All You Need to Know About the Japanese Kimono

Three Geisha Walking Between Buildings in Kyoto, Japan, Wearing Kimonos – Photo: Satoshi Hirayama

When most people think of Japanese clothing, the first item that comes to mind is the kimono.

The kimono is the national dress of Japan. It is a front-wrapped garment with a rectangular body and square sleeves, and it is tied with a sash known as an obi.

If you’ve ever wondered about the history of this beautiful and significant piece of clothing, this guide is for you.

Outlined below is everything you need to know about the kimono, from its origins to its most current iterations.

A Brief History of the Kimono

The kimono dates back to the Heian period, which lasted from 794 to 1185, although it didn’t have a name at the time. It was made by sewing straight cuts of fabric together, which created a simple garment that people of all shapes and sizes could wear comfortably.

During the Edo or Tokugawa period, which lasted from 1603 to 1867, this garment evolved to have smaller armholes. The change in style led to the garment being known as a kosode, which translates to “small sleeves.”

The kimono didn’t get its name until the 19th century, during the Meiji period, which lasted from 1868 to 1912.

Three Japanese Girls, 1868 – Photo: Austrian National Library

As the 19th century continued, kimonos started to fall out of fashion because the Japanese government encouraged the Japanese people to don Western clothing. Despite government pressure, though, many people still held tight to their kimonos and passed them on to future generations.

Kimono Symbolism

Kimonos are relatively simple in their cut. However, they still carry a lot of weight and are steeped in symbolism.

The kimono’s color, pattern, and material say a lot about a person’s social status, identity, cultural sensitivity, and more.

The choice of obi and other accessories like hair combs and pins also says a lot about the wearer.

Sleeve Length

Long-sleeved kimonos (Furisode) have sleeves that practically touch the ground and are considered the most formal.

Kimonos with medium-length sleeves (Chu-furisode) are popular among young women.

Short-sleeved kimonos (Kofurisode) are the least common and can be worn with formal pants.


Kimono motifs typically feature natural elements like flowers, trees, and birds — especially cranes, which symbolize longevity and good fortune.

Kimono for a young woman, depicting a boat on swirling water, with pine tree, plum blossoms and maples. Japan, 1912–1926. From the Khalili Collection of Kimono – Photo: Wikipedia


The color of the kimono says a lot about the wearer as well.

Colors may correspond to natural elements — black corresponds with water, for example.

They may also have poetic significance. For instance, purple is associated with undying love, and red is associated with glamour and youth.

Woman Wearing Red Kimono – Photo: Ivan Siarbolin


Traditionally, kimonos and the obis used to tie them are made from luxurious and expensive fabrics like silk, silk brocade, silk crepe, satin, linen, or hemp.

These fabrics were associated with wealth and status — the nicer the fabric, the higher a person’s status was likely to be.

Types of Kimonos

These days, several different types of kimonos are worn throughout Japan, including the following:


Yukatas are casual, cotton kimonos. They’re often worn during the summer because they are lighter and don’t have any lining.


Iromujis are simple, monochromatic kimonos. They’re often worn to tea ceremonies because they don’t distract from the event.


Uchikakes are formal kimonos originally worn by samurai women. Today, they’re worn by some women as bridal wear.


A shiromuki is an all-white kimono often worn by brides in traditional Shinto wedding ceremonies.

The Modern Kimono

Kimonos are still worn in Japan today, and they’ve also inspired fashion trends throughout the world.

These days, they’re made from a variety of fabrics — including cotton, rayon, polyester, and more — and come in a wide range of styles and lengths.