The kimono's form was first introduced from China as an undergarment. Its use as a normal form of dress for men and women dates from the Muromachi period (1392-1568). At that time the samurai, or warrior class, replaced the court nobles who always wore ceremonial clothing and lived in castle towns. Clothing increasingly needed to be wearable for travel and urban outdoor life and the kimono was the foundation of these trends. Women's kimonos became very decorative from the middle of the Edo period (1600-1868), in spite of bans on luxurious living imposed by the Tokugawa shogunate, the rulers of Japan at the time.
Japanese clothing was not traditionally accented with costly or decorative accessories, particularly jewelry, hats, or gloves, as Western dress traditionally is. Instead, all of the expression of taste and elegance was focused upon the kimono, the central and key garment in Japanese dress, particularly in the case of women. Thus developments in the kimono as the principal garment for men and
Japanese schoolgirls dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos which, in the past, could indicate the social rank, occupation, or age of the wearer. Reproduced by permission of© Michael Maslan Historic Photographs/CORBIS.
women of all social classes revolved around patterns and colors. At first the only patterning used was in the weaving of the fabric, but, given that the expansive robe was a great canvas for the artist, distinctive designs stretching across the whole garment were created in tie-dye, resist-dye, embroidery, and other methods, particularly for wealthy customers. The wealthy could also layer more kimonos and coordinated the colors that peeked out at the neckline and cuffs. Some kimonos were painted upon with ink, like a brush painting on paper.
The kimono is a comfortable garment for people to wear who sit on the floor or on a tatami mat, a straw floor covering common in Japanese homes, as is done in Japanese culture. Its length can be adjusted by how much it is folded over when the obi, or sash, is tied; its width can vary depending on how much it is wrapped and how tightly the obi is tied; and it can be layered for changes in climate.
There have been few fundamental changes in the shape of the kimono since the eighteenth century, except for minor changes in hem length and sleeve or collar shape. The kimono can be either formal or relatively casual, depending on its materials, pattern, and the accessories worn with it. Since its beginning, the kimono has denoted social rank and occupation, especially for men, and age, particularly for women. Today, people are less knowledgeable about the specific rules of dress and tend to choose a kimono based on its appearance.
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