childish.

When pairing kimono to imitate geisha, try to work with a 'theme': a feeling of coolness, repeating little patterns so that it isn't so obvious at first (such as the squares on the obi and the obijime), and try to keep in line with season. This can take a LOT of time and money. Many kimono are multi-season, so if you are just starting or are on a budget, YES, buy the multi-season kimono! Then you may only have to change accessories to demonstrate which one you are emphasizing. Look closely at the patterns on her outfit. If you can see group photos, look at what everyone is wearing to get an idea of palette or flowers in season. You can keep a small notebook of date the photo was taken and who is wearing what, to get better grip on the seasonal calendar.

Try to keep lined items with lined, gauze items with gauze or open-weave pieces. Most people do not even bother with hitoe items anymore if they are transparent because 'mistakes' in dressing are more prone to be obvious, and hitoe items have their own wardrobe of accessories. You may want to stick with awase when just starting! I did exactly that! And I'm still trying to put in money to build a hitoe selection. Florida is NOT 'cool'. It is 91F outside in May, and that's a 'relaxing summer day'. Ha! It sometimes gets over 100F in summer, especially with humidity, and heat stroke is not uncommon. And yet, it took me a years of practice until I could be confident enough to buy hitoe kimono.

Don't worry. You will get the hang of it. Keep practicing, and join us for part 3!