I’ve been surprised about how much attention my short piece on yukata hairstyling is getting, so why not put a few more tips and tricks on the table.
Unfortunately, yukata season is just about over, but that only leaves three seasons to figure out how you want to dress yourself up next year!! Maybe you have a yukata, maybe you have an obi – maybe you don’t have either. Maybe you don’t have the tools, or want specialized summer ones. Maybe you want to dress your hair differently, or find a better ornament. Maybe you want to play with more modern obi decorations, or try a heko obi. There are so many reasons to start now, and even more so if you only wear kimono a few times a year. Don’t get rusty and make everyone wait while you frantically struggle to tie the right knot! …You’re going to miss the fireworks!
With all that said, this is not a comprehensive guide. There are quite a few out there, and I don’t mean to compete – my attempt could not be any better. I merely want to outline some of the easy points that can be missed.
This will be kind of wordy, so I’ve divided sections by topic:
- Selecting the right yukata
- Selecting appropriate accessories
- Selecting the appropriate tools
- Putting on yukata
- Minding your manners
- A little known truth
1. Selecting the Right Yukata
Some people will say, as long as you like it, there is no wrong yukata. Kimono were designed to be one-size-fits-all garments to an extent, and so this statement is not inherently false. You have to consider of course that women in Japan used to be more or less the same size, and for the most part still are.
Perhaps many of you in the audience may now be realizing, that size is nothing like your size. Maybe you’re tall, maybe you’re fuller figured, maybe you’re both. And fortunately, that’s OK. Even though getting a custom sized yukata has always been an option, albeit an expensive one, tall sizes are now available and will probably fit your needs no matter what category you fall in.
Another thing to consider is that Japanese women have been getting progressively taller. My kimono teacher also says that even compared to 40 or 50 years ago, fashion now dictates skirts to fall longer. In other words, if you put on a vintage yukata, it may be too short even if you are built small. One way to check the size of a kimono if you are small or medium build is to hold it up compared to your height. The kimono should be at least your height in length, and ideally about 1 head taller.
2. Selecting appropriate accessories
Once you have your yukata, you need to select matching accessories. Personally, I tend to select basic colors and prints for accessories to make them more versatile, allowing me to pair them with various yukata and kimono alike. At the very least, you will need an obi, shoes, and a purse. A few additional but optional nice touches are (but not limited to) a hair ornament, obi ornament, collar ornament, tabi, and fan.
There are two basic rules to follow when choosing accessories. First, when wearing a colorful patterned yukata, choose accessories that highlight one of the background colors in the pattern. Second, when wearing a very plain pattern or solid color yukata, choose accessories of a different color that will contrast with the yukata. I’ll take some pictures of my combinations another day.^^
Your purse should ideally be hand-held. Avoid any purse that interferes with your sleeve or collar – this will look sloppy and could possibly disshevel the garment.
Matching shoes and purse is a common element of formal kimono – but yukata are anything but formal. Most girls I see nowadays wear Western-style sandals or heels. When choosing shoes, select something clean and comfortable with an open toe. Japanese style geta are of course a great choice, too, but don’t limit yourself if they’re uncomfortable or hard to find. Geta should ideally match your color scheme in some way, but Western shoes can literally be anything you like.
As for other accessories, I recommend going easy at first to get a hang for what you have and how you want to dress it up. There are a lot of choices out there, or you may opt to make your own, reuse a necklace or belt, or many other things.
3. Selecting the appropriate tools
So you have your yukata and all the accessories to match – let’s get dressed! The basic tools you need are: a slip, 2 koshi-himo, 1 date-jime, and 1 obi ita. However, there are many ways to get dressed. Choose the tools necessary for the method you prefer.
Underneath you will need a slip or something similar. You can get a special one, or wear something you already have, even a camisole and bike shorts are OK. This is to protect the yukata and keep you covered should any accident happen. Be sure though that your undergarment is significantly shorter than the yukata – around mid-calf to knee length. This will prevent it from showing unintentionally.
Instead of 2 cloth koshi-himo, there are a variety of elastic choices. Please look into them on your own – as I said there is no one right way. For date-jime and obi ita, there are “summer versions” designed to be lighter and allow for better circulation. Comparing the two in my own experience, I cannot discern a significant difference.
This section is as short as it is necessary. If you have a beautiful kimono and obi, you want to try your best to wear them properly. Don’t just put them on and expect the magic to happen – use the tools to keep everything in place and looking good! In the summer, a set of starter “tools” costs about 2,000 yen.
4. Putting on yukata
As I mentioned before, you should consult a another guide or video for comprehensive study on how to put on yukata, but here are a few pointers.
- The image to aim for is “tube” – If you’re busty or thin and curvy, fold a face towel and wrap it around your waist, over your slip. Keep it in place with a koshi himo, kimono fonde, etc. This will allow your obi to sit better. Another good idea is wearing a sports bra. There are also other Japanese-style bras available, but avoid wearing a Western bra. If you got it, flaunt it – but not when you’re wearing kimono.
- Skirt length is key – too short and you look childish, too long and you look sloppy. Go for ankle-length, riding just a smidgen above your feet.
- Always have the left side on top. When buying my first yukata, the elderly woman dressing me said this first and foremost. Only corpses are dressed the other way; please be careful!
- Don’t open the collar more than your collarbone. Be sure the collar is pulled tight.
5. Minding your manners
You’re wearing yukata and looking beautiful – keep it that way! There are a lot of manners and mannerisms to consider when wearing kimono, but at the same time don’t feel intimidated or restricted. You’re probably going out to have a good time, too, so there’s no need to overdo it. I’ve ordered them by personal priority so you get a feel of what I think is most important. This will of course vary between individuals and teachers. Keep in mind that most points are designed to help keep your yukata and obi in place, and will become easier the more you wear yukata.
- Try to walk with a smaller gait, around 10-15 cm.
- Sit and stand up straight as much as possible. This will keep your collar in place.
- If you need to use the powder room, lift your skirts straight upwards without opening, folding them at the hips. Be sure to smooth everything back down, checking in a mirror or with a friend if possible.
- When carefully getting into a vehicle, sit down smoothing your skirt, and then swivel your whole body to face forward.
- When sitting in a chair, keep your knees and feet together. Don’t lean back as this will crush your obi. Sit on the edge and incline your calves and feet to the left or right if necessary, keeping your thighs on an even plane with the seat.
- When standing at rest, keep your feet together and turned inwards, one foot slightly more forward.
- Try not to let your elbows or upper arms show. If you have to reach upwards, grab the outer part of the sleeve with your free hand.
6. A little known truth
After you’ve successfully put on yukata for the first time, there is reason to rejoice. It’s something of a dying art; not even most Japanese women can do it. Everyone will tell you you look great. They’re immensely impressed, proud of you and your effort, and want you to keep it up.
Now for a bit of harsh reality: you probably look not so good. Did you put the right side on top? Is your collar too far open? Koshi-himo showing? Obi coming untied or completely falling off?
And you know what? It’s perfectly OK to look “bad.” You didn’t perform a pirouette with your first steps, and you will probably not be a yamato nadeshiko the first time you go out, even if someone else dresses you. But every time you try, you will do better. People who compliment you mean no harm; they intend only to encourage you and are probably genuinely happy. Accept compliments with the same sincerity, and when you see someone else learning to walk in those same shoes, be sure to return the favor. Never tell someone they look bad, and only fix a friend’s kimono if they ask for help. Remember, until you get that Level 1 Kimono Exam Licence, we’re all learning together!
I hope you found this useful! Please feel free to write to me with any questions. Good luck!
Level 8 きもの知識検定
Level 1 きもの着付け免許状
Internationally Certified Kimono Lecturer