Most Japanese today do not wear kimono, and when they do, it is only for special occasions like weddings or graduations. And then, the wearer is almost always a woman. Because women wear kimono so infrequently, they have lost confidence in their ability to wear the kimono correctly. Scads of businesses, specializing in teaching the proper way, have capitalized on this lack of confidence. The costs for lessons generally start at $50 but can go as high as $500 depending on how many lessons and the kind of kimono to be worn. Some studios prepare students to become teachers themselves which requires a license, of course, and with even higher cost.
Many online articles decry the situation claiming that nowadays the kimono is only worn by the rich or the professional geisha. It is true that women (and men) involved in the traditional arts (like tea, flowers, or dance) are more likely to wear kimono. But more and more young entrepreneurs are “discovering” the kimono, particularly vintage garments. They enjoy scouring flea markets and second-hand stores for old kimono and then repurposing them in ingenious ways. College-aged girls shorten the robes and layer them over leggings adding high heels to good effect. Young men with “man buns” proudly attire themselves in kimono, their obi sash slung low on their waist and rugged Doc Martins completing their ensemble. Some purists look askance at these unconventional outfits. But most welcome the creativity.
In fact, the purist view is anachronistic. Even at its earliest, the kimono was frequently worn in eclectic combinations. School teachers in the nineteenth century, for example, combined items of a man’s costume with those more traditionally worn by women—and ended their ensemble with leather boots newly imported from Europe. Showing a little ingenuity in one’s attire is not a bad thing. That is how fashion evolves, after all.
Over a decade ago, a group emerged in Japan to try to revive the joy of kimono. Known as “Kimono Jack” they gather in various cities (in Japan and elsewhere) to hijack the wearing of the kimono, from something that is formal and frightening, to something that is fun.
Photo by Daria Averina on Unsplash