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The History Of Kimono Design In 15 Beautiful Images

The new book Kimono: The Art And Evolution Of Japanese Fashion takes us on a visual tour through centuries of design tradition.

  • <p>Layered kimono set for a woman (kasane). Landscape with pine trees, plum, 				bamboo, cranes and thatched buildings along the shoreline.<br />
Outer kimono: broken twill silk (kawari-aya); freehand paste resist dyeing 				(yūzen), ink painting (kaki-e) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads. <br />
Meiji period, 1880–1900, 147.5 x 128.0 cm.</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a woman (kosode). Flower sacks (detail). <br />
Satin silk (shusu); embroidery in silk and metallic threads. <br />
Edo– Meiji period, 1850–80, 158.5x 119.0 cm, KX189.</p>
  • <p>Outer kimono for a young woman (uchikake). Flowers and rolled blinds. <br />
Figured satin silk (rinzu); ink painting (kaki-e), stencil imitation tie-dyeing 				(suri-hitta) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads.<br />
Edo period, 1800–50, 162.5 x 126.0 cm, KX144.</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a woman (kosode). Landscape with a feather cape (detail).<br />
Plain weave crepe silk (chirimen); freehand paste-resist dyeing (yūzen), stencil 				imitation tie-dyeing (suri-hitta) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads.<br />
Edo period, 1800–50, 172.0 x 129.5 cm, KX186.</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a woman (kosode). Eight views of Ōmi and scattered characters 				(detail). 				<br />
Plain weave crepe silk (chirimen); freehand paste resist dyeing (yūzen) and 				embroidery in silk and metallic threads. <br />
Edo period, 1740–60. 163.0 x 125.0 cm, KX220.</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a woman (kosode). Eight views of Ōmi and scattered characters.<br />
Plain weave crepe silk (chirimen); freehand paste resist dyeing (yūzen) and 				embroidery in silk and metallic threads. <br />
Edo period, 1740–60. 163.0 x 125.0 cm, KX220</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a woman (kosode). Hibiscus and butterflies (detail). <br />
Plain weave crepe silk (chirimen); freehand paste-resist dyeing (yūzen), ink 				painting (kaki-e) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads. <br />
Edo period, 1780–1820, 159.0 x 123.5 cm, KX218</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a young woman (furisode). Decorative partitions, fans, pine, bamboo and plum.<br />
Figured sating silk (rinzu); tie-dyeing (shibori) and embroidery in silk and metallic 			threads. <br />
Edo period, 1800–40. 171.0 x 124.5 cm, KX229</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a woman (kosode). Flower sacks.<br />
Satin silk (shusu); embroidery in silk and metallic threads. <br />
Edo– Meiji period, 1850–80, 158.5x 119.0 cm, KX189</p>
  • <p>Outer kimono for a young woman (uchikake). Sparrows and bamboo in the 				snow. <br />
Satin silk (shusu); embroidery in silk and metallic threads.<br />
Edo period, 1840–70, 163.5 x 122.5 cm, KX 155.</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a woman. Crosses.<br />
Machine-spun plain weave pongee silk (meisen); hand-tied selective dyeing of warp threads (hogushi-gasuri) Shōwa period, 1930–50, 145.5 x 128 cm, K24. Here the hand-tied kasuri technique has been combined with strong colors and a dramatically enlarged traditional geometric pattern to create a sophisticated modern look. The fabric has a fine horizontal stripe and a ribbed texture, created by using two thicker threads after every ten wefts.</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a woman. Wood Lattice.<br />
Plain weave crepe silk (omeshi chirimen); hand-tied selective dyeing of warp threads (hogushi-gasuri) Shōwa period, 1930–50, 149 x 128 cm, K20.</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a woman. Arrow feathers.<br />
Plain weave pongee silk (tsumugi); stencil-printing of weft-threads (yokoso-gasuri), Taishō period, 1912–26, 146 x 122 cm, K49.<br />
One of the most popular motifs in Taishō and early Shōwa-period kimono is the arrow feather, which has military associations and symbolizes the power to destroy evil. In typical Taishō style, the motif has here been enlarged to bold effect.</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a woman. Chrysanthemums.<br />
Machine-spun plain weave pongee silk (meisen); stencil-printing of warp and weft threads (heiyō-gasuri) Taishō period, 1912–26, 137 x 124 cm, K53.<br />
This garment epitomizes stylish, informal dress of the Taishō period. Made of meisen silk and patterned by stencil-printing both the warp and weft thread prior to weaving, it takes as its design motif one of the most beloved of Japanese flowers–the autumn-blooming chrysanthemum–and renders it so large and in such bright colors that it seems about to escape the boundaries of the kimono surface.</p>
  • <p>Kimono for a woman. Wavy horizontal stripes.<br />
Machine-spun plain weave pongee silk (meisen); stencil-printing of warp and weft threads (heiyō-gasuri) Shōwa period, 1930–40, 144 x 122, K46.<br />
This completely abstract design conveys a sensation of pure movement and brilliant energy. The colorful lines appear to have been painted directly onto the fabric in a burst of spontaneous creativity, but in fact have been carefully composed and dyed onto the warp and weft threads, before the cloth was woven on the loom. This dazzling kimono is a tour de force of textile design, and the woman who wore it must have created quite an impact while walking through the streets of pre-war Japan.</p>
  • 01 /15

    Layered kimono set for a woman (kasane). Landscape with pine trees, plum, bamboo, cranes and thatched buildings along the shoreline.
    Outer kimono: broken twill silk (kawari-aya); freehand paste resist dyeing (yūzen), ink painting (kaki-e) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads.
    Meiji period, 1880–1900, 147.5 x 128.0 cm.

  • 02 /15

    Kimono for a woman (kosode). Flower sacks (detail).
    Satin silk (shusu); embroidery in silk and metallic threads.
    Edo– Meiji period, 1850–80, 158.5x 119.0 cm, KX189.

  • 03 /15

    Outer kimono for a young woman (uchikake). Flowers and rolled blinds.
    Figured satin silk (rinzu); ink painting (kaki-e), stencil imitation tie-dyeing (suri-hitta) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads.
    Edo period, 1800–50, 162.5 x 126.0 cm, KX144.

  • 04 /15

    Kimono for a woman (kosode). Landscape with a feather cape (detail).
    Plain weave crepe silk (chirimen); freehand paste-resist dyeing (yūzen), stencil imitation tie-dyeing (suri-hitta) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads.
    Edo period, 1800–50, 172.0 x 129.5 cm, KX186.

  • 05 /15

    Kimono for a woman (kosode). Eight views of Ōmi and scattered characters (detail).
    Plain weave crepe silk (chirimen); freehand paste resist dyeing (yūzen) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads.
    Edo period, 1740–60. 163.0 x 125.0 cm, KX220.

  • 06 /15

    Kimono for a woman (kosode). Eight views of Ōmi and scattered characters.
    Plain weave crepe silk (chirimen); freehand paste resist dyeing (yūzen) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads.
    Edo period, 1740–60. 163.0 x 125.0 cm, KX220

  • 07 /15

    Kimono for a woman (kosode). Hibiscus and butterflies (detail).
    Plain weave crepe silk (chirimen); freehand paste-resist dyeing (yūzen), ink painting (kaki-e) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads.
    Edo period, 1780–1820, 159.0 x 123.5 cm, KX218

  • 08 /15

    Kimono for a young woman (furisode). Decorative partitions, fans, pine, bamboo and plum.
    Figured sating silk (rinzu); tie-dyeing (shibori) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads.
    Edo period, 1800–40. 171.0 x 124.5 cm, KX229

  • 09 /15

    Kimono for a woman (kosode). Flower sacks.
    Satin silk (shusu); embroidery in silk and metallic threads.
    Edo– Meiji period, 1850–80, 158.5x 119.0 cm, KX189

  • 10 /15

    Outer kimono for a young woman (uchikake). Sparrows and bamboo in the snow.
    Satin silk (shusu); embroidery in silk and metallic threads.
    Edo period, 1840–70, 163.5 x 122.5 cm, KX 155.

  • 11 /15

    Kimono for a woman. Crosses.
    Machine-spun plain weave pongee silk (meisen); hand-tied selective dyeing of warp threads (hogushi-gasuri) Shōwa period, 1930–50, 145.5 x 128 cm, K24. Here the hand-tied kasuri technique has been combined with strong colors and a dramatically enlarged traditional geometric pattern to create a sophisticated modern look. The fabric has a fine horizontal stripe and a ribbed texture, created by using two thicker threads after every ten wefts.

  • 12 /15

    Kimono for a woman. Wood Lattice.
    Plain weave crepe silk (omeshi chirimen); hand-tied selective dyeing of warp threads (hogushi-gasuri) Shōwa period, 1930–50, 149 x 128 cm, K20.

  • 13 /15

    Kimono for a woman. Arrow feathers.
    Plain weave pongee silk (tsumugi); stencil-printing of weft-threads (yokoso-gasuri), Taishō period, 1912–26, 146 x 122 cm, K49.
    One of the most popular motifs in Taishō and early Shōwa-period kimono is the arrow feather, which has military associations and symbolizes the power to destroy evil. In typical Taishō style, the motif has here been enlarged to bold effect.

  • 14 /15

    Kimono for a woman. Chrysanthemums.
    Machine-spun plain weave pongee silk (meisen); stencil-printing of warp and weft threads (heiyō-gasuri) Taishō period, 1912–26, 137 x 124 cm, K53.
    This garment epitomizes stylish, informal dress of the Taishō period. Made of meisen silk and patterned by stencil-printing both the warp and weft thread prior to weaving, it takes as its design motif one of the most beloved of Japanese flowers–the autumn-blooming chrysanthemum–and renders it so large and in such bright colors that it seems about to escape the boundaries of the kimono surface.

  • 15 /15

    Kimono for a woman. Wavy horizontal stripes.
    Machine-spun plain weave pongee silk (meisen); stencil-printing of warp and weft threads (heiyō-gasuri) Shōwa period, 1930–40, 144 x 122, K46.
    This completely abstract design conveys a sensation of pure movement and brilliant energy. The colorful lines appear to have been painted directly onto the fabric in a burst of spontaneous creativity, but in fact have been carefully composed and dyed onto the warp and weft threads, before the cloth was woven on the loom. This dazzling kimono is a tour de force of textile design, and the woman who wore it must have created quite an impact while walking through the streets of pre-war Japan.

The design of the kimono itself—the T-shape, the straight-seams, the wrap-around style—has changed very little over the centuries. The design of kimono patterns, however, is a whole other story. Like wearable missives, kimono designs are historically coded with meaning—the lavishly embroidered or printed textiles indicating everything from your gender to your wealth and status in society.

Courtesy Thames and Hudson

Kimono: The Art And Evolution Of Japanese Fashion, published by Thames and Hudson and The Khalali Family Trust, traces how those meanings and patterns have changed throughout history, from the early 17th century to the 1950s.

"In Japanese dress, it is the surface decoration, rather than the cut and construction, which is important, and indications of gender, age, status, wealth and taste are expressed through the choice of color and pattern," Professor David Khalili of the Khalili Family Trust writes in the preface. "The kimono in the collection convey the remarkable creativity of designers who used the surface of the garment to produce a work of art that would enfold the wearer. They each form a sort of capsule, a personal statement as well as one of status and period, a representation of a world recorded in fabric."

Kimono for a woman (kosode). Landscape with a feather cape (detail). Plain weave crepe silk (chirimen); freehand paste-resist dyeing (yūzen), stencil imitation tie-dyeing (suri-hitta) and embroidery in silk and metallic threads. Edo period, 1800–50, 172.0 x 129.5 cm, KX186.© 2015 The Khalili Family Trust

The book's history begins with the Edo period (1603-1868), and features mainly women's kimonos. Since men spent the most time in public, they were the most bound by their status and didn’t have much flexibility when it came to what they wore. Male kimonos during this period were characterized by subdued patterns and sober colors (though men did often wear elaborately decorated undergarments). However women, who spent most of their time at home or among family, had much more freedom in the aesthetics of their kimonos, as long as they did not overstep what was acceptable for their status.

For example, women in the ruling, or samurai, class would typically wear one of three styles: an elegant kimono embroidered with flowers, a silk crepe covered in detailed landscape images (known as "palace court style"), or a kimono depicting scenes from plays or literature. Women in the merchant class would wear allusions to famous works of literature on their kimonos too—and the characters found in their patterns would often act as subtle references to the fact that the wearer was wealthy enough to engage in leisurely activities like reading. They were also conversation starters, according to the book: "the use of such characters in kimono design served to demonstrate the tastes and accomplishments of the wearer, and acted as a playful way of inviting those she met to engage in word games or to ‘read’ something of her personality through her dress."

Kimono for a woman (kosode). Flower sacks. Satin silk (shusu); embroidery in silk and metallic threads. Edo– Meiji period, 1850–80, 158.5x 119.0 cm, KX189.© 2015 The Khalili Family Trust

The westernization of Japan began during the Meiji period (1868-1912), but when it came to dress, only men in the aristocratic and samurai class adopted western clothing like shirt and pants. Women, for the most part, still wore kimonos for both everyday and formal occasions. Still, in the late Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa eras (1912-1950), the modern world began to seep its way into kimono designs—in the form of bold color schemes and dramatic designs. Though no longer as distinct a marker of class, there were still kimonos for different occasions. For example, silk kimonos with the auspicious motifs of cranes, pine, bamboo, and plum were worn by a bride on her wedding day. A simple stripe motif, on the other hand, was typically worn by women working in restaurants or department stores.

In the second half of the 20th century, kimonos became far less common for everyday use, in large part because of the U.S. occupation directly after WWII and the Americanization of Japan's culture. Though still worn for special occasions and ceremonies, the kimono became more of a cultural symbol—a relic of Japanese essence in a time of increasing globalization. These days, the vintage kimono is seeing a bit of a revival, with patterns and designs once again adapting to the style of the time. In fact, it's now made its way to the West—kimono-inspired dress was one of 2015's biggest fashion trends.

Check out some brilliant examples of kimono design throughout the Edo, Meiji, Taisho, and Showa eras in the gallery above, or buy the book here.

Slideshow Credits: 01 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 02 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 03 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 04 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 05 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 06 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 07 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 08 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 09 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 10 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 11 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 12 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 13 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 14 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust; 15 / © 2015 The Khalili Family Trust;

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