Cover Photo: photo by Annie Guilloret/flickr
photo by Annie Guilloret/flickr

The Woman Scared of Her Own Kimono

I feel unworthy to wear the uniform of my inheritance.

The word kimono breaks down into 着Ki—Clothing, 物Mono—thing. When I say that I am scared of wearing a kimono, in a way I’m saying that I am frightened by clothing-things. This feels both true and ridiculous.

Layer 1. Nagajuban—The inner kimono, shorter than the outer kimono, and often made of sturdier fabric. On a fully dressed woman, only the collar is visible. Although many nagajuban are plain, they can also be heavily embroidered and patterned. The concealment of their beauty enhances their charm.

Layer 2. The Koshishimo cords and Datejime sash hold in place the nagajuban.

Layer 3. Kimono—The outer layer of the kimono, the one publically visible. Traditionally, the shape told the world who you were. Furisode, the formal kimono for unmarried women, have extra long sleeves that flap and flutter, silken flags declaring that this person is ready to be married. A black kimono with white circular moncrests is a statement of clan membership. The way the kimono is worn even indicates whether the wearer still dwells in the land of the living. A live person closes the flaps left over right; a corpse’s are arranged right over left.

Obi—The sash that goes over the kimono. The way in which it is tied declares both the formality of the situation and the status of the wearer. Is she young, old, a geisha, or a bourgeois woman?

Layer 5. Obijime—A decorative cord that wraps around the obi. These come in all colors and can be tied in many decorative styles. They add both to the beauty and complexity of the obi.

Smile for the relatives.

Layer 6. Tabi—White socks, with a gap separating the big toes from the others. Although not strictly part of the kimono it would be very strange to see someone wearing a kimono without tabi.

Layer 7. Zori—Sandals into which the tabi easily slip. Casual zori may be made of rice straw and over time the straw molds to the shape of the foot. But for formal occasions, the soles are wood. They are painful to the unaccustomed and require precise, skilled steps. Despite this, zori inspired the far less refined flip flops made by Americans from rubber.

Layer 8. Kanzashi—Hair ornaments. A formal kimono is usually paired with a formal hairstyle inside of which perch kanzashi. They can be made of silk or lacquer or metal. The designs are often seasonal, cherry blossoms in the spring, maple leaves in autumn.

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Author of the novel Harmless Like You.  Short work has appeared in Granta, Guernica, The Guardian, The Harvard Review, and NPR's Selected Shorts.

More About: Things, What We Wear