Nihon Zatsuroku
An Online Japanese Miscellany

= Dress & Accessories =

by Anthony J. Bryant

General notes

      This is only meant to be the briefest of thumbnail looks at dress. For real information on dress, including sumptuary regulations, construction directions, and fabric patterns, see my online History of Japanese Clothing and Accessories. You should also visit Reconstructing History. Another excellent source is the Japan Costume Museum, although the site is primarily in Japanese, there is a spectacular display of the history of clothing, and they do now have an English mirror site with some of it.


Dress and appearance

      For common people, clothing is usually of linen or hemp; upper classes wear silk in addition to the less impressive fabrics. Silk is made in Japan as well as imported from the continent. Colors run the gamut from various earth-tones to bright jewel colors and pastels. Brocades and printed patterns are also commonly found.

      Older people wear darker, more subdued colors, while younger people wear brighter, more gaudy clothing. White is the color of death; people on their way to die will wear white, and people being prepared for funerals will be dressed in white as well.

      Clothing is tied on or belted in place; there are very few instances in clothing of buttons being used (one is to hold the collar closed on a kimono-like outfit worn under armor). In rainy weather, upper-classes will make use of oiled paper umbrellas. The lower classes (and samurai on the march) wear raincoats of straw. All classes wear tall geta, if they can afford them, to keep their feet out of the mud and puddles. Geta are not, however, commonly worn in the street.



      The universal male undergarment is the fundoshi (loincloth), a long, narrow cloth which wraps up between the legs and around the lower torso. Men undergoing arduous work such as farming, woodcutting, or construction might wear nothing but a loincloth and a headband, especially if the weather is oppressively hot and humid. The fundoshi also serves as a garment for swimming.

      Many men also wrap a long cloth around their abdomens. This cloth, slightly wider than a foot and as many as twenty feet in length, is called a haramaki. It serves to keep the belly warmer, and is often worn even in the summer under the rest of the man's clothing. The belief is that if the belly is kept warm and secure, the person will be healthy.

      Women of the upper-classes wear a red apron-like garment instead of any more binding undergarment.



      Although the word kimono means “thing to wear” and can, in a sense, refer to any item of clothing, it means… well, kimono. Kimono are always worn with the left side wrapped over right; wrapping the kimono right over left was how the dead were dressed. Historically, these garments are more properly called “kosode” (= small sleeves) as the outer garments had larger sleeves.

      The briefest and lightest kosode is today called a jûban or hadajûban, and functions like a modern white T-shirt. It is usually a plain, undyed hemp or simple white silk. Both men and women wear them, only the cut is slightly different.

      Beyond this, most garments worn by women are variants of the kimono proper; sleeve size, fullness, length, all these vary, but the general cut is the same. For men, only the under-classes generally stopped with the kimono; a variety of vests, over-robes, and coats were worn over the kimono. The cut, fabric, and decoration serve to set the ranks apart when it comes to kimono. The upper classes had silk and hemp and linens, while the lower classes primarily went with hemp or linen.



      Men of the upper classes will invariably wear hakama (culottes-like trousers) with their kimono, even when lounging at home. Over this hakama and kimono combination, a buke who is lounging may add a dôbuku, which is a large, broad-sleeved coat similar to a haori or happi. Standard wear in the sengoku period for middle- and lower-rank buke is the kamishimo, a garment consisting of a matching hakama and a sleeveless, sideless vest (called a kataginu), worn over a kimono. In the film Shôgun, many such example of kamishimo can be seen.

      A more formal outfit is the suô, which is a kamishimo to whose kataginu huge, free-flowing sleeves have been attached (in reality, though, a kataginu is a suô without sleeves). An eboshi (cloth cap) of some sort is typically worn by those of rank. The armor under-robe is essentially a hitatare with closer-fitted sleeves. These large sleeves have ties at the wrists to enable the wearer to tie them closed so they will not get in his way. Any of these garments may be decorated simply or elaborately with the owner's or wearer's clan crest. When wearing armor, one may wear a hitatare over the armor; in this case, the sleeves are tied closed at the elbow (so that they balloon out slightly), and the hakama is worn over the cuirass skirtplates. This outfit presents a very martial appearance.

      Kuge wear a kariginu instead as informal bouncing-around-town wear. A kariginu is a high- and round-collared over-robe with large sleeves. It can be worn out or tucked into the hakama. The tall tate-eboshi (= standing cap) is usually worn with a kariginu, especially in formal occasions. In the most formal of settings, kuge will wear a sokutai, an outfit finished off with a heavy, court-robe, the color of which indicated his rank. In less formal conditions, a kuge man will wear a garment called nôshi (pictured at left), which is similar in cut to the formal coat but allows him more freedom in style, color, and decoration. Another garment is the suikan, which is almost identical in cut to a kariginu, but it is worn inside the hakama, and with the collar open and tied back.

      Commoners and peasant-types might wear short kosode only, with no pants, if the weather is warm. They may also wear cloth leggings around their shins. In cold weather, they will add trousers of similar cut to the hakama, but tighter and less wasteful of fabric. The outfit is similar to a twentieth-century jûdô gi.

      Not all buke shave their heads and wear the topknot. There are two varieties of topknot; one is the tea-whisk style (usually worn with a full head of hair), which just gathers the hair up straight and tight in a ribbon and lets the end splay out like a tea-whisk; the other calls for a small knot of ribbon at the top of the back of the head and lets the hair fall forward slightly. There is, in the sengoku period, nothing like the later Edo hairstyle which has a shaven pate and a long queue of oiled hair folded forward over it.

      When donning armor for battle, bushi typically let their hair down, and left it lose under the helmet.

      Men of the upper classes wear tabi (split-toed socks) of either deerskin or linen, and waraji (straw sandals). Those of the lower-classes make do without the tabi except during winter.

      Geta are not worn except at home in the garden during inclement weather. Zori are the more common alternative footwear.

      Since Japanese clothing has no pockets, anything that needs to be carried is carried in the front flap of the kimono. In the flap, a man will usually carry a fan, several sheets of paper (useful for writing, or for “personal business”) and possibly a wallet.



      Women of the kuge have had their teeth blackened and eyebrows shaved, and a tiny black dot of fake eyebrow was painted high on their foreheads; this is a mark of refined, quiet living. The women of the highest ranking buke have adopted this practice to an extent, although most buke considered it an affectation. Some men among the kuge even blacken their teeth to appear elegant, but in this case there is also a sense of the effete about the practice, and to most buke it just seems odd. Upper-class women — both buke and kuge — wear their hair long, and tie it once at the base of the skull with a ribbon and let it hang loose.

      Court dress for kuge and buke women is an ancient conglomeration of garments commonly today called a jûni-hitoe, this term meaning “12-layered garment,“ and although that may be a slight exaggeration, there are indeed several layers — eight to ten being typical — of robes worn one on top of the other. It is more properly called a karaginu-mo, after the two principal garments in the outfit.

      The colors and patterns coordinate as to season, and it is a mark of a woman's esthetic abilities that she makes no gaffes in choosing her apparel for the day. The karaginu-mo is bulky and hot, and women wearing it are severely restricted in their range of motion. While they look stunning, they are prisoners of their own clothing.

      Commonly, they will wear one or two layered and belted kimono with an over kimono (which is unbelted) as a sort of jacket. When they go outside, they will use this unbelted kimono as a sort of hat, holding it above their heads. This serves to keep the sun out of their eyes, and keeps their skin pale. It also keeps prying eyes from seeing who is stepping out. An alternative is a low, broad conical hat of woven straw, from which hangs a curtain of gauze.

      Common women wear but one (decorated) kosode over another (plain white one) as an undergarment, unless their occupational requirements (e.g., aprons, etc.) call for something else. Like upper-class women, they wear their hair long, but not as long, and often they have caught it up on their heads with a comb. The huge bows and ornately decorated obi commonly seen in the twentieth century does not appear in Japan until the Edo period.



  This page was last modified on: 12/16/2014

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