January 9, 2013

"Help! I want to cosplay a kimono character!"

"What is this?" you probably think now.
Well, I decided to do my first 'tips and guidelines' blog post to help other people out!

Oh and hello to everyone, both old and new readers and everyone else who've stumbled upon this post! ^-^

Tetsunosuke Ichimura and Souji Okita from PeaceMaker Kurogane.
During my years of cosplaying I have several times run into people online asking the same questions about cosplaying a kimono-wearing character and what to do, how to wear it etc and I have probably just as many times given them a helping hand. That said, I've felt for some time now that I know enough about kimono in general to share my knowledge with others who want to cosplay characters wearing kimono but are lost on the way. As you probably have noticed by now I'm very biased towards cosplaying characters who don a kimono, for many reasons. But I will not talk about those reasons I will talk about something more helpful! I will share what I know, as a cosplayer and as a kimono enthusiast, what I think might be what cosplayers who look to cosplay a kimono-wearing character would like to know and also go through the most common errors I see at cons, aka a basic kimono introduction info post. I don't claim that I have any kind of ultimate knowledge I will just share what I have learned and picked up personally over the years. :)

 This will be in a kind of question and answer form to avoid a wall of text.

 Here goes! ~ 


1. Is there any difference on the kimono depending on the gender of the wearer?

When cosplaying a character with kimono it's important that you know the main differences between how a man –and respectively, a woman wear kimono and the differences in the garment itself.

A woman’s kimono has freely hanging sleeves that are left mostly unattached to the body of the kimono. Why the sleeves are like this is because it is better suited for the wide obi (belt) that is tied around the waist. There is also a small opening in the armpits although this, for some reason, is almost never drawn in manga/anime from what I’ve noticed. Men's kimono have the sleeves almost completely attached to the kimono, with only about 10 centimeters hanging free.
Another distinctive trait for women’s kimono is how it is worn women wear the kimono with a waist fold (called ohashori) to adjust the length to the wearer. This waist fold is located slightly under the obi. Because men wear their obi on their hips –and because men's obi is much narrowerthere is no need to have the sleeves hanging freely.

Here is a picture illustrating what I mean:

Image found on Google.
Of course if you crossplay (aka dress as a character of the opposite gender) and the character wears kimono you just wear it the same way as they do – and make sure the kimono's "gender" is the same as the character's. *points at sleeve picture above*
Same thing goes if the character crossdresses. One example is that if, let's say, a male character is crossdressing and wearing women's kimono then that's what you should be doing too, if you want to cosplay said character, that is you should do the waist fold, make sure your sleeves are open in the back and have the underarm openings etc etc.

2. Which way are you supposed to cross the collars?

Wear your kimono like a living person would, also known as always cross the collars left over right. Right over left is reserved for the dead only. I SERIOUSLY CAN'T STRESS THIS ENOUGH. 
Don't make yourself look like a complete idiot at the con who didn't even bother to do a simple Google search to find out which way to wear the damn thing! Crossing a kimono right over left is like the biggest no-no you can do when it comes to how to wear it. Of course, if the character is actually dead (somehow) and actually wears their kimono reversed, then by all means go for it.

You know, I can honestly say that at probably every anime convention/event I've ever been to so far I've always seen at least one person donning a kimono the corpse style and it makes me cringe so bad that I can't help but do a big fat mental facepalm; I have to resist the urge to go up to that person and politely give them a short lesson on kimono knowledge. Needless to say it practically kills the cosplay for me personally, no matter how nicely sewn and perfect it is otherwise. Yes, it's one of my pet peeves. There ya go.

"I see dead people..."
(Kenshin demonstrating my inner rage face when I spot someone doin' it wrong)
Oh, one last addition to this! I've seen people saying that they have heard from someone else that men and women cross their kimono differently, aka that one sex would cross left over right and the other one right over left. That is NOT true and those who go telling others such bullshit need to check their facts before they spread false information around.  
Note: while this is how it works in our Western world (example: men's jackets are left over right, women's right over left) I want to stress that it does NOT apply to kimono or any traditional Japanese garments!!

3. How are kimono constructed?

Kimono consists of one left and right panel, front overlap panels (okumi), collar and sleeves. Kimono traditionally always have a back seam but never shoulder seams. In cosplay it's not the end of the world if you do not sew your kimono the traditional way, but it is a nice bonus if you want to at least mimic the way it's cut to have it look more authentic, so to say. You don't have to handsew the whole thing though because that's how it's traditionally done too. xD

Hard to understand what I mean?
Here is a picture (note: woman's kimono) to help you see the pieces a kimono consists of:

Image from Google.
4. "How do I wear this thing??? It seems so complicated!"

First off, look at how your character is wearing his/her/their kimono. When you cosplay you will want to wear it in a character accurate way more often than not and fictional characters tend to break and bend most real kimono dressing rules anyway. :)) But as a general rule the ideal kimono shape is like a cylinder more or less for both sexes, aka you want a straight silhouette. Traditionally women would pad their waist and even bind their breasts, if needed, to achieve a straight shape. 
Also, normally you want the kimono to fall to your ankles.

Not looking for a straight silhouette here nope, lol.
It's Kongiku from Muramasa: The Demon Blade.
There are lots of really helpful videos on Youtube showing how to put on kimono; just try searching with sentences like "kimono kitsuke for beginners" or anything like that and you should find at least some kind of video tutorials. Even if you watch videos meant for authentic kimono-wearing you'll get a better understanding on how to wear a "cosplay kimono" and have it look crisp and nice too it's not wasted knowledge! 
If you want to invest in learning how to wear a kimono try searching with these words for a start:

• kimono kitsuke (how to dress in kimono)
• ohashori (name of the waist fold on women's kimono)
• obi musubi (different knots for the belt)

There are lots of different ways to tie the obi and some fictional characters have their obi tied in a way that has no exact real-life counterpart, and thus can be a real headache to figure out. I know at least one character with their obi tied in an actual knot, but reversed, and then there's those with something completely weird going on in the back, lol. 
Luckily, many characters have their obi tied in an existing knot and I will also help you by naming a few of the different ways to tie an obi so that you can search online to find how to tie them, if you would need to.

Men's obi knots:
Kai no Kuchi musubi
Katabasami musubi

Women's obi knots:
Otaiko musubi
Tateya musubi
Fukura Suzume musubi

There are several other tying variations (especially for women) as well, just look around and you'll surely find them!

5. What fabrics are kimono made out of and what to do if the character you want to cosplay has "trims" around the collar and sleeves?

Well, first of... THEY ARE NOT TRIMS. It's very very likely that the character is wearing a juban underneath it's an under kimono meant to guard the outer kimono from being in contact with your body and thus getting stained/dirtied by body liquids etc. Usually nicer kimono are made of silk*, which is delicate and expensive, hence the need to have something shielding it from getting ruined easily. KIMONO ARE NOT MADE OF SATIN.

In most anime/manga/video games characters tend to have a white juban. It's very common for some reason.

* = I want to mention, as an extra note, that not all kimono are silk – for example farmers and such would have kimono made out of hemp. Cotton also exists, although it's not common for anything that is not a yukata. There's also the very thin summer sha and ro fabrics but those are likely not what cosplayers will want to look for. Oh and yeah, modern/newer kimono are quite often made out of polyester, so that's not technically all wrong either.

Kazuma Sohma from Fruits Basket wearing kimono, haori and juban.
However, with yukata a cotton kimono which is very informal you don't wear a juban; it's possible to "dress up" a yukata by adding a juban and other accessories though, but it's not really all that common. 
If someone wonders what a yukata is it's a light-weight, non-lined summer cotton kimono often worn to different outdoor festivals in Japan, like cherry blossom watching. Women's yukata tend to have floral prints and be colorful while men's often are more subdued in color and have geometric patterns.

Masato Hijirikawa from Uta no Prince-sama wearing yukata.
Notice the lack of juban.
But of course, when cosplaying, you most likely won't be making a silk kimono so the need to make a juban too just to have like 2 cm of the collar showing and have the sleeves peek out from inside might feel like wasted sewing work to most. It's understandable. But still, if your cosplay character of choice seems to be wearing a juban underneath then please, don't skip it. Heck, you can just make a fake kimono collar and it will give you the right look! Easy peasy and certainly looks better than having a trim of fabric running all the way down the collar, like seen on the majority of all the mass-produced Bleach shinigami outfits...

Typical online Bleach shinigami outfit.
Notice the "trims".
Ichigo Kurosaki and Rukia Kuchiki from Bleach.
Do you notice the difference? Also on the picture with Ichigo and Rukia you can see that the white can be seen on the inside of the sleeves too. If you just used trim the inside would be black...

6. What are these different Japanese garments called? 

Kimono is actually an umbrella term meaning basically any T-shaped ankle length robe with collars and wide sleeves. That means there are different kimono types which each have a name yukata and furisode, to just name a few. Furisode are known for their very long sleeves that can be almost floor-length; you can pretty often spot a young-ish female character in manga/anime/video games who wears a furisode. Yukata kimonos are also often seen in anime it's a very casual informal cotton kimono worn to summer festivals, hot springs, possible sleepwear and the like. Yukata are the only kimono to which you don't wear a juban so yeah, if the character has no second collar peeking out it is likely they are wearing a yukata. 
Both men and women can wear yukata but it will have the sleeve differences and stuff I mentioned in the beginning of the post. Oh, and occasionally characters (especially males) might wear a waist/hip length jacket over their kimono that is open at the front this is called a haori and it isn't meant to be closed. Also, sleeve rules applies for men's and women's haori too, although what I've seen on authentic kimono men's haori often have the sleeves completely sewn to the haori's body. But again, look at your cosplay references first to see how their garments are.

Also, especially male characters often wear hakama. Hakama is a type of pleated pants/skirt (depending on the style, both versions exist) with long ties that are wrapped around the body and secured with different knots. Most people know them as "samurai pants". 

Regarding hakama and fictional characters I've noticed that quite many shows have a hakama-wearing guy with his hakama tied knotted in a floppy ribbon or a knot with the ends hanging free in front. This is actually not an accurate way to tie them, as far as I know, but even in famous series such as Rurouni Kenshin and Bleach you will see hakama tied like this.

Kenshin Himura from Rurouni Kenshin wearing hakama.
Oh, and regarding hakama if you plan to make hakama be sure to check out some photos of real hakama to get the hang of what they actually look like. And, please, DO MAKE PLEATS, preferably pleats that hold their form too, not just big poofy pants because it looks cheap and makes me cringe. Oh, and hakama have 5 pleats in the front and 2 in the back. There are exceptions but I won't dig into that. Don't make more pleats than that or it will look... funny. :)) Oh, and don't forget the side openings and if the character has one the backboard. Note: women's hakama don't have a koshiita (backboard) and are worn higher up than men's. Only exception is martial arts hakama on which both sexes hakama look exactly the same. 
Also, some anime/manga/video game women like Chizuru Yukimura from Hakuouki Shinsengumi Kitan and, occasionally, Kaoru Kamiya from Rurouni Kenshin actually crossdresses. Be mindful of these!

Chizuru Yukimura from Hakuouki Shinsengumi Kitan.
I guess that's the most basic things one would need to know; I might have forgotten something though. Remember to follow your character references first and adjust accordingly if needed; it's possible the character's clothing or way of wearing it might go against the normal kimono dressing rules. This is all just general guidelines, about basic kimono knowledge, to help you out with your kimono style cosplays! Some characters do wear very inaccurate or heavily modified kimono, to which these guidelines might not be of as much help. I still hope you won't be too intimidated to try to tackle any of these "kimono rule breakers" since they're a whole new level of fun experimenting to do!

For example: Nouhime from Sengoku Basara!

I hope this was helpful to someone out there and, if you have any questions about this post or kimono and cosplay in general, feel free to contact me (my email can be found to the left of the blog) and I will try my best to answer you! I can also help you identifying what exactly a character is wearing etc. ^_^
Want to know something more about cosplaying kimono wearing characters? Send me a request and I'll see if I can write about it!
Thanks for reading and I hope you learned something new!
Samurai-sensei is out.


  1. Even if I know the most what I need to know about kimono (thanks to you, obviously) I have to say this guideline was well written and easy to understand.

    I hope it can come to use for those who need help related to this.

    Oh, and about that "crossing the collars wrong" it tickles me off as well, even if I´m not so into the subject as you are.

  2. kimono cossit on kyl parhaimpii kaikista koska ne on tosi mukavia päällä ja kumminkin näyttäviä asuja !

  3. You have done a great info here on the matter. I just read it fast so I will read it better another time. =)

  4. This is very precise and helpful. You have a looooot of kimono knowledge, thanks for sharing! ^_^

  5. ... Wow kissa kyllä vei kielen äsken mutta:

    Minun on aivan pakko kiittää sinua nyt! Olen jo pitkään toivonut, että joku tekisi tälläisen blogimerkinnän! Joten kiitos todella paljon! ☆彡\(・∀・*)

  6. Great job writing this and thanks sharing your knowledge. I learned a few things and found it helpful!

  7. Good stuff. Yksi juttu vain; kaikki kimonot eivät ole silkistä. Eivät ennen eivätkä nykyään. Silkki on aina ollu kallis materiaali ja aikanaan, kun kimono oli vielä jokapäiväinen vaate, ei juuri kellään ollut varaa silkkiseen kimonoon arkivaatteena. Virallisin ja arvokkain kimono oli yleensä silkistä, mutta sitä ei sitten käytettykään kuin oikeen hienoissa paikoissa. Puuvilla ja pellava on yleisiä kimonomateriaaleja silkiin lisäksi.

    1. Kyllä minä tiedän että kaikki kimonot eivät ole silkkiä. Omistan itse esimerkiksi keinokuitukimonon ja villakimonon. :) Mainitsin ainoastaan silkin siksi koska se nyt on se mitä eniten näkyy jos menee kimono-ostoksille netissä ja silkki kuitenki on se kimonojen "trademark-kangas".

      Koska tämä on tämmöinen alustava cosplaykimono infopläjäys niin jätin aika paljon tarkempaa infoa sanomatta.
      Ajattelin että mainitsen vaan nyt ensin ne asiat jotka ovat varsinki cossaajien kannalta tärkeitä että ei tuu informaatio overloadia niille joilla ei paljon kimonotietoa etukäteen ollut. :)

      Tosiaan olen harkinut hiukan että vois tehdä myös jatkopostauksen (jossain vaiheessa..) jossa sitten otan enemmän esiin eri kangastyyppejä ja muuta.

      Kiitos kuitenki kommentista!


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