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.