Vintage Komon Kimono. Length: 59"
The term komon kimono denotes a kimono for everyday wear, and the small all-over repeat of this kimono's design identifies it as just that. But despite its lowly
status it remains one of my favorite kimono, in the use of color and pattern to create a mood. This one is a late summer/early
autumn design (many designs are seasonal, and to be truly iki, (stylish) the wearer's design motifs should predate, and so anticipate, the actual season by a few weeks).
Late summer also marks a return to more widely-worn awase (lined) kimono, and in this case the hakkake is a strong amber and the lining is cream habutae. Komon were popular for everyday wear because their fine pattern hid a multitude of small stains, and so they remained wearable for longer.
Today komon, the most everyday kimono, are made in ever-smaller quantities, and those that are made tend to be in stripes of one kind or another, or abstract geometric designs. The obvious reason for this is that stripes, checks and spots have no season, and so can be worn all year round. However, save for a small contingent of determined enthusiasts, the only time that a modern woman dons a traditional kimono tends to be for formal and ceremonial occasions, and so only the high-end kimono designed for such occasions are made in any numbers, and the poor komon, of which this is a beautiful example, has all but vanished. Bought from Neyagawa city, Osaka.
Vintage full shibori komon kimono. Length: 63.5
A mid to late-Taisho kimono, whose all-over pattern identifies it as a komon, but the complexity of design and the time-consuming
nature of the production method means that it sits at the very top of its category. The design is one of my favourite subjects; bamboo, and although bamboo is considered a winter subject--and
indeed, this is a lined kimono--it leans towards the end of Winter, often February or March time,
hinting at the coming Spring. The shibori
colour of this kimono is a fresh, vibrant spring green, with very subtle bellflower blue highlights.
A close up of the body below reveals those subtle pale blue accents within the fresh green, as well as the characteristic ruffled shibori finish.If disassembled, a quality shibori kimono can sometimes be seen to be inter-lined whilst still in bolt form with an incredibly thin and lightweight habutae silk invisibly and randomly tacked to the underside of the shibori, designed to take the weight of the outer shibori so that the textured finish is not lost over time as weight causes the silk to settle and drop.
(shibori is never ironed, to ensure there's no loss of the texture, though it can actually be steam-washed by a professional).
I have a few bolts of unused shibori, and it's interesting to see just how small the bolt is when finished, with a standard 36cm wide bolt measuring around 22cm
wide. The bolts are sold in this tightly-textured state, only being steam-treated when ready to assemble, to relax the densely-clumped shibori to a more workable state. When I bought the bolts, I
was advised not to store it on a hard roll, but to roll it hollow, and to unroll it occasionally and re-roll with the outer end in the centre, so as to maintain even surface pressure across the
This piece is also interesting in that the hakkake--the lower lining of a kimono visible when one walks, when it kicks open
slightly even with small 'kimono-sized' steps--is also shibori of pale blue, something I've never seen before. Sourced in Kyoto, Japan.
Vintage tsumugi kasuri komon Length: 63"
Tsumugi fabric--the leftovers of the silk cocoon when all the best quality silk has been taken away, leaving slubby remnants where
short lengths have been combined--is a favourite of mine, for its texture. True tsumugi was the silk of the masses, being spun at home by hand, and I'll put an example of that up next, with
greater detail. This is a later example made in at least a partly-automated process, when its understated nature had become very iki (stylishly understated). To wear, this tsumugi feels
like an old pair of denim jeans; soft but robust, and utterly comfortable, and that's very much the niche that kasuri
exists within; casual everyday wear inside and outside the home.
Kasuri is a whole sub-field in itself and there are many lovers of this type of weave in which either the warp or weft is pre-dyed to
a pattern, then the opposing thread (warp for weft-dyed, weft for warp-dyed) re-woven, in a process whose inaccurate nature gives genuine kasuri its distinctive blurred finish. Here, the design
is a repeat of flying birds, their wings and tails just identifiable as the re-weaving process displaced the pre-dyed thread just slightly. Bought in Osaka,
Vintage tsumugi komon Length: 63"
This is a much older tsumugi, a slubbed silk made from the leftovers of the silk cocoon when all the best quality silk has been taken
away. As I said above, true tsumugi was spun at home, initially by the families of silkworm producers wishing to utilize unsaleable remnants. Its particular texture is often said to be
gained from the spinner using their fingers and saliva to smooth the flosses together into a weavable thread, and tsumugi's famous characteristic is that the more it is washed, the softer it becomes, as the starch is slowly lost from the untwisted floss.
Up close, you can see the slubs, as well as the small and very simple repeat stencilled design which designate this as a komon kimono. It was the variety of these designs, given originality by the fact that they were woven in the home for the wearer, which gained tsumugi its iki reputation as unique and understated, as the sumptuary laws which restricted certain silks to certain classes took the lowly tsumugi, considered a lesser-quality silk, into the city.
One of the revolutions in the silk industry was the eventual ability to weave slubbed silk by machine, which brought silk prices down
to a far more affordable level almost overnight. Hand woven tsumugi such as this piece is still available though, and despite its humble beginnings which relegate it to the lower end of the
formality scale, it remains extremely iki. Bought in Kyoto, Japan.
Contemporary cotton yukata. Length: 63.5"
Something entirely casual now, in the form of a cotton yukata--and this one is living proof that not all modern yukata are garish teenage colors! This is a Japanese-made yukata with textured cotton, rather than the more ubiquitous Chinese imports, and has a hydrangea design over yabane (arrow flights).
Generally worn to summer festivals and occasionally seen out and about in onsen towns (blue and white versions are provided for wear by traditional onsens), the
yukata has been the success story of kimono, adopted by the young set and coming in ever more interesting and contemporary designs, its robust cotton washability and clear link to summer
and festivals giving it universal appeal.
Traditionally worn with geta (wooden clogs), it's often claimed that a yukata is easier to put on, but I find it no
easier or harder to don or wear than any other kimono--though there are perhaps less rules as to suitability (time, place, occasion), and pretty much everything goes with younger wearer's
kitsuke, including lace, diamante, sequins and small stuffed toys! When worn out, it's generally with a hanhaba (half-width) obi to match the casual mood, often with a playful design or
inventive tsuba (knot). This one I wear with a pale leaf green hopping rabbits and moons design.
Late Showa full shibori kimono. Length: 64"
At the risk of saying another favourite--they all seem to be that!--here's another favourite of mine, a late Showa kimono in a beautiful high-gloss rinzu silk, with
fine spaced shibori throughout. The repetitive design singles this out as a komon, though the gloss of the fabric and the expensive nature of the shibori lift it to a higher level, such as a tea
ceremony. Normally one would wear an iromuji, or single-colour kimono to such events, but the subdued nature of this piece would also be at ease.
As a general rule, within the ranking of fabrics, the glossier ones come higher, though the design treatment overrides the actual fabric, so that a crepe painted with exquisite yuzen, shibori or embroidery (or even better, all three!), will trump a glossy silk.
The design used in this instance is a base rinzu grid pattern over which individual shibori has been laid in a very delicate
two-tone pattern, with the texture of the rinzu and the creasing associated with shibori used to great effect. The blue-green of the darker spots is repeated in the plain hakakke, with the upper
lining in cream habutae. This kimono hangs beautifully when worn, giving a subtly sophisticated air. Sourced in Osaka, Japan.
Early Taisho shibori komon kimono. Length: 50"
A late Taisho to early Showa pre-WWII kimono, as evidenced by the longer sleeves, with an incredibly vibrant asanoha (hemp leaves) design rendered in shibori on a narihira-bishi (diamond and droplet) figured kinsha silk. The strong red and aquamarine blue of this piece make for an eye-catching combination, with the mix of smooth and matt rinzu silk adding even more depth.
The tsumashita (collar to hemline) length, as well as the upper body length, are very short on this
kimono, meaning that it was probably made for a taller girl rather than a short adult. The brightness of the design also bears this out, as well as the 27" sleeve length. Whilst just within
Taisho length, 27" is on the long side, pushing it almost into the ko-furisode group--particularly when taken into account in terms of overall proportion
of the 50" total length.
It's a tribute to its true versatility, that the same technique which produced the subtle and demure
grey komon above, is also capable of this explosive vitality in pattern and colour. Up close you can see the quality and expertise of the actual shibori work, in its clean, controlled edges and
uniform symmetry, even at this scale.
The photographs don't quite convey the ultramarine blue, and the incredibly soft mon-kinsha silk has a beautifully tactile nature.
This gorgeous komon is in great condition, with just one tiny stain and an original seam to the underside of the right eri, invisible when worn.
Sourced in Osaka, Japan.
Vintage lilac komon kimono. Length: 64.5"
Made by similar methods to kasuri ikat but with far greater mechanization, this technique once
again relies on stretching the warp and loosely weaving a temporary weft, then stenciling a pattern onto the loosely-woven fabric before removing the temporary weft threads and re-weaving the
fabric with a permanent weft. This means that the stenciled image exists only on the warp thread, with the weft thread left to introduce subtler woven designs. It also gives the fabric a
distinctive blurred finish which seeks to imitate true kasuri like the vintage blue tsumugi kasuri komon.
Up close the design is rendered in pinks and blues on a fine-check grey background, though from a distance the overall sense is of a lilac kimono.
The problem with this type of fabric is that because the silk thread is flossed rather than twisted, such kimono are rather delicate and prone to surface
pulls and snags. This one is unworn, with its original basting threads still intact, and so in excellent condition. I've been tempted to wear it a few times as it's a good fit, but the stiffness
of the fabric makes it a little ungainly, though I know it would soften with wear. Bought in Hyougo-ku, Kobe, Japan.
Vintage yellow komon kimono. Length: 65.5"
A second kimono using the same methods as above, this one very light and summery in shades of lemon, cream and soft red, though it's lined, and so is made for wear
before the high summer. Unlike the one above, this one has been worn and cleaned, but is still in very good shape for this style of fabric. It's difficult to find good examples, because as
mentioned earlier the production process uses thread that is flossed rather than twisted, meaning that the silk thread is only
minimally twisted--just sufficient to maintain integrity. This gives the silk a wonderful luminescence, but despite its close-packed weave, also makes it very delicate for an everyday komon. With
no twist to hold the thread's strength it suffers constant fine surface thread-pulls, and despite the general robustness of the fabric, the surface is probably one of the least robust of all
kimono fabric processes.
Of late the bolder pieces are being snapped up by kimono-hime enthusiasts, though this more traditional design in lemon yellow and peach with green accents, would likely be of less interest.
I've put a few closer pics of this one up, so that you can quite clearly see the open weave that makes them so very delicate, as well as that distinctive blurred edge, designed to emulate the far more expensive genuine ikat methods like the Yonezawa tsumugi lower down this page. Bought in Hyougo-ku, Kobe, Japan.
Pink jinken Edo kimono. Length: 63.5"
And here's one of the jinken that I have in my collection. This one is an actual jinken, which is the man-made fabric rayon, based on wood pulp. It's this which made it more popular than other man-made fabrics in Japan, since it was considered more 'natural', and gained popularity there from around 1920, though obviously this one is contemporary. It tends to have slightly more body than silk, and feels a lot more robust.
As modern man-made fabric continually improves so does its claim on the market, particularly because of its washability--the cost of having a silk kimono cleaned
would typically be more than buying two good quality new jinken kimono! Today, you can see a lot of more everyday komon coming in polyester and poly-silk mixes, particularly those used as
uniforms in hotels and restaurants. It's also gaining a true foothold is the rental market, due to the frequent washing necessary, where you can see it in every type of kimono up to
Jinken isn't hard to distinguish from real silk, unlike modern polyesters which, when mixed with silk, can be very difficult to spot, requiring opening a seam slightly to remove a few strands for a burn test. It's always worth checking on vintage pieces though, as unlike its modern counterpart, vintage jinken can't be washed.
As I said, this is an Edo komon, which refers to the base pattern of small dots that can generally only be seen from very close up. And again, being jinken, this is
a printed finish rather than traditional. Originating in Tokyo (then named Edo), traditional Edo designs are a stencilled paste resist technique which give the garment an iromuji appearance from
a few steps back, raising it to a possible semi-formal level with some careful accessorising of obi and zori--it can even sport a single mon to the centre back seam, though it's generally sewn,
not stencilled. This background Edo pattern is same, which means sharkskin, and the most commonly used. This particular kimono of course couldn't be dressed up to iromuji level because
it has a distinct cherry blossom design over the top of the Edo same, rendering it back to casual komon status.
It's worth noting that this kimono also follows the traditional komon method of running the pattern in alternating directions on each consecutive panel, rather than the Western standard of allotting a distinct direction that the pattern would run for an entire garment. If you look closely at the back panels, you can see that the pattern runs upwards on one panel and downwards on the next. This was done even if it meant that the pattern ran upside-down in parts, though the nature of komon patterns, which were stencilled in small areas at a time, meant that most older fabrics tended to have their stencils alternated one up and one down on the same run of cloth, so that there were upside-down parts to every panel. This was obviously only an issue in komon kimono; all other types had a distinct direction. Bought in Kyoto, Japan.
Peacock blue rinzu kimono. Length: 59"
This is a petrol blue kinsha rinzu kimono created with floating threads in the weaving phase, giving the fabric a beautiful milti-layered complexity.
It's all over design renders it a komon kimono, but quality of the weave lifts it from everyday wear. I mention kinsha a lot, as I tend to gravitate towards it in the chirimen kimono I buy. Kinsha is a type of crepe woven with finer silk than general chirimen, but with the same right or leftward twist of the yarn during weaving to provide strength and texture. Although it's woven very tightly, kinsha is made from a far finer thread, giving it a wonderful soft drape. I've read that kinsha is no longer made, and indeed in this piece the sleeve length locks it down to early/mid Taisho, as do the colours of dusky pink and peacock blue, both very popular at the time.
What's interesting in this piece is that extra layer of colour and texture in the damask, in the form of dusky pink plants and bridges, which close up you can see lays as a separate, slightly raised layer of thread 'floated' over the top of the standard damask. Kinsha can be dyed before or after weaving, and in this instance the wide bands of peakock blue would seem at first glance to be post-weave, but that would require an impossible-to-achieve holdout of the pink areas, to stop them becoming the same blue. There are methods of stencil-dying which are so precise as to dye only one side of the fabric, but they're generally seen on summer ro, are very expensive, and I've never read of them applied for background washes. So it seems more likely that in this case the background thread was pre-dyed at skein-stage with random holdout areas of white bands, which realistically could only have been achieved across the weft, leaving the pink areas as warp thread which are raised by the rinzu or floating karaori method. The thickness of the pink thread also provides further contrast against the super-smooth kinsha weft. But seen close up there's also a more typical rinzu damask design within the blue and white areas unaffected by the pink thread, and since damask requires both warp and weft threads to achieve, the fact that it exists within the same weave as the raised pink damask is very interesting, presumably requiring a floating weave which would be evident on the rear of the fabric. So I've yet to find a named reference to this technique, as I'm sure it will have its own specific rinzu weave-type and name. In the meantime, I simply enjoy it as a beautiful mystery! Sourced in Osaka, Japan.
Hitokoshi chirimen roketsu-zome komon. Length: 60"
Another one of those komon kimono which have to be seen up close to appreciate, and I've put a closer pic up just below, to see the beauty of the underlying
colours. This one is roketsu-zome, which is wax batik, a method of layering colour by dying the under layer first--in this case in broken pinks, pale aqua blues and very pale greys--then holding
portions out using wax which is applied whilst hot and allowed to set, before a further darker layer is added by immersing parts of--or in this case the entire--bolt. The wax always crazes into
fine cracks as the fabric is creased during this final dying process, allowing a distinctive bleed-through of fine veins of the darker colour into the waxed holdout of the lighter one.
This kimono is very easy to date from the type of thick, matt silk of its outer body, named hitokoshi chirimen. A dense, heavy crepe, it reached its height in the late Showa era--the mid seventies--when it was popular because its toughness made it suitable for all kinds of process-heavy finishes. More commonly seen on homongi and tsukesage, it also makes the odd appearance on townwear such as this, where its weight and density make it particularly suitable for the cooler seasons. This komon is awase (lined), with a pale pink hakkake and cream doura. Sourced in Tokamachi Nigata, Japan
Katazome komon. Length: 61"
A katazome komon to compare with the homongi katazome. This one is cream chirimen silk with a very traditional katazome-style
repeat. Up close, the gradient on the coloured areas is a little too defined, making this a very good copy of a true and hugely expensive katazome, rather than the real thing.
It's probably late Showa, likely the 1970's, due to its ombre-edged (dip-dyed) silk hakkake, which was very much in vogue at the time. As was also becoming popular,
this kimono is a little stiffer due to the application of a special finish to reduce staining, giving the chirimen a slightly more robust feel. As I've mentioned before, katazome is a resist-dye
technique which relies on a rice paste being applied through stencils, with different stencils used to hold out different areas for each new colour. Colour is applied in successive coats to
achieve the desired density, often using brushes to give a colourwashed feeling--in this case, it's the inability to create that unique soft wash that define this as faux--a very good copy, but a
copy, all the same.
Katazome stencilling was often applied in the traditional one right-way-up and one upside-down method, so that whichever panel the
design was on, only part of the design would be rightway up. This is necessary because unlike Western clothing, Wakafu has no shoulder seam--the fabric travels from the ankle line at the
front up and over the shoulder to the ankle line at the back in a single piece, meaning that as the panel crosses the shoulder line, the design becomes upside-down. To counter this, the panels
are either sewn in a one right-side-up and the next upside-down order, or the design itself is applied in an alternating right-side up and upside-down fashion over the entire bolt.
This particular komon has an exuberance of flowers to make it suitable for all seasons, as well as birds, grasses, waves and fishing baskets. Bought in Kyoto, Japan
Chirimen komon. Length: 60.5"
Another mid-Showa komon kimono, and this one I picked up for the love of the pattern and the harmony of its colours, in this case used to express the turning of the
season from Spring to Summer. It's also a good comparison for the katazome above, because although this is stencil work, the shades of colour to the flowers and short leaves of this piece is
hand-applied, giving each leaf and flower the soft gradation of colour that singles it out as such. Compare the gradation of the irises to the gradation of colour on the chrysanthemums
Like the men's pheonix juban, this piece is very redolent of British Liberty patterns which stemmed from the Arts and Crafts movement, itself an artistic movement which among other things, took inspiration from the graphic nature of Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints which were becoming available to the West at this time. Bold lines of either flat colour or subtle near-flat washes defined the woodblock style, and this all-over floral design echoes popular kacho-e (flower-and-bird-picture) book illustrations being made available to British artists.
Most of the flowers in this design are generic, but up close you can see that there are very recognizable iris and orchid blooms in the mix, meaning that, along with the general bright nature of the design of this awase (lined) chirimen kimono, this is a May/June kimono. Later in the month of May and in early June, kimono would move over to hitoe (unlined) styles, and the briefly-in-season lined ro, to hint at the Summer to come, before the heat rendered lined kimono unwearable altogether. Sourced in Nigata province, Japan.
Taisho-era chirimen silk komon. Length: 55"
There comes a point in every kimono's life when it can no longer be worn. Expensive furisode and uchikake may well survive this by
dint of their art, but the everyday Komon seldom does. Silk is expensive, and old kimono would generally go through the same run of uses, post-wear. Light silk kimono often had their lining and
collar removed, and their sleeves swapped (swapping sleeves left for right, so that the wear to the cuff is hidden within the seam at the top of the shoulder, was a common trick, as was swapping
the back panels where the centre seam had become stressed through kneeling seiza-style; again, the difference in seam depths meant that the flaw would be hidden inside the lining of the kimono).
A white eri could then be re-fitted for use as a nagajuban. Retired lightweight kimono were used in this fashion either as a single garment, or later, pieced with others. After that, it would be
disassembled for the fabric itself, to be used about the house, or even completely unraveled to be made into a type of rough-woven obi. Today, a lot of disassembled kimono are used for crafting,
to become cushions, bags, table mats and runners, and quilting. In times past, the fabric would be pieced to use as cloths or bags, or sold by weight, a common practice up to the
This venerable old piece has survived World War, foreign occupation, democracy, women's emancipation, two Emperors, huge financial booms and crippling recessions, as well as earthquakes and tsunamis. As a representation of Wakafu it has little value, and I've disassembled many like it for other uses--and actually bought this one intending the same...but this pre-WWII komon with a stencilled patten of mock mokume (woodbark shibori) background and mock shibori bamboo leaves has somehow always evaded the scissors. The striped pattern and muted colours are pleasing to the eye, and although it isn't kinsha, its softness due to wear is amazing. It's been relined at least once in its life, so that only the sleeves retain their original Taisho red silk which, though not bleeding through, still changes the colour of the pale green on the sleeves, giving them a visibly different tint to the body. It's not the oldest in my collection by a long way, nor is it in any way an impressive or relevant piece. Instead, it's modest and unassuming, yet somehow still cheerful, and has very clearly seen a lot of life. So I like it all the same. A lot. Sourced in Kyoto, Japan.
Yonezawa Tsumugi Komon Ensemble. Length: 60.5"
This is an unused vintage tsumugi ensemble--a kimono and matching haori from the same bolt. The small piece of fabric you can see
hanging on the right sleeve is the end of the bolt, clipped onto the kimono to prove manufacturing provenance. Most bolts have a band like this to the outer end, referencing the company, bolt
type, weave type, silk content and sometimes even a woven image of the factory or scenery. I've bought bolts based solely on this, before now.
Yonezawa is a blanket term for several types of tsumugi kasuri (ikat) fabrics woven in and around the Yamagata Province, famous for
their quality and the dense thread-count of their silk. The kimono tend to be crisp yet lightweight, dyed with plant dyes and on looms which have often been working for generations, and like all
tsumugi they soften and age gracefully.
Tsumugi refers to the type of slubbed silk which remains when the highest quality longer threads have been removed, leaving the silk
which has flaws and comes in broken lengths, leading to the characteristic 'slubs', as these shorter lengths are combined. I also have a few hand spun and hand woven tsumugi on these pages which
exhibit the characteristic softness and subtle sheen that tsumugi gains over time--the turquoise blue vintage komon above is a good example. Kasuri ikat refers to the pre-dying of unwoven but
loomed-up warp or weft threads, so that when woven, slight displacement of the threads produces a blurred-edge image like the birds in flight seen in the close-up photograph.
Included with this ensemble is a haori--a layer worn over the kimono in cooler weather. A type of men's jacket (though not to be
considered an actual outside coat) originally adopted geisha in a playful nod to masculinity, their iki status meant that they slowly spread out into widely accepted use by all women. They can be
categorized further by their length (longer=more formal), colour (black=formal) and whether or not they have a centre-back kamon. Women's haori have accent linings to the upper inside, whereas
men's haori have often quite stunning linings ranging from hand-painted animals and gold-woven views to militaria and even shunga, for the rakish man about town!
Vintage Meisen Length: 60"
Vintage meisen kimono with a bold stylized chrysanthemum design. Meisen tends to be mid-Showa era--around 1920 to 1950--when it enjoyed a huge boom and then almost totally died out, a victim of its own success as fashion moved on and it became passé. This enables collectors to date it pretty confidently, as well as ensuring that there's a finite pot to concentrate on, though a few small prefectures still produce it in small artisan batches.
This piece is typical of its type, with bold turquoise (a costly and unreliable colour without synthetic dye) kiku chrysanthemum on a rust red ground. Like many meisen pieces, its lining is jinken (rayon).
Nearly everybody who collects kimono has a love affair with meisen at some point. For some it's a fleeting fascination, whilst for others it will last a lifetime, concentrating their collections on this unique subset of kimono. I've watched meisen come into and drift out of popularity a few few times whilst I've been collecting, and they're enjoying a huge resurgence at the moment.
Along with it's visual uniqueness, meisen marked a hugely important time in Japan's history. Western influences were taking hold, in terms of department stores and pre-made, pret-a-porter kimono, and through return trade with the West, the country was booming on a financial high. Women were beginning to have their first taste of independence outside the home sphere, and whilst out and about, they had money to spend. This was also the point at which for the first time the silk industry was able to mechanize the process of weaving lower-grade slubbed silk, the product of broken or late-season cocoon floss. To deal with this proliferation of cheap silk, aniline dyes overtook the costlier and process-heavy natural ones, ensuring a reliable, mechanized mass-dying process. Practically overnight, silk came within almost everyone's budget, and the new bright colours were used to produce bold designs aimed at the new generation of young women with money to spend. Confidence was high, and bold meisen reflected that, characterizing the new woman in the same way that flapper fashion had in the West.
This kimono has slightly shorter sleeves (40cm) than the standard of around 48cm. During WWII, as commodities became scarce and it
became necessary for women to move into the workplace to fulfill the roles of men who had gone to war, women were encouraged by the government to wear less frivolous clothes, and the first stage
of this was the suggestion that sleeves became shorter. Throughout the war they shortened further and further, and their outer curve below the wrist became more pronounced, lessening their bulk
and sway and making them more practical. As time continued and supplies became sparse women were encouraged away from kimono altogether, and a longer-legged version of mompe--a type of
semi-fitted trousers usually worn by country laborers--became the expression of patriotic woman.
Sourced in Kyoto, Japan.
Vintage Meisen Komon Length: 59"
A second meisen piece, this time in a more traditional design, but still showing the distinctive blurred edges achieved through a method similar method to kasuri, in which the image is stenciled onto the warp thread only, using a temporary and widely-spaced weft. After the dye has set the real weft thread is woven in, slightly displacing the pre-dyed warp-only design and giving that blurred edge. Again we can date this meisen from around 1920 to 1950, after which the technique was largely discontinued.
And again in this piece, we can see that final decisive break from natural dyes into undisguised synthetic ones, and with it a sudden rush of colours and patterns, as Western influences came to bear.
Despite its relatively brief trend, a lot of good-quality meisen still exists, and this can actually be attributed to its huge popularity. Like a shooting star meisen flared briefly and then, a victim of its own success, became passé in the very market that it had helped create. Young women wanting to stay in vogue were looking elsewhere for the next big thing, and many meisen kimono were folded into the bottom of the tansu drawer and forgotten. It’s for this reason that a lot of it survives in good condition, despite its age.
Aimed at the mass-market, meisen kimono were often assembled with lightweight cotton or synthetic linings to keep the cost down, and this particular piece has a lightweight cotton lining. Again, this robustness has helped many pieces to survive when their starched fine habotai silk cousins would have degraded and discoloured at a far faster rate due to the universally applied size used to stiffen the silk for sewing.
This kimono is probably slightly later than the one above, and the weave is far more pronounced, with the slubs and pattern mismatches for which meisen was famous being very much celebrated instead of minimized, as in the previous earlier example.
Today meisen is enjoying a resurgence as bolder pieces are snapped up by kimono-hime enthusiasts to be combined with vintage accessories and Western boots, and features often in kimono magazines, mooks and books aimed at the younger, alternative market. Sourced in Kyoto, Japan.
Vintage Blue Cotton Yukata: Length: 54"
A lovely, mellow blue yukata made from thick, slubbed cotton. This one probably dates to around the mid 70's, and what I love about it--aside from the textured cotton which feels as robust but comfortable as old denim--it is that if you look down the back, there isn't a single pattern repeat.
This yukata also has a deep shoulder lining and a full-length interior gusset across the back seams, used both to support the rear
seam when kneeling in seiza, which stresses the seam hugely, and, if it's full-length, to add an extra layer of protection for the outer cotton down the spine, where perspiration gathers on those
The cotton has a pleasing slub, and the slightly blurred edges to the design give it a hand-blocked quality, though it was more
likely stencilled. Sourced in Kyoto, Japan
Taisho era rinzu silk komon Length: 60"
Dare I say another favourite? This is a pre WWI komon, as evidenced by the longer-length Taisho sleeves and its classic red lining.
The mix of colours on this kimono is absolutely sublime, managing to be at once subdued and yet ebullient. It has fared a little better over time than the slightly later moss green komon above,
and would be wearable if it weren't a petite 60" in length.
It's of better quality too, its underlying kinsha rinzu of trailing foliage just visible beneath the holdout yuzen flowers, which based on their colourwash difference from stencil to repeat stencil, are hand-painted. They themselves are set over what appears to be a hand-applied bokashi-style heavy black stripe, its edges bleeding slightly into the warm grey about it.
Unusually, you can see that this komon has its main body stripes matched across its centre-back seams as well as centre-front, though its status as a komon is
underlined by a purposeful mismatch of stripes both along its side-seams and on its sleeves, staggered in relation to the main body and to each-other.
Sourced in Nigata province, Japan.
Ro floral silk komon. Length: 62.5"
A cheerful and delicate ro silk komon for the height of summer. Ro komon are very difficult to date, especially if they're
post-Taisho, as all the standard indicators of age such as sleeve length, lining and pattern application are, by the nature of ro kimono, taken away. This one is likely to be late Showa or even
early Heisei, based on the feel of the silk in the hand and the colours and application of the design. The term ro covers a wide range of summer fabrics, all identified by the absence of
individual lines of thread in either the warp (tate ro) or weft, allowing air to circulate more easily. More formal tomesode ro can occasionally be lined to be worn later in the Summer season,
but ro is generally unlined (hitoe), and worn with matching ro accessories of nagajuban, eri, obi and obiage. In terms of season it's combined with sha (I'll show a sha kimono below, for
comparison), and chijime, for the short height of summer--and these days also by cotton kimono and more dressy yukata, worn with a ro haneri. Ro fabric can be used for all types of kimono, such a
komon, tsukesage, homongi, tomesode, and even bridal hon-furisode.
In close up, you can see that this one is quite dense for a ro, with fewer lines of thread removed than others I own, and so a little stiffer to wear, which is actually a little more comfortable. Its cream background and homely all-over small design of flowers runs up one panel and down the next, placing it at the lower end of the komon kaku, or type; komon with designs which remain right-way-up on every panel come closer to tsukesage in formality. Sourced in Osaka, Japan.
Sha silk komon. Length: 62.5"
And here for comparison to the ro, is a silk sha komon. You can see that this is a more transparent fabric, though the actual weave is quite close. At first glance this seems a black komon, but it's actually a very deep blue, with grasses and what could be stylised crysanthemums (kikku) or peaches--difficult to say. As I've mentioned before, in terms of seasonality a kimono's design anticipates the coming season, and a design with peaches would be very early in August, which is the latest that a sha kimono should strictly be worn.
You can see that silk sha, though sheer like ro, is an altogether different affair. It always strikes me as a leaning a little more towards nighttime sophistication in comparison to the daytime freshness of ro.
Crisp and much more sheer, sha is often interspersed with woven designs, which are shown off to their best advantage by being worn over a summer-weight nagajuban. There is a type of traditional sha tomesode which is black sheer, and has an attached decorated lining, the image of which is designed to be seen through the dark outer sha kimono. More recently, people have begun wearing contemporary decorative juban beneath sha kimono to the same chic effect. Again, strictly speaking, sha kimono require sha accessories, but ro or unlined obi, eri and juban can often be seen combined with this herald of high summer. Sourced in Kyoto, Japan.
Rinzu Tabane Noshi silk komon. Length: 60"
A very pretty pink and white komon kimono with a fresh and exuberant tabane noshi design, full of colour and movement, and obviously for a very young lady.
Unusually this kimono has ties sewn to the front, which is something associated with children's kimono, as well as the collar folded and sewn. When it came to me this kimono also had tucks placed
at the shoulders, a common method of fitting a slightly large kimono to a younger frame, thus making a very expensive garment last longer. The figured rinzu background is a stylised mist design,
and once again those brightly-coloured bunched noshi drew me in, this time given an extra dimension when used as a dividing line for bold blocks of background
The sleeve length on this particular kimono appear Taisho-length, though even at first look this clearly isn't a Taisho kimono.
it turned out that although at some point re-sewn to komon-length, on closer inspection this was another kimono that had it's longer sleeves folded up inside the sleeve drop, a further 20cm of length, making the sleeves ko-furisode length--the shortest and most casual of the furisode-type sleeves for a young unmarried lady. Note also that the design isn't matched over each of the panels, placing this kimono at the most informal of its grouping. From the closer images, you can also see that the quality of the stencil-work and the dense application of dye is a little less sophisticated, which would confirm that. The undisguisedly synthetic colours are also bright and primary, tying this kimono closely into the mid-Showa period.
Sourced in Kyoto, Japan