Monday, May 30, 2011

Plus-sized kitsuke tips and tricks

For folks like me, who happen to be plus-sized and still want to enjoy kimono-wearing.

I honestly have no idea if any of these ideas will work for anyone but me, but I figure it’s better to put them out there anyway. Maybe someone will get some use out of them!

For the kimono or yukata:
- Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot you can do to force a kimono to fit and still wear it properly. A properly-worn kimono will close so that both of the front sides overlap completely, with the edge of one side reaching the side seam on the opposite side. In addition, the back seam should be even with your spine. You may be able to fudge this a bit. For example, if your kimono is just a couple of inches shy of closing properly you may be able to get away with that. You might also decided to pull and tug on things so your front left panel looks like it closes all the way. This will result in an off-center seam in the back and in the right front panel not overlapping as far as it should. Whether or not you are willing to do this is really up to you.
- Keep in mind that if your kimono or yukata only overlaps by a few inches in the front, that is not a proper fit and there probably isn’t much you can do to make it work properly. This really isn't just a matter of being a kimono purist either. A kimono with only a few inches of overlap in the front is at serious risk of flapping open and revealing...things I'm sure most of us would rather not reveal.
- If you trust your sewing skills, you might consider checking to see if your kimono or yukata has enough extra fabric in the seams to be let out a little. I have never tried this myself so I can’t vouch for this method or its results, and can only suggest that you try it at your own risk on a piece you could live without if things don’t go as planned.
- Depending on the resources available to you, you may be able to make your own kimono or yukata or to have one made for you.

For your undergarments:
- Consider using two-piece juban and slips instead of one-piece ones, especially if you often take different sizes on the top and bottom.
- If one susoyoke (the skirt of a two-piece juban or skip) isn’t big enough, consider using two (this may not be the best idea in warm weather if it can be avoided).
- Consider making your own undergarments. Kimono de Cheap has instructions for making your own two-piece juban. If you can buy a juban fabric bolt or an actual juban you don’t mind taking apart, you could use that fabric in addition to the fabric of your choice to make a comfortable juban that fits you the best and still has proper juban fabric in the areas where it might be visible (like at the sleeves)
- If you have a large bust (like me) consider using sports bras and/or wrapped Ace bandages or other similar strips of fabric to help make things more flat and event. I often wind up using a combination of the two to get the look I want. This may be less of an issue for you if you’re wearing a custom-made kimono or yukata.
- Be careful of padding! Depending on your shape, you may not need it or you may need it in unusual places. I usually wind up going without padding. However, someone with an hourglass shape might still need padding around the waist to even things out and give the proper kimono silhouette.

For the obi, obi age, and obi jime:
- Consider using two obi of the same or similar colors and patterns if a single standard-length obi doesn’t work for you. Wrap one around your waist twice, pull it tight, and secure the loose end so it won’t come loose during wearing (this may require some experimentation to find out what works for you). Wrap the second obi around your waist ONCE, then tie the musubi of your choice. This method works well with heko obi and with light hanhaba obi meant to be worn with yukata, but could also work with heavier heko obi as well. It also works best with two obi in similar colors, but you might want to play with things and see if you prefer using different colors. Please note that while I have tried this with heko and hanhaba obi I have NOT tried it with anything else and have no idea if it would work with, say, a Nagoya obi. I do intend to experiment with this at some point and will keep you posted.
- Make your own! You probably don’t even need special fabric, especially if you’re making a casual obi to use with your yukata. A heko obi would be particularly easy, since you would just have to buy a few yards of soft and light-weight fabric you liked and hem the edges a bit so they wouldn’t fray.
- I have found obi age to be fairly forgiving. As long as you can make a decent knot and tuck the ends in so they don’t show, you might be fine with just a standard obi age. If not, consider looking for two in the same color (or in colors that would work together! Many obi age are actually multi-colored) or substituting something like a longer scarf or a home-made obi age.
- I don’t know of any good obi jime substitutes. If you’re wearing one with an obi dome you might not have problems, as long as you can tie it firmly and the ends don’t show. If you’re tying it rather than wearing it with an obi dome and you can’t find one long enough, you might need to get two. As with obi age, you can use two of the same color or two of colors that go well together (some obi jime come in multiple colors).

For your footwear:
- It’s usually easy to see where the hanao (straps) of geta are tied on the bottom of the geta. If you need to adjust your hanao, don’t be afraid to untie them and loosen or tighten them as needed.
- It’s a little more difficult on zori, but many zori have a small panel on the bottom near the toe where it looks like a flap of the sole has been partly cut out and then stapled shut. See if you can remove the staple and open the flap. You should see the end of the hanao there, and you should be able to loosen or tighten it as needed. Close the flap again and re-set the staple (you will probably want a small hammer for this). This is something else you may want to try on something you could live without before doing it on your favorite pair of zori.
- I have not yet found a good way to adjust tabi to better fit larger feet. The good news is that you don’t need tabi with yukata, and you can probably find some stretchy, sock-like tabi to wear with other kimono. They aren’t completely proper, but I imagine it would be more proper to wear the wrong kind of tabi than to wear no tabi at all.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Photo: Custom Summer Komon

I believe I may have mentioned my custom kimono before. This is one of them. It was the first one I ever had made, and I kind of stumbled into it by accident. See, shortly after arriving for my year in Japan back in 2009, I made my way to the city a few train stops over to go to the mall. And in said mall I discovered a small branch of the Sagami chain (I think it's a chain anyway) of kimono shops. They happened to be having a sale to get rid of the remains of their summer-weight fabrics, since we were about to enter fall, and it just so happened that they had enough of this fabric to make a kimono in my size. And that's how I wound up with my first custom kimono.

It's a kind of grayed-out shade of purple, with a nice pattern of white tendrils and leaves. For variety, some of the leaves are a very pale green or a brownish-peachey color (the two leaves along the seam near the middle of my second picture are examples, though the colors aren't terribly obvious here). The color is probably a bit too mature for me, seeing as it's rather dark and subdued and I'm only 27, but I like to brighten it up a bit with pink and yellow accessories. I usually wear this with my custom pink obi and the yellow obi age and obi jime I found to go with them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is plus-sized kitsuke possible?

In my last non-photo post I talked about the measurements you need to determine whether or not a kimono will fit you and some of the difficulties that my by encountered by potential kimono-wearers whose bodies are larger than typical Japanese bodies. It can be very difficult to be plus-sized and to participate in kimono-wearing activities, since kimono rarely come in larger sizes -- especially more formal kimono. However, that does not mean that kimono-wearing is entirely impossible. Depending on your specific size, you may be able to find kimono at the larger end of the usual spectrum and wear them by relaxing rules regarding how much the two front panels should overlap. Unfortunately you don’t have much leeway in this -- only a couple of inches, really, but for many people that could be enough. If that won’t work for you, you may be stuck with hunting around for larger yukata and komon (and accepting that larger formal kimono are so rare that I personally have never seen one). If you have the skills or the access to someone who does, you might also be able to make your own kimono as well. Many shops that sell kimono also sell kimono and yukata fabric. Depending on where you live, you may even be lucky enough to have a kimono store nearby that could make a kimono for you, though this option might be very expensive and is probably quite rare outside of Japan. Just be aware that, depending on your size, you may need more than one bolt of fabric and it can be difficult to get matching bolts.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Photo (a few hours late): Iromuji

When I first got into kimono, I didn't really care much for iromuji. I mean come on, compared to other types of kimono, they're just so plain. One solid color, with the pattern -- if there even is one -- just woven into the fabric? How could that ever compare to a lively komon, an elegant houmongi, or a opulent furisode? Even the relatively staid kurotomesode (which I love, even if I haven't bought one yet) seemed more interesting in comparison. But after a while, iromuji started to grow on me. These days I really like the simple elegance of a nice iromuji and how versatile they are.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Photo: Summer Tsukesage

No close-up shots of the pattern at the moment, I'm afraid. Blogger apparently hates my photos of this kimono and it took me forever just to get it to accept this one.

But anyway, today was quite a bit warmer than any other  day we've had all year and it made me think of summer. Most of my kimono are lined late fall - early spring pieces, but I have a few summer items, like this one. I believe it's a tsukesage based on where and how the pattern falls, but tsukesage are the toughest kimono for me to identify so I'm not entirely certain! It's a mostly-white kimono with areas of a lovely, summery lime green, and mid-to-late-summer flowers like pinks and bellflowers. And the best part? I grabbed it up for 1500 yen (less than $20 at the time) at a little shop in Nara.

Monday, May 9, 2011

“Where can I get a kimono in size Y?” or What you actually need to know to figure out if that kimono will fit you

A common question I see is where someone can get a kimono that will fit. This is a reasonable question, though a bit difficult to answer, especially for non-Japanese people (who are often larger than Japanese people). One thing that makes answering this question difficult is the simple fact that kimono are not sized like Western clothing. But what exactly does that mean?

Western clothing is usually labeled with a size, such as M or XXL, 12 or 26, 16/18, or whatever special system a particular store or brand has developed (e.g. many items sold in Torrid use Torrid’s own sizing system of 0-5, which roughly corresponds to the sizes 12/14-28/30 found in other stores). Western-style clothing in Japan follows a similar system. Kimono usually do not. When you’re buying a kimono, knowing your Western clothing size is largely irrelevant. You need to know your measurements. At the very least you will need to know your height and your hip or waist measurement. For the hips/waist, you will also need to take into account the fact that a properly-worn kimono or yukata wraps around your body and overlaps in the front, so that the outer edge of each front panel lines up with the opposite side seam. That’s a lot of extra inches you need to account for if you want the kimono to fit! You might also want to know your “wingspan,” the measurement from one wrist to the other with your arms outstretched, so you don’t wind up with a kimono that fits like a t-shirt.

Once you know these measurements, where do you find a kimono that fits you? Well, you can try some of the resources I listed in my second post, but depending on your size it may be difficult or impossible to find a ready-made kimono that will fit you. This is simply because Japanese people tend to be smaller than non-Japanese people, not only in terms of weight but also in terms of build. As a result, most of the clothing items available from Japan -- including kimono -- are smaller than those made for a Western market. Add to this that most second-hand kimono were probably made for a specific person and you can see the difficulty involved in finding a kimono to fit your measurements. It CAN be done. I know plenty of people who have done it. But it helps to be aware of these things when you’re hunting for your kimono. Keep in mind that if you’re substantially larger than an average Japanese person (e.g. you’re very tall or you’re plus-sized, like me) that your options might be very limited. I have found yukata in my size, and one polyester komon in a Japanese 5L (which was still too small for me when I wore an American 3X regularly), but I have never seen more formal kimono in my size and I had to have both of my komon custom-made.

Good luck in your kimono hunt, and if you find any good resources please let me know!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Photo: Yukata

I love yukata. Love love love them. And for some reason, it's much easier to find ready-made yukata in my size (or close to my size) than it is any other kind of kimono, even casual polyester ones. Yukata to me represent everything I know about summers in Japan -- the ridiculous heat and the humidity that makes everything cling to your skin, the heavy rains and awesome thunderstorms of the rainy season, the fireworks festivals, Tanabata and all the colorful streamers (and the fact that it happens twice!), the stalls of street food you see at festivals throughout the year. My first experience wearing kimono didn't involve a kimono at all, but rather involved the yukata-dressing class at the language school I attended on my first trip to Japan in 2007. Maybe I'm romanticizing yukata a little too much, but for me every yukata really does bring back a flood of happy memories -- even if it's just a picture of a yukata on the internet or in a magazine.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Aya’s Opinions on Common Kimono Questions: What’s a good kimono for a kimono newbie?

So you’re thinking about buying your first kimono. Congratulations! Buying your first kimono is pretty exciting. But there are so many options to choose from. What to buy first? What kind of kimono is best for someone new to kimono wearing?

This is one of those questions for which there is no real One Right Answers (hence why my answer is going in my opinions column). A lot of this is going to depend on the resources you have available, whether or not you can find a kimono in your size, whether or not this is going to be your only kimono, and whether or not you even intend to wear it at all. Now, if you don’t plan on wearing your kimono and you just want it for display or to say you own one, any kimono that fits within your budget is the perfect first kimono for you.

If you actually want to wear you kimono, my suggestion for a good first kimono is technically not even a kimono at all (though for the sake of this blog we’ll include it in the kimono category). I suggest starting with a yukata.

The pros of starting with a yukata include:
  • Yukata are easy to care for. You can toss your yukata in the washing machine and it will most likely be fine. I do suggest washing it in cold water on the gentle cycle (or a short cycle if your machine doesn’t have a gentle setting) with a gentle detergent like Woolite, then hanging it to dry rather than putting it in the dryer. Just don’t hang it in direct sunlight.
  • You can learn kitsuke basics with a yukata. The basic rules of kitsuke, like crossing your kimono left over right and making an ohashori on women’s kimono, apply to yukata as well.
  • They are generally less expensive than kimono*.
  • They require fewer accessories to be worn properly. All you need is a hanhaba obi, a kimono slip or acceptable substitute, a couple of ties to hold things together, an obi ita, and a pair of geta. 
  • They are very casual, so you can get away with a lot of experimentation you might not be able to do on other kinds of kimono.  
  • Though most of them are made to fit a typical smaller Japanese build, it is possible to find larger ones that will fit Western bodies and/or plus-size individuals. It can be difficult or even impossible to find very large kimono, particularly at the more formal end of the spectrum.
  • You CAN dress your yukata up a bit by adding a juban and a Nagoya obi, obi age, and obi jime.

The cons of starting with a yukata include:
  • You probably won’t learn how to put a kimono on over a juban and get the collars right.
  • You probably won’t learn how to tie anything more complicated than the musubi (obi knots or bows) possible with a hanhaba obi. For example, you won’t get practice tying a Nagoya obi. Of course, both this and the point about the juban do not apply if you plan on dressing your yukata up at some point.
  • Because yukata are so informal and bound to one particular season (summer), you won’t be able to do much with it even if you do dress it up with a juban and Nagoya obi. If you want something more formal or more appropriate for another season, you might be better off with a komon or even an iromuji as your first kimono.

But the most important factor in picking your first kimono is that you pick something you really love and will enjoy wearing.

* A designer yukata set (yes, there is such a thing as designer yukata) can cost several hundred dollars. However, there are plenty of yukata out there for much more  reasonable prices that are just as pretty as designer yukata, so you shouldn't have a problem finding a set that suits your taste and your wallet.