Japanese Kimono vs Yukata: Key Differences & How to Wear
Apr 26, 2020
Both kimono and yukata are examples of traditional Japanese clothing that date back centuries.
They are both full-length garments with long sleeves. They are also T-shaped and are worn with a decorative belt to keep them in place. The Japanese follow a set of traditional rules called kitsuke that determine how both garments should be worn.
Still, there are differences between the two.
So, what are kimono and yukata, and how can you tell the difference?
What is Kimono?
The kimono is the older garment and is derived from a traditional Chinese robe called a hanfu.
It consists of four pieces of fabric sewn together. Its versatility helped make it popular; people could add or subtract layers to suit the weather and the occasion.
Kimonos became a staple of Japanese dress sometime during the Muromachi period (1392-1568).
People gradually developed different styles that indicated their occupation and social status, and the related traditions evolved during the Edo period (1603 – 1868).
Those traditions have remained essentially the same since the 18th century.
What is Yukata?
And yukata, which predated bath towels, were originally developed and used by nobles to keep them decently covered before and after bathing.
As they were made of inexpensive materials like cotton, they became particularly popular during the Edo period, which had laws forbidding extravagance.
Kimono VS Yukata, Their Differences
How can you tell the difference between kimono and yukata? Sit back and I will show you now:
The kimono is considered formal wear, so it is the Japanese equivalent of an evening gown or a tuxedo. The rules for wearing it are much stricter than those for wearing a yukata, which is considered casual wear.
Both sexes wear traditional Japanese formal wear, while kimono are worn mainly by women. A growing number of young men, however, also like to wear them.
People typically wear kimono for formal occasions like weddings or graduation ceremonies.
Yukatas are lighter and less expensive, so they are a casual garment to wear to outings such as a barbecue or a summer festival.
People will wear yukata to attend summer festivals and outdoor events like fireworks displays.
Some people will also use yukata as bathrobes when they are visiting hot springs and other public bathing areas.
There is not necessarily a wrong time to wear a kimono, but with a yukata, it can be seen as a sign of disrespect to wear such a casual outfit for something as life-changing as a wedding.
The material of a traditional kimono is silk, and it is woven by four individual pieces of fabric sewn together to create the garment. It has intricate folds of cotton underneath which create a layered look, and it is all held together by a cotton-and-silk belt called an "obi."
The design on kimonos is usually more intricate, adding to the high expense of the silk used.
The yukata is different than kimonos in that the fabric is meant to be lighter anymore breathable, as it is worn generally during the summer months due to its nature.
It traditionally was worn as a bathrobe made out of cotton, but now it can be found in a variety of machine-washable materials such as a cotton blend or polyester and is worn casually throughout the hotter months.
Yukatas are also shorter than kimonos which typically reach the ankles, while yukata extend past the ankles.
Kimono can be worn during any season. As they are made from thicker materials than yukata, people can and do wear them during the cooler months.
Some people will wear fur shawls with their kimono in winter.
However, the Japanese traditionally wear their yukata during the hot summer months.
Both are seen as comfortable garments to wear, but they each have an ideal season to be worn is as the material differs from one another.
The difference in the length of the sleeves on kimono and yukata can be seen clearly; kimonos generally have longer sleeves while yukata’s sleeves will be no longer than 50cm.
Generally speaking, the more formal and solemn event, the longer the sleeves will be.
Sleeve length will also depend on a person’s age and social status. Unmarried women, for example, will wear kimono with sleeves that are long enough to touch the ground. This traditional style enables men to identify marriageable women.
Sometimes the sleeves can represent an event, such as a death or birth, depending on how the garment is folded or howling the sleeves are.
By contrast, yukata never have sleeves that are longer than 19.7 inches (50 cm). They are thus never long enough to reach the ground.
Yukata has only one collar.
Kimono has at least two, with one close to the neck and the other somewhat lower. The lower collar is called a juban collar.
Kimonos have a stiffer collar than yukatas do due to the material they are made from. Kimonos have a wide, soft collar while yukatas have a half-width collar and it is much stiffer.
The Japanese traditionally wear a type of footwear called zori with their formal kimono wear. They resemble sandals and can be made of vinyl, brocade, or fabric. While men may wear their zori with nothing else, women also have to wear a special type of sock called tabi.
These socks are traditionally white, but they can come in other colors. Now, you can purchase the socks in a variety of non-traditional colors like pink and black, making more of a fashion statement than tradition.
Japanese dressed in kimono will usually wear geta, alternatively, with them. Geta are wooden sandals that can be worn in any season. They are informal and can be considered the Japanese equivalent of sneakers.
Kimonos are more expensive than yukatas, for they are made from more expensive materials and take longer to make. Kimonos also have more accessories.
The price continues to go up as you consider the design aspect of kimonos, as they are significantly more intricate in design. The more unique the kimono is and the more time-consuming, the higher the chance the price will be quite expensive.
Yukatas, on the other hand, are considerably inexpensive since they are made from cotton or polyester blends.
How to Wear
There is one important rule to follow when wearing any type of Japanese clothing:
Wear the robe with the left panel over the right. The Japanese dress their dead with the robe’s right panel over the left, so wearing a robe in this fashion is considered extremely impolite.
One way to make sure you are wearing your robe properly is to try to slip your right hand under the top panel. You should wear your kimono robe correctly.
How to Wear Kimono
Kimono is very elaborate and consists of at least a dozen components.
Japanese often wear a garment called a hadajuban next to their skin. It is similar to an undershirt and it protects the under-robe or nagajuban from any dirt. You would use a koshi himo, which is a slender sash, to tie the inner layers in place.
Next comes the outer robe, which should be within two inches or five centimeters of your height. It needs to be this long, so you can form an oshashori or fold.
To make this special fold, you need to hoist the robe so it is roughly ankle-length and use a koshi himo to keep it in place. You will then use the remaining fabric to form the oshashori. Wearing a formal robe without the oshashori is a violation of kitsuke.
The back of the outer robe has an upper centerline, and this should align with your spine.
The obi is a wide and colorful belt worn over the outer robe. These belts come in a variety of styles and are made from different fabrics.
A fukoro obi is an elaborate belt worn for very formal occasions, while the hanhaba obi is more casual. You can also wear accessories with the obi. The obiage, for example, is a silk sash worn underneath the obi to give the body a tubular appearance. The obijime is a decorative cord used to hold the obi’s knot in place.
While both men and women can wear kimono, there are some differences between the sexes. For example, men’s robes tend to be simpler and plainer than women’s robes. While women often wear vibrantly colored robes, men wear robes in more sober colors like gray, dark blue, brown or black.
(You can find decent Japanese Kimono and Yukata from Modakawa)
On very formal occasions, men will wear a kimono called a montsuki that is made of black silk. They wear it over a white under-robe and a pair of traditional trousers called hakama. They will also wear zori or dress sandals.
How to Wear Yukata
Yukata have far fewer components than kimono do, so they are easier to wear. Since they are also easier to clean than silk kimono, you don’t need to wear any protective garments underneath them. Since kimono is also supposed to keep you cool in the hot summer, under-robes would defeat that purpose.
Women, however, still have to adjust the length of their robe to form an oshashori fold, while men do not. On the other hand, men often wear a special pad under the robe to make their abdomen appear more rounded.
Both sexes will wear an obi that is narrower and less elaborate than the ones worn with kimono.
Some makers of yukata will even sell obis that have already been sewn into bows to make it easier for customers to wear them. Men are expected to wear their obis lower down the waist than women are.
Geta or casual sandals are generally accompanied with yukata.
Yukata does come with some accessories.
(click the image to see product detail)
Women can wear a hair ornament called a kanzashi when they put on yukatas, and they may also pin a type of brooch called an obidome on their obi’s front. By this means, they will look kawaii.
Both genders may wear a heko obi, which is made of sheer material, on top of their obi. This look is considered quite modern.
There is never a wrong time socially to wear a kimono, but it would be seen as incredibly rude to wear a yukata to someone’s bridal shower or wedding. Kimonos are seen as very classy and formal clothes to wear to any event, but it would be frowned upon to wear a yukata to such an event since it is considered casual wear.
The kimono vs. yukata debate can be seen throughout the Japanese culture, and has changed over time. Traditionally, there were only kimonos to wear and the yukata had not been created yet.
Once the yukata was created, it became a staple piece in any closet and was used to go to bathhouses and as a casual garment to wear nearly anywhere.
Now, it can be found online and in stores to wear on a day-to-day basis.
The popularity of kimono and yukata soared and now millions are sold every single year. It is important to keep in mind when and where to wear yukatas and kimonos as they show completely different messages to the world, and hopefully this article helped guide you on how to wear this traditional Japanese garment correctly.
Where to Buy
You can find beautifully made kimono and yukata in Modakawa now.
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