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7 Japanese Dress Styles

Japanese fashion has a distinct look that makes it stand out when compared to fashion looks everywhere else on the globe. It looks great as a whole but actually wearing Japanese fashion is extremely tricky. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of bright colors and dazzling details. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Learn a little more about the different Japanese dress styles and Japanese fashion styles and get to know all about this unique and distinct corner of the fashion world. Soon, you’ll be creating your own Japan-influenced looks that are eye-catching, elegant and totally trendy.

Example of Japanese dress

 History of Japanese Clothing

Around the globe, Japan is famous for having its own fashion style that just doesn’t look like anything else anywhere in the world. But where did Japan’s distinction as a fashion universe begin? You could say it began as early as the year 200. That was so long ago, Rome was still an empire and England still wasn’t. Most of the world wasn’t aware of the United States and the Vikings had not yet even made it to Canada. But in Japan, fashion was thriving.

Statues made of clay dating to this year, or close to it, have been discovered in Japan. The reason they stand out is because of the way they’re dressed. They are incredibly detailed and show historians a lot about Japanese clothing during that era. 

Both male and female statues are shown wearing two-piece outfits with jackets that flare out slightly over the hips and full, pleated skirts in female styles. These figures, the haniwa, stand today in the Haniwa Garden in Miyazzaki, Japan. 

It was around the year 600 that the most distinctive item in all Japanese fashion first appeared. This is when a kimono-like garment, known as pao, started to be worn widely for the first time. It would soon change the way all Japanese people dressed for centuries to come. The pao, the early grandfather of the kimono, was inspired by Chinese court dress at the time, the fashions worn by the upper-class nobles and royals. 

Types of Japanese Dresses 

Even within common Japanese styles, there are many different variations and many different designs that create distinctly different looks. Take a closer look at the most common dress styles worn in Japan and soon, you’ll easily be able to spot the different types of dresses and know when and how they’re being worn, what they mean and whether or not you can wear them, too. 

1. Furisode

Traditional Japanese Kimono Cherry Kimono Anime Cosplay Costume Lolita Dress (XXL)

The furisode is a very formal type of kimono with very long sleeves. The furisode is made of high-quality silk and usually it’s very brightly colored. These are incredibly expensive dresses that are worn most commonly by young women who are ready for marriage at important social events. Because this dress is so expensive and yet so important for a young woman’s social standing, many parents rent furisode dresses as needed. This looks like a highly stylized and fancy Japanese kimono.

2. Junihitoe

The junihitoe is a very complex garment. The word actually translates to “12-layer robe,” and that’s not far from wrong. The inner layer of this garment is made with white silk or cotton. More layers follow. The outer layer is a coat. The layers of the junihitoe include a silk robe known as a kosode, a pleated skirt known as a hakama, a stiff robe called a uchignihu, a waist-length jacket called a karaginu and a silk robe called an uwai, along with several uchigi, which are light, unlined robes that add more layers. 

Because of the layers and the complex design, this is a very expensive dress and it is quite heavy as well. Masako, the crown princess of Japan, wore one of these dresses for her wedding. Empress Michiko also wore one in 1990 to attend a coronation-like ceremony for Emperor Akihito. This dress dates to around the year 900, when it was worn by women in the Japanese court. This dress is only worn for the most formal of occasions and usually only by the very wealthy, upper-class royals and nobles.

3. Kimono

Japanese Anime Women's Long Kimono Robe Fancy Dress Hand Held Silk Folding Fans Tabi Socks Set Black

There are few garments that are tied to a country as the kimono in Japan. In fact, kimono means “clothing” in Japanese, or “an item to wear.” This is a dress style that has been worn for centuries and continues to remain a popular style to this day. 

Kimonos are dresses that are wrapped and folded around the body in a very specific way. They’re made in a robe-like design that is floor- or ankle-length. Kimonos have wide, voluminous sleeves and they are made in a huge variety of colors and patterns. Traditionally, a separate cloth belt known as an obi was used to close the kimono. In more modern designs, kimonos often come with a cloth belt attached to the design.

The kimono is the national dress of Japan. The various materials, colors and patterns of the kimono actually tell a story and provide information about the wearer’s history, social class and heritage. Because this is such a traditional garment, it is often worn at special occasions and cultural events, such as tea ceremonies.  

For centuries, the kimono was worn by both men and women as regular daily wear. In the 1800s, however, Japan was exposed to more influence from Western fashion coming from Europe and America. In modern Japan, the kimono is seen less and less as streetwear but still is worn for formal events and ceremonies. The average Japanese person no longer wears a kimono regularly on a daily basis.

Traditional kimonos are made with silk and sewn together by hand. When folding the kimono around your body, you always go left side over the right side. The only time a kimono is folded the opposite way is when one is dressing the dead for burial or wearing a formal kimono at a funeral. Sometimes, a hakama is added on top of the kimono. This is a long, stylized skirt that often makes an appearance only at special ceremonies and it’s a traditional Japanese garment.

4. Nemaki

A cotton kimono, nemaki dresses are worn mostly in spas and resorts. These robe-like garments are typically blue or white in color. Often, they are detailed with features more associated with Western clothing, such as small pockets. This is another example of the influence of Western culture on traditional Japanese kimonos.

5. Shiromuku

Shiromuku dress worn by Japanese wedding bride on wedding day

The shiromuku is the most traditional kimono wedding dress in Japan. It’s a completely white kimono consisting of at least two layers that is tied around the waist with a white sash. The bride also wears a white head covering and white shoes. The shiromuku is made in rich fabric, usually silk or satin, and covered with ornate beadwork and embroidery. 

A modern version of the skiromuku, the irouchikake, is an unbelted, padded robe-like dress with a train. Unlike the traditional shiromuku, this dress is made in a variety of colors. It’s also made from a wide range of fabrics. 

6. Uchikake

Uchikake dress worn in Japanese wedding ceremony

The uchikake is a white kimono that is detailed with many stitches that is worn by the bride at a Japenese wedding. The groom wears a black mens kimono. The uchikake is a very long gown. Unlike Western wedding dresses that are long in the back to create a train, this Japanese wedding dress is long all the way around the skirt. In fact, attendants help the bride lift up the dress as needed during the day.

Because this traditional dress is so expensive, many choose to rent a dress to wear during the ceremony. 

7. Yukata

Yukata dress worn by woman

The yukata is worn by both men and women in Japan. It’s akimono made with cotton and decorated with stenciled patterns. Originally, this garment was worn only after having a bath. However, it started to become popular as Japanese streetwear in the summer months because the lightweight cotton is comfortable to wear in the heat. Many a Japanese woman prefers this style of kimono over more traditional Japanese clothing because it’s easy to keep clean and easy to wear.

Japanese Fashion

In addition to popular fashion designers like Yoho Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, author Kensuke Ishizu has had a huge effect on Japanese fashion. He is credited with bringing ivy league fashion into Japan and completely shaking up the style game. Japanese street fashion is so unique and so ever-changing, it is a subject of obsession for style watchers and fashionistas around the world.

People all over the world know that Japanese fashion is cutting-edge, colorful and even quirky. Japanese fashion looks like nothing else and there are several distinct style types that are associated with Japanese fashion styles.

Collectively, many of these fashion styles are known as harajuku style, or street style. This simply describes any type of fashion look that is being commonly worn in the big cities of Japan by hip and trendy people, notably in Tokyo. Typically, Japanese street style is characterized by bold visuals, like eye-catching graphics and bright colors. Over-the-top makeup and/or accessorizing are often trademarks of various harajuku fashion looks. The name comes from a specific district in Tokyo.

Doll Kei

Dolly kei looks are built around midi-length and longer dresses, usually made in velvet or other heavy materials and have embellishments like gold trim or a floral pattern. The colors are usually rich and darker in tone, but color blocking and graphic floral patterns still help to draw the eye. 

Sweet Lolita

It’s very common to wear babydoll dresses as part the sweet Lolita fashion style. This style is marked by pastels and soft colors and lots of frills and embellishments. Lace, ribbons, bows and flowers are trademarks of the sweet Lolita look. It’s an ultra-feminine and youth-orientated look that’s full of frills. The color pink is often prominent. In gothic Lolita style, the pinks and pastels are swapped out for black, red and Victorian-inspired looks involving lots of lace and ruffles.

Visual Kei

The visual kei look is a highly stylized, gothic fashion look that uses a lot of dark colors. This is one look that has gone far beyond Japanese culture to spread around the world. Dresses associated with this look are typically long maxi styles and fit and flare or A line dresses with fitted, lace-up bodices, in keeping with the gothic look. 

FAQs

Japanese fashion sure is com[licated! If you’ve still got lots of questions, you’re a lot like everyone else who didn’t grow up wearing these dresses and laying with Japanese style. Get the answers to the most common questions about Japanese dress styles and get to know everything you need to try wearing some of these looks for yourself. 

When do Japanese people wear traditional clothing?

Kimonos are no longer worn as an everyday dress in Japan. They fell out of fashion in the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, they are still worn for weddings, special occasions and ceremonies. Even more recently, there has been an upsurge in kimono-wearing. The dress has become more popular in western fashion trend styles more recently, which has led to a new incline in this garment’s popularity. They are still worn for different formal occasion events.

When do people wear kimonos, and how are they worn?

Kimonos are still worn at graduation ceremonies, coming-of-age ceremonies and during various summer festivals. They are often worn in all-black designs at funerals. The mofuku is an all-black kimono with a family crest that is worn at funerals. A simple kimono may also be worn during a tea ceremony, though Western dress is also acceptable. 

Kimonos are still worn in the traditional way, with specific undergarments. The way the kimono is wrapped around the body, with the left side being crossed over the right side. It is very unlucky to wear it with the right side over the left, as this has death symbolism. Traditionally, kimonos are tied with a wide sash known as an obi around the waist. In more modern designs, a matching belt is already attached to the kimono and tied simply at the waist. 

Why is it that Japanese fashion doesn’t have a strong presence outside of Japan?

The over-the-top fashions tyles that are seen in Japanese streetwear are not really seen widely around the world. You may have trouble finding someone wearing sweet Lolita looks in say, Peru, which is separated from Japan on both sides by at least one ocean. 

However, with the rise of globalization, it is easier than ever for Japanese fashion looks and specific designs to make their way around the world and influence fashion culture all across the globe.

What is the difference between kimono and yukata?

The kimono and yukata look very similar but the yukata is made from cotton. They are also unlined. Kimonos, on the other hand, are almost always lined. The yukata is also sewn from a single piece of fabric, while the kimono is sewn from multiple pieces. Because yakata are made to be machine-washable, they are usually worn without the nagajuban, the undergarment that is paired with a kimono. 

Kimono are often made with silk or more delicate fabric than cotton and often cannot be machine-washed. 

What do you wear under a kimono?

In traditional Japanese dress, there are many layers of clothing worn under the kimono. The nagajuban is a robe that is made with sturdy, machine-washable fabric. It’s worn so that the edge of the nagajuban is visible under the kimono. The nagajuban is tied with a datejime, a sash. You may also wear a hiyoku, a robe meant to be worn under a kimono. This is used as an extra layer of warmth on cold days and also makes an appearance in formal dress. 

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