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Kimono vs Yukata - What's the difference?

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Kimono vs Yukata - What's the difference?
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Kimono vs Yukata

We’ve just listed a new Yukata (of which we admittedly don’t have that many), and while doing so we realised that there may be some questions about what the difference between a yukata and a kimono actually is. From the first look, I’ll admit that they do look pretty similar and if I hadn’t been doing this for a little while, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference either so it seemed like it might be worth an explanation.

Both kimono and yukata have been around for a long time (have we previously established that I’m a master of stating the obvious?) and are ubiquitous with Japanese culture and tradition, how often do we see an image of a kimono-clad Geisha as our view of traditional Japan?

Kimono is the most basic term for traditional Japanese dress and it literally means ‘thing to wear’. It’s derived from ‘Ki’ which means ‘wear’ and ‘mono’ which means “thing” and interestingly the word kimono only became tied to the garment we know as a kimono now in the late 19th century to distinguish traditional clothing from western style clothing (before then it just referred to all types of ‘things to wear’).

There is a long history in regards to kimonos and maybe we’ll go into that at a later date, but at this stage lets skim the surface and say that they arrived from China as an under-garment somewhere between 300-500AD and were adopted as a common form of dress in the late 1300s due to the ease of wearability and comfort. They started to become more decorative in the 1600s, as an expression of taste and style and unlike western fashion where we’re used to accessorising ourselves (think hats, gloves, jewellery, pins) a decorative kimono was all that the wearer needed in order to show social rank and standing or even occupation and age.

Kimonos vary a lot in decoration, sleeve length and fabric and these days are considered a very formal garment, wearing one every day would be similar to wearing a formal suit or dress for us. There are still various types of kimonos, for example, a komon kimono is a more casual style, often with a repeating pattern and less ornate painting or embroidery. A furisode, meaning ‘swinging sleeves’, used to be worn only by young, unmarried woman as a sign that they were eligible for marriage (see what I mean about a kimono showing age/social rank etc?) and have very long sleeves and are highly decorative. Men's kimonos mostly come in a more muted palette (brown, dark blue, black or gray) and will sometimes have a family crest printed, or in the case of more expensive kimonos, embroidered onto the center of the back. A lot of the men's kimonos that we’ve come across have a plain outer silk and a much more ornate lining. They have various scenes (mostly hand-painted) of animals, people and landscapes and are a delight to turn around and wear on the reverse side. Sometimes the paintings are quite funny, we had a great one not so long ago that showed a whole load of men mooning the wearer, I wish we had taken a picture before it was snapped up!

A yukata vs a kimono is a much more casual robe and looks very similar to a kimono the main difference is that yukata are mostly made from cotton and are (almost) always unlined. They were used originally by the nobility to get to and from their baths before actual bath towels made an appearance in Japan. Yukata means bathing clothes, derived from “yu” meaning bath and  “katabira” meaning under clothing. Yukata are generally a much cheaper garment than a kimono, I’m guessing that if you want to use your robe as a towel replacement you’re not going to want to spend thousands on a beautifully hand-painted silk kimono which will be ruined by contact with too much water. Yukata are often printed with quite bold patterns and most of the ones that we’ve come across have been blue and white. They used to be dyed with naturally fermented indigo, but more on that another time, it’s super interesting! Printing the patterns onto them is an absolutely mesmerizing process (here's a link to a youtube video of the printing process although I highly doubt that the cottons are still printed like this (so labour intensive!) you can see why vintage yukata are so valuable.

So, a long answer to a short question, but simply put a yukata is a cotton, unlined summer robe which can also be used as a dressing gown or a bathrobe and a kimono is a more opulent and formal (normally) silk robe which may be highly decorative and has a multitude of meanings to convey if you know how to look for them

Kimono vs Yukata


Kimono vs Yukata 

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