13 Different Types of Kimono for Women and When to Wear Them

Did you know that there are different styles of kimono for women to wear during different occasions? And that married women and single women should wear different types of kimono? The world of Japanese traditional garments is an intricate one, so before you choose your kimono, let's have a look at some of the types available. With this list of 13 different types of kimono for women, you are sure to know which kimono is perfect for each occasion!

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Types of Kimono for Women

Uchikake

“Uchikake” are highly formal kimono only used as bridalwear or during traditional stage performances such as kabuki. “Uchikake” refers only to the outer layer of the traditional wedding attire for women which often uses bright red or white as ground colors symbolizing rebirth as a wife. Uchikake are also adorned with embroidery, decorated by using different techniques such as “shibori” (tie-dyeing) and “surihaku” (impressing gold or silver foil on fabric.)

As it is worn over the actual kimono and doesn’t have to be tied with an “obi” belt, the lavish motifs cover the entire garments with auspicious images such as cranes, turtles, phoenixes, pine trees, bamboo, plum blossoms, and ox carts. An uchikake kimono is also tailored to be one size longer than the kimono worn inside it, so that it can trail along the floor. Thus, to prevent wear, it is equipped with a thick padding of wadding along the hem. The particularly thick and long hem also has the effect of making the wearer look taller thanks to a trick of enhanced perspective.

The name “uchikake” comes from the verb “uchikakeru” (to drape upon) which refers to a fashion of the ruling classes in the 16th century to wear kimono unbelted over other garments. Uchikake first appeared in the Muromachi period (1336 - 1573), worn by samurai women. During the Edo period (1603 - 1868), women of higher position at Edo Castle or senior court ladies at the Imperial Palace wore it on a daily basis as well. In certain Edo-period “yukaku” (legal red-light districts), it was even adopted as fashionable kimono by “tayu” (highest-rank courtesans). It was only in the latter half of the Edo period that wealthy townswomen started to use it as a formal wedding garment.

Shiromuku

“Shiromuku” are beautifully embroidered, pure-white-on-white uchikake kimono worn by brides for traditional Japanese Shinto wedding ceremonies. It is a very ornate, formal kimono that is considered Japan’s most prestigious type of traditional wedding dress. As with the uchikake, the bridal ensemble of a shiromuku includes matching accessories such as the “katsura” (bridal wig), “kanzashi” (hair ornaments), a “suehiro” (folding fan), a “hakoseko” (a sort of makeup pouch), and a “kaiken” (a short dagger that a samurai women had for self-defense). The bride also wears a “tsunokakushi” (white rectangular wedding headpiece) or a “wataboshi” (white bridal hood which is only worn with shiromuku). Brides might often wear a shiromuku during the actual wedding ceremony and later change into an “iro uchikake” (colored uchikake) for the wedding reception.

The kanji for the word “shiromuku” mean “white pure-innocence,” and as the color white is a sacred color that has been regarded as the "color of the sun" since ancient times, this white garment is meant to symbolize purity and gentleness of heart. Shiromuku originated as a bridal dress for samurai women during the Muromachi period. The tradition of pairing shiromuku with the wataboshi also dates back to that period, as women used to wear kimono over their heads to protect themselves from dust and cold.

Furisode

“Furisode” are the most formal style of kimono worn by young, often unmarried, women in Japan. You can spot a furisode by its long-hanging sleeves which range between 80 cm and 114 cm in length. “Ofurisode” (large furisode), which have a sleeve length of around 114 cm, are often worn by brides at wedding receptions as an alternative to iro uchikake. The sleeve length of “chufurisode” (medium furisode) is around 100 cm. This is the kimono Japanese women usually wear for their coming-of-age ceremony, but it can also be used as a formal kimono by unmarried guests attending wedding ceremonies, formal parties, or other types of ceremonies including graduations when it is worn together with “hakama” (pant-like garment worn over a kimono.)

Finally, the sleeves of “kofurisode” (small furisode) are around 80 cm long. Kofurisode is also sometimes called “nishaku kimono” as “nishaku” (two shaku) is an old measurement system which corresponds to 76 centimeters. Kofurisode is often offered in combination with “hakama” as graduation ceremony attire for women. Furisode are adorned with traditional, colorful patterns across the entirety of the garment that express hopes for happiness, good luck, and longevity. For this reason, furisode are used to celebrate a person’s milestones in life.

Furisode developed as a type of kimono for young women during the Edo period, and the name means “swinging sleeves.” There are various theories on why the sleeves of furisode became so long. According to one theory, after Japan entered a stable period, people's awareness of culture increased and many young women started to learn dance. As longer sleeves made movements look more beautiful when dancing, kimono sleeves were lengthened. Dancers also used long sleeves to express their emotions such as showing affection, which became popular among women of that time. Finally, since ancient times, the act of “swinging” or “shaking” also has the meaning of “touching the heart of the gods,” “summoning the gods,” and “warding off evil.” In the Edo period, it was also interpreted as “touching the soul of your loved one,” so furisode were used to communicate feelings and attract love interests. This is why it became associated with unmarried women.

Tomesode

Usually worn by married women, “tomesode” are highly formal kimono with sleeves that hang shorter and are decorated with a sophisticated continuous pattern called “eba moyo” placed diagonally on the lower part of the garment along the hem, regardless of the seams. There are two types of tomesode, “kurotomesode” (black tomesode) and “irotomesode” (colored tomesode.)

In the Edo period, when women came of age, the sleeves of their furisode would be cut shorter and “fastened” by stitching them. As the verb “kiru” (to cut) in Japanese also has the inauspicious meaning of “breaking off a relationship,” this action was instead referred to with the verb “ tomeru” (to fasten) from which derives the name “tomesode”. Originally, any adult woman would wear a tomesode, but it later became associated just with married women. The reasons for this are that shorter sleeves were more practical when doing chores and married women didn’t need long kimono sleeves to convey their feelings to their love interest.

Initially, as tomosode were created from furisode, they had various colors and patterns. But in the Edo period, after a type of kimono called “edozuma” featuring a design placed along the hem became popular among geisha, the same design placement was adopted for tomesode.

・Kurotomesode

Black was probably adopted as the base color for this type of tomesode in the Meiji period (1868 - 1912) and was influenced by Western formal wear. The kurotomesode is the most formal kimono for married women and it’s worn during wedding ceremonies and receptions by close relatives of the couple getting married. The kurotomesode features five family crests and elegant patterns decorated with gold leaf and embroidery that are considered auspicious and express wishes for joy and happiness. 

 

・Irotomesode

The “irotomesode” is a tomesode with a base color other than black. The level of formality depends on the number of crests. With five crests, it is considered as formal as kurotomesode. If it has three crests, it can be worn for semi-formal occasions while one crest make it suitable for more informal events such as entrance and graduation ceremonies. Compared to the kurotomesode, the irotomesode is a kimono that can be worn for a wider range of purposes and is not restricted to married women. Relatives, other than the mothers of the bride and groom, might choose to wear an irotomesode with five crests at the wedding and reception, while other guests might opt for an irotomesode with one to three crests. It can also be worn at formal parties, conferring of honors, and visits to the imperial palace.

Homongi

“Homongi” are semi-formal kimono with one or no crests and an eba moyo pattern positioned along the hem, regardless of the seams, and on the shoulders, chest, and sleeves which makes it appear as a continuous, single painting. Homongi come in a great variety of patterns and colors, from classic to modern styles.

Homongi is suitable for both married and unmarried women and for a wide range of situations, from casual to more formal occasions, such as theater performances, tea parties and ceremonies, class reunions, shrine visits, children’s entrance or graduation ceremonies, “shichigosan” (a traditional rite of passage for three and seven-year-old girls, and three and five-year-old boys), and other types of parties like dinner or New Year's parties. Friends and acquaintances might also wear it at weddings. It’s important to choose the color and pattern of the homongi considering the occasion and the season you will wear it. For example, kimono with bright and luxurious colors and classic auspicious patterns are suggested for weddings. While kimono with light and elegant colors with clean, modest patterns are preferred for events such as children’s entrance or graduation ceremonies and shichigosan as the attention should be on the children.

“Homongi” means “visiting wear” and it was launched as a kimono “appropriate to visit someone’s house” in the Taisho period (1912 - 1926) by the Mitsukoshi department store in consequence of the increasing demand of more casual kimono to use as outing wear. Considered very convenient for its versatility, homongi quickly became extremely popular.

Tsukesage

“Tsukesage” are kimono worn by both married and unmarried women. It is considered less prestigious than the homongi, but it can vary depending on the accessories and pattern chosen.

In general, tsukesage patterns tend to be more modest, smaller, and arranged in a well-balanced manner on the hem, sleeves, chest, and shoulders. As opposed to the homongi, normally, patterns on the tsukesage are not placed on the seams of the kimono, and even when there is an eba moyo, it is designed to look more modest than a homongi or tomesode. Another important difference is that tsukesage are dyed and sold in kimono shops as “tanmono” (a traditional Japanese narrow-loomed cloth used to make kimono) and then tailored, while homongi are dyed after the pieces of cloth have been cut and are usually temporarily sewn to be displayed in a kimono shop.

Tsukesage are ideal for situations such as childrens’ entrance and graduation ceremonies, small parties and reunions, semi-formal tea parties, visits to a customer's house, attending a theater performance like a kabuki play, and other semi-formal events.

The tsukesage was introduced as a less formal option to the homongi in the Taisho period and early Showa period. Then, its use consolidated during the Pacific War (1941 - 1945) as luxurious homongi and other types of high-class, expensive kimono were forbidden, following the propaganda that “luxury is the enemy” and people shouldn’t aim for a wealthy lifestyle during such difficult times.

Iromuji

An “iromuji” is a kimono dyed in a single color other than black or white, with no dyed patterns or embroidery on it. Iromuji might come in solid colors or with a “jimon” (a woven pattern in the fabric) and is characterized by a simple and understated appearance. It is strongly associated with tea parties and tea ceremonies, but it can be used in a variety of formal, semi-formal, and casual occasions depending on the number of crests, accessories, and color.

When used as formal wear, iromuji with bright colors such as pink and yellow and auspicious jimon are considered suitable to attend weddings, tea parties and ceremonies, shichigosan, entrance or graduation ceremonies, while iromuji with solid neutral colors such as dark blue or gray are suitable for wakes and funerals. When iromuji are used as casual  daily wear, casual parties, and dinners with friends, you can play more with the accessories by choosing elaborate and fashionable obi without gold and silver details to create a fun contrast with the plain kimono or go for a tone-on-tone outfit to create a sophisticated, playful look.

Komon

“Komon” are a type of kimono with a repeated pattern created with a stencil-dyeing technique called “katazome.” “Komon” means “small pattern,” but the actual size of the patterns can vary. They can be placed on the entirety of the kimono with almost no plain areas, or leave some negative space in between the patterns.

In general, komon are considered daily wear, but the occasions when you can wear this type of kimono change depending on the pattern, accessories, and atmosphere of the event. For example, more lavish patterns such as traditional tools are perfect for casual parties, theater performances, dinner parties, and tea parties. More casual types of komon such as flowers can be used to attend lessons for traditional Japanese dance, music, tea ceremony, and flower arrangement, as well as gatherings with friends and walking around town.

As komon come in a multitude of patterns, you can appreciate seasonal designs such as flowers, but also explore a range of patterns from geometric to animals and characters, or tools such as folding fans or drums, and much more. Used as everyday wear, komon is comparable to a casual and fashionable dress, so you can match accessories with strong colors and unique patterns and express your sense of fashion.

・Edo Komon

Edo komon is a type of komon dyed in one color, originating from the formal kimono worn during the Edo period by the “daimyo” (feudal lords) samurai families. As the families competed to have the most extravagant patterns, the shogunate decided to prohibit patterns that were unnecessarily luxurious, so edo komon was born.

Patterns on edo komon are so small and detailed that it looks like the kimono is plain from a distance. It was decided that each samurai clan could only use one type of representative pattern and had to avoid patterns used by other clans. Usually, edo komon is considered casual wear, mostly characterized by playful designs. But, as some of the patterns such as “same” (an extremely detailed and small pattern that resembles shark skin), “gyogi” (a diagonal dot pattern), and “kakudoshi” (a pattern of small squares arranged vertically and horizontally) appeared on samurai’s formal dresses, they are also considered high-grade patterns that make edo komon with a crest suitable as semi-formal wear.

Natsu no Kimono and Usumono

In the warmer months, you can wear a “natsu no kimono” (summer kimono) called “usumono,” which literally means “thin clothing” because they don’t have a lining and are sheer, almost appearing see-through. According to the norm, usumono should be worn only in July and August, but recently, with the increasing temperatures, the rule became looser and more and more people started to wear them in May and June too.

Made from fabrics like “ro” silk gauze, “sha” silk gauze, and hemp or linen, usomono offer excellent breathability. A summer kimono outfit is coordinated to produce a refreshing feeling in those who look at it. So, it’s advised to choose matching accessories, a “nagajuban” (under-kimono garment) made from the same material as the kimono, and opt for colors associated with a sense of coolness and lightness. A dark usumono is also recommended, as it enhances the contrast with the white nagajuban underneath.

Ro silk gauze can be tailored as tomesode, homongi, iromuji, and komon, so it can be utilized for a variety of formal, semi-formal, and casual midsummer events. Sha silk gauze is considered less formal. Therefore, it is suitable for semi-formal and casual events. Finally, hemp or linen are only used for casual wear and are extremely popular as they can be easily washed at home too.

Yukata

Yukata” literally means "bath clothes," although their use is no longer limited to bath wear. It is the most casual unlined traditional garment with short sleeves, usually made of cotton, linen, or hemp for summer use. Yukata can be worn by women of all ages, for many informal occasions such as staying at a ryokan or onsen, attending summer “matsuri” (Japanese festivals) and “hanabitaikai” (fireworks festivals), other summer activities, or just strolling around in summer.

Yukata became popular during the Edo period and developed into what it is today from a single-layered silk kimono worn in the bath by the upper class. Around the year 1800, priests began to bathe in water for purification. The samurai and noble class followed suit, but since silk was not suitable for getting wet, people started to wear cotton or linen-like fabrics instead. Finally, the custom spread to the middle and lower classes, too, and public bathhouses opened in Tokyo. People who had to walk from their homes to the bathhouse began to desire fancier yukata to wear while in public view, and this is how the modern-day yukata emerged.

If you want to read more about the differences between yukata and kimono check this article out.

Odori Isho

With a history of more than 430 years, Tokushima Prefecture’s Awa Odori is one of the most famous dance festivals and traditional performing arts in Japan. Female dancers performing at this traditional festival wear a type of yukata called “odori isho” which differs from the classic yukata due to its accessories and way of wearing it.

For awa odori, the yukata is tied with a black obi belt, tucked up to show a colorful “susoyoke” (a type of traditional skirt,) and sometimes accessorized with a triangular apron at the waist. Unique to awa odori dancers also are the “amigasa” (a traditional type of Japanese straw hat), the white “tekko” (arm cover), and the “geta” (Japanese traditional sandal with a flat wooden base elevated with two supporting blocks called “ha” or "teeth") with red and white sandal straps.

Junihitoe

“Junihitoe” is a type of formal court dress that was worn by noble women and ladies-in-waiting at the Japanese Imperial Court in the Heian period (794 - 1185.) Today, it is still used during coronation and wedding ceremonies by the Imperial House of Japan. It is composed of kimono-like robes, layered on top of each other, with the outer robes cut to reveal the layered garments underneath which are visible around the sleeves, the hems of the garment, and the neck.

“Junihitoe” means “twelve layers,” but despite the name, the number of layers could vary. It could have as many as 20 layers, but settled down to about five layers at the end of the Heian period. The number and type of layers as well as the accessories could define the formality of the junihitoe. Heian period aristocrats paid special attention to color symbolism, and layered color combinations known as “kasane no irome,” which represented the different seasons, were considered especially important as their appropriate use gave an indication of the cultured and refined taste and rank of the wearer.

Awase Kimono vs Hitoe Kimono: What’s the Difference?

All kimono are also divided into “awase” and “hitoe” categories. Most of the kimono worn throughout the year are awase kimono, which are lined kimono made by sewing two pieces of fabric together. As awase are warmer, they usually are the go-to kimono from October to May. On the other hand, hitoe kimono don’t have a lining, so they are lighter and cooler, perfect to be worn from June to September. If the warm weather allows it and the occasion is casual, it might be also fine to wear a hitoe kimono in May or October.

Wear the Right Type of Kimono and Enjoy Japan’s Most Iconic Garment

From the highly decorated uchikake and shiromuku to elegant and formal tomesode, and the most simple and casual of yukata and komon, now that you know everything about the different types of Japanese kimono for women, you are sure to enjoy Japan’s most traditional garment and appreciate its thousand-years-long history even more without having to worry about making a faux pas!

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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Stefania
Stefania Sabia

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