So you’re looking for a kimono, perhaps on eBay or simply by using your favorite search engine to search for kimono. And you’re coming up with a lot of questionable results. That is absolutely not surprising. Many people on the internet will claim that their items are authentic kimono, either to attract more customers (many of whom probably don’t know any better) or because the sellers themselves don’t know what they have.
So your non-real kimono fall into three basic categories:
1) Items that may share some characteristics with kimono, but that are not in fact kimono;
2) Items that are not kimono but are other traditional Asian clothes (of course there are plenty of low-quality fakes in these categories too); and
3) Items that ARE authentic kimono but are terribly miscategorized.
Examples of each category:
1) Items that may share some characteristics with kimono, but that are not in fact kimono.
The most common item in this category is the satin bathrobe. Some of these are strictly bathrobes, while others are designed to fake out people who don’t know any better. These kinds of garments may include kimono-style sleeves and patterns you might see on authentic kimono, but are made of cheaper materials that would never be used for a real kimono (e.g. satin). They may be sold as yukata, though some people do try to get away with selling them as kimono.
2) Items that are not kimono but are other traditional Asian clothes, or cheap imitations of such clothes.
Many people have little or no knowledge of the many different cultures in Asia, and assume that there is little or no difference between them. So if they wear kimono in Japan they clearly wear kimono everywhere else in Asia, right? Wrong. Each culture in Asia has its own unique traditional garments, and in some cases several of these cultures may be found in a single country. Perhaps the most glaring example of this crops up all the time around Halloween, when people try to sell cheap satin “cheongsam” or “qipao” (Chinese garments) as “geisha” outfits. Kimono have very distinctive features and are the traditional clothing of Japan. While they might share certain features with other traditional Asian garments -- not a surprise given how much influence Chinese culture exerted over the entire region in the past -- a kimono is not the same thing as a cheongsam, qipao, hanbok, ao dai, or any other non-Japanese garment. Also, though I don’t know much about traditional Chinese garb, I have to assume that the cheap satin outfits sold as Halloween costumes have little in common with high-quality, authentic Chinese garments.
3) Authentic but miscategorized kimono.
Various forms of this crop up all the time. You may find any random kimono labeled as a “geisha” kimono. A brightly-colored komon might be presented as a wedding kimono. Many people like to claim they have super-special kimono given to their families by princesses in the past. A kimono that has clearly been lengthened by adding material to the middle of the kimono may be presented as a hikizuri or susohiki. Often, these miscategorized kimono might come with inflated price tags to match. Identifying fakes in this category requires you to know enough about kimono to know that not every kimono is a geisha kimono, that wedding kimono have a typical look to them, that authentic hikizuri and susohiki are typically MADE long and don’t have to be lengthened by adding fabric to the body, and so on. Some of these items get advertised with inaccurate names because the sellers don’t know what they have (e.g. how many people make the mistake of assuming that any woman in a kimono is a geisha? The logical extension of that assumption is that any kimono is a geisha’s kimono). Sometimes the sellers DO know what they have and are mislabeling their wares on purpose to draw in more potential buyers by expanding the number of search results that will lead to their item, or less honestly by taking advantage of a customer’s ignorance.
What can you do to make sure you buy authentic kimono?
1) Educate yourself. Get used to what real kimono look like, and get used to what different kinds of kimono look like -- especially if you’re interested in buying high-end or rare items like furisode, wedding kimono, or geisha kimono. For example, a real maiko or geisha kimono will never have rhinestones on it. However, some uchikake do, especially shiromuku (white uchikake). Places like Ichiroya, Yamatoku, and Shinei are good places to get used to looking at all kinds of kimono. You may also have luck on Rakuten.
2) Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.
3) Don’t be afraid to ask a seller questions.
4) Buy from reputable sellers. I have included some of my favorites in my second blog post. You can also hang out on places like the Immortal Geisha forums or other kimono blogs to see where your fellow kimono enthusiasts like to shop.
5) Don’t be afraid to get advice from people more in-the-know than you, whether you feel like asking about an entire shop or a specific item you’re thinking of buying. In fact, you’re more than welcome to use the comments section of this post to share links to questionable items it you want a second opinion.