Munch and Learn Recap: Kimono History and Culture with Patti Lechman

Local artist and collector, Patti Lechman, discussed kimono as expressions of Japanese culture in the last century and showed examples from her collection at this week's Munch and Learn.

Kimono was the traditional dress, for men and women, in Japan until 1868 when Japan was opened to the West in 1868. Since then the style of dress has become less traditional and more Western. Kimono are now reserved only for formal occasions. Kimono translates to “thing to wear” and it is much more than the robe like dress that comes to mind for many westerners. Kimono actually refers to the whole ensemble including socks, sandals and the many layers of belts and underclothes.   

The purpose of kimono was to straighten the form and reduce the natural curves of the body, but meanings and rules became attached to kimono.  A very important thing to remember is to always put the left side over the right, the other way is considered barbaric.   

A married woman’s kimono has shorter sleeves with squared edges. The color of her kimono is more subdued and more space is left between her neck and the collar. The back of a woman’s neck is considered to be very sensual. A married woman’s obi-age, one of the ties around her waist, is worn lower than an unmarried woman. Unmarried women can also wear brighter colors and longer sleeves that are rounded at the edges. Hers also has less open space between her collar and neck.   

There are several layers worn. The outermost undergarment is the juban and has a robe like shape much like the outer layer. Under the juban is the base layer, called the hadajuban, which keeps the kimono from getting dirty or damaged by sweat. The haneri is a piece of decorative fabric that is placed on the inside of the collar to keep the outer kimono clean while helping to give an overall look of elegance. The traditional cleaning method for kimono is to take them apart to clean the fabric pieces so it is best to keep them as clean as possible.   

There are multiple pieces that make up the belting, or the obi, of kimono. Some of these items are worn as undergarments while others make up the outer belting. The outerwear pieces are the obi-age, obi-dome, and obi-jime. Two of the under pieces are the koshihimo, which holds the kimono in place. Kimono don’t come in sizes and lengths so to make a kimono the right length, one folds it at the waist and puts a koshihimo around the fold. Up to 3 koshihimos might be used. The datejime is a wide cloth that is tied below the bust. One is used with the nagajuban and another for the outer layer. And don’t forget your obiita which is an oblong, thin plate inserted between the obi and kimono to guarantee the obi stays neat.   

When Japanese merchants began to make more money than the Shogun, Sumptuary Laws were passed that limited the types of clothing that could be worn. In this period, the jubans became more decorative than the outer kimono so the most luxurious fabrics were hidden from view. The world wars also affected the kimono tradition. In most cases less fabric and ornamentation was used. Ornamentation was reserved for the left side of the garment since that was the one that was most visible.   

As you can see, wearing kimono and kimono culture can be very complicated! The main focus here has been women’s kimono, but men wear kimono, too. Theirs, however, includes a separate skirt. When and how men and women wear kimono have changed through the years but the tradition stays alive, because it continues to adapt. People today are finding ways to keep the kimono tradition alive by making them less constricting and easier to put on by greatly reducing the number of layers involved. 

- Linley Schmidt, Public Programs Coordinator

Join us for next week's Munch and Learn when we will talk about the History, Culture and Care of Succulents.

Posted by Chantal Drake at 3:16 PM
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