Traditional Japanese pastimes: fashion
By the beginning of the Edo period, the kimono ('the thing worn') was the principle garment of both sexes and all classes. Kimono are made from lengths of a standard width of cloth stitched side by side. They vary in length, and the side seams stitched together - however, the underarm seams are left unsewn. As kimono are hand-stitched, it is relatively easy to take the sections apart and clean them flat. They are worn wrapped left side over right and secured with a sash called an obi. Kimono do not have pockets and are always worn with at least one kimono undergarment.
Kimono varied for women and men, and for younger and older women. The pattern on women's kimono was generally larger and bolder than on men's. Women's sleeves were also longer than men's. Young, unmarried women wore `swinging sleeves', which by the turn of the eighteenth century were often over 75 cm in length. Darker colours and subdued patterning were considered more appropriate for older women.
Many variations were of course possible according to season, the wealth of the wearer and social function. For warmth, kimono could be lined or quilted, worn with a short jacket on top or more garments underneath; for manual work they could be made of hardwearing cotton or hemp; for grand occasions they could he made of silk, brocade and embroidery, or lined in contrasting colours.
In kimono it is the pattern on the surface, rather than the cut of the garment, that is significant. Indications of social status, personal identity and cultural sensitivity are expressed through colour and decoration. The choice of obi and accessories, such as combs and pins worn in the hair, are also important. Only the elite regularly wore luxurious kimono; the majority of people would only have donned silk garments on special occasions and were sometimes forbidden to do so all together. The kimono worn by women, particularly the young, were the most richly decorated and it is generally these that survive in collections like that of the V&A. Such kimono were the designer clothes of their day.