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About the Author
Suzanne Dreitlein lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband Frank, daughter Zoë and a small menagerie of cats, a fish and a turtle. Although a web designer by trade, she is a published writer having had work appear in various community newspapers in Queens as well as keeping a religious blog on her website And, as if that’s not enough, she also sews, crochets and is headmistress of the musical project Storm Under Still Water.
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Ill | Chris Beetow

Traditional Japanese Clothing
Suzanne Dreitlein
The clothing of the Edo Period (1601-1867 A.D.) is what the modern person would think of when asked about traditional Japanese clothing. Consisting of basic pieces such as the Kimono, Obi, and Hakama, Japanese clothing is as remarkably simple as it is complex and elegant.
Ushered in by Tokugawa Ieyasu’s appointment as Shogun or military leader by the Emperor, the Edo period reflects a socially stable and economically prosperous time for Japan. Tokugawa shoguns held control of Japan for over 250 years during which they enforced isolation from the rest of the world by forbidding foreign literature and art and outgoing travel to western countries. Japanese fashion developed independently of other countries which is apparent as their traditional clothing remained in widespread use until post World War II.
The building block for all traditional Japanese clothing, regardless of class, begins with the Kimono. By the Edo Period, this had become an outer garment and was made of all types of fabric from plain, solid cotton to heavily embroidered silk. Prior to and during the Edo Period, fabric use was very class orientated. Silk was, by law, reserved for the upper classes (Samurai) while hemp, ramie and other plant derived fibers were used by the common person. During the 18th century, cotton cultivation became widespread making this a choice fabric as well. Weaving fabric from these textiles was a craft passed down from mother to daughter. It wasn’t uncommon for every house to have at least one weaving loom. Fabric was decorated via woven patterns such as damask or satin or by using dyed yarns, stenciling and embroidery. In some cases the yarns used to make fabric were dyed over 40 times to achieve the intensity and quality of color needed for a final garment. Decorative motifs included family crests, animals symbolic of Japanese folklore and natural elements like bamboo branches and flowers.
The construction of Kimono were the same for either gender, regardless of the fabric used. All adults’ kimono are cut in eight sections from one roll of cloth about 36 cm. (14 inches) wide and 11 meters (12 yards) long. As the seams are cut straight and always the same width regardless of the wearer’s size, no cloth is left over. Any extra length was tucked under or over the Obi (belt) depending on gender. Kimono are relatively simple in design and could be sewn together within a day. There were no fasteners used to hold the Kimono closed; rather the left side would be folded over the right and then an Obi would be tied around the waist. Age, social status and gender all played a part in the appearance of the Kimono. For example, a married woman would wear a Kimono made out of darker fabric and with shorter sleeves than a young unmarried girl. Children wore brighter colors than their adult counterparts. Fashion practices, based on rigid social hierarchy, were reinforced by law.
Under the Kimono, lighter Kimono called Nagajuban in coordinating colors would be layered. An Han-eri, or scarf-like collar would be worn between the Kimono and the neck. Laws regarding excessive expenditures on women’s Kimono caused some to spend their money on extravagant undergarments instead of a more obvious outer Kimono. Yukatabira, light and loose-fitting robes, were also worn as an alternative to the Kimono by both sexes in a relaxed or casual setting.
The working classes wore simpler garments based on the Kimono. The Happi was a short coat, similar in construction and wear to a Kimono, that both genders wore. The Happi was combined with either somewhat fitted pants for men or very loose pants and aprons for women. Cording, sashes and Obi were used to close these jackets. Under this, for men, would be worn a loincloth, a piece of fabric wrapped around the groin, held on using cord as a belt or tied like a diaper. In cold weather, a Hanten (quilted jacket) would be worn over the Kimono or Happi. All classes wore coats and hats made of straw in rainy weather.
Three types of footwear were prevalent. Waraji and Zori (thong sandles) made of straw and Geta (platformed thongs) made of wood. The Zori and Waraji were simple, practical shoes for working. Geta were wooden platforms, made to avoid mud during inclement weather. The height of Geta were flexible and some examples show platforms of nearly a foot. Tabi (split-toed socks) made out of silk, cotton or leather could be worn with any of these shoes. Zori, Geta or Tabi were not made for wearing indoors and thus easy to remove. During the Edo Period all formal occasions required bare feet.
Additionally, the Samurai, or fighting class, had garments they would wear in conjunction with the Kimono. The Kamishimo was a two-piece costume worn over a kimono. It resembled an apron or backwards pinafore. The upper piece, the Kataginu, was a sleeveless vest with exaggerated shoulders. This was worn over the Hakama, which were wide, flowing pants. The Hakama has significant meaning applied to the design of the garment. The seven folds in these pants represent seven virtues of the Samurai – Yuki (courage), Jin (humility), Gi (justice), Rei (chivalry), Makoto (honesty), Chugi (loyalty), and Meiyo (prestige).
(Definitions from
Besides being required to hold together Kimono, the Obi, a sash or belt, is ornamental and expressive of class, age or marital status. There are several ways to tie the Obi, including a butterfly fold with a large bow shaped like an insect’s wingspan. In the early part of the Edo Period, the Obi was tied either at the front or to the side. By the mid 1770s, the Obi was tied in the back due to fashion and ease of dealing with an ever increasing width. (source 6) The fabrics used for Obi vary from simple leather cording to highly decorated bands of fabric.
Other accessory items include fans which both genders used. Called Sensu, the folding fan was used to cool as well as communicate. Samurai’s used Tessen or iron fans as a weapon when necessary.
Japanese History: Edo Period -
Welcome to Horace Mann’s Webpage for Medieval Japanese Clothes, Make up, & Hair Styles - San Francisco Unified School District website
Weaving - Traditional Crafts of Japan
Japanese Clothing Box - The International Center for Transcultural Education
Samurai Clothing - Samurai Archives
History of Japanese Obi - Japanese Lifestyle
Kimono - Traditional Japanese Dress - Things
Other Links of Interest