Whenever you catch a glimpse of someone wearing traditional Japanese clothing such as a Kimono or a Yukata, you cannot help the mind from wandering back hundreds of years and imagining Japan from a traditional or historic perspective. It’s a testament to the unique aesthetics of Japan, as well as the fact that most of these traditional Japanese garments have changed incredibly little over the many centuries.
One thing that has changed in more recent times is its appreciation and fascination from those outside of Japan. Because of this, the desire to obtain Japanese clothing has also become more popular — including here in the UK.
To this end, it is now possible to find and obtain your own slice of traditional Japanese clothing and I intend to introduce a number of pieces, and maybe more importantly, exactly where you can find them.
Kimono and Yukata
Starting off with possibly the most iconic piece of traditional Japanese clothing; the kimono, literally meaning ‘wear thing’, along with it’s slighter lesser cousin the Yukata; these are perhaps the most sought after and admired.
I’ve paired both the Kimono and the Yukata together as they are actually fairly similar to the point that the terms are sometimes used interchangeably to refer to each other. At a basic level, the kimono and the Yukata are types of traditional Japanese dress or robe. They will often be wrapped around the body covering neck to ankle and paired with other pieces to create a typical Japanese look such as these below.
The difference between the two comes down to things like material and linings, as well as typical occasions you would wear them.
The Kimono is always a higher quality robe normally consisting of many layers, traditionally made of silk by hand, and has a thicker lining on the inside. The wearing of Kimonos are reserved for special occasions and formal events.
Yukata on the other hand can look very similar, but is designed to me much more lightweight for use in the summer or as bathing robes as is tradition. They will be made of cotton and so will be quite thin in comparison to a kimono and have come to be worn in informal occasions such as summer festivals, fireworks displays etc.
Where to buy Kimono and Yukata
It is certainly possible to acquire Kimono and Yukata in the UK, however, it should be noted that when buying a kimono it will most likely not be made of silk or by hand as is in Japan. That being said, there are still some places that sell both kimono and yukata with quality materials.
The best place I’ve found to buy both of these items is:
Next we have a piece of traditional Japanese footwear by the name of tabi. These are socks that have a divide in the middle or slightly to one side, designed as such to work together with other traditional Japanese footwear such as the geta or zori (which we will come to next).
Unlike standard socks, you put on tabi by sliding the foot into an opening on the back by the heel and fasten it around with the attached clips. It sounds very much like a shoe and in fact started out life as such but developed into a lightweight piece of clothing.
Where to buy tabi
Compared to the likes of Kimono, tabi and variations of them are a little easier to get hold of; however one of the best places would a dedicated shop such as:
- Tabio (Neal Street, covent garden, London)
Geta and Zori
Following on from tabi we have the geta and zori, another type of traditional Japanese footwear. Compared to the previous entry however, both the geta and zori are a type of shoe which are able to be worn outside and closely resemble that of a flip-flop.
Of the two, geta are perhaps more widely known due to their uniqueness which are unlike many other types of shoe, what with their raised platform clog like appearance. Yet along with the zori, which possess a flatter sole, both have served Japan for many years.
The differences between the two again come down to material construction and formality.
The geta is primarily made of wood and is very much an informal type of footwear. Its raised design was to allow travel while wearing yukatas and such without dragging along the ground or risking kicking up dirt.
Zori are the more formal counterpart and are commonly made of rice straw and common rush (the same as tatami). These would be more comfortable and better fitted and be worn with the more prestigious kimono. While both men and women can wear zori, the male specific sets are called setta.
Where to buy geta and zori
A haori is a type of traditional Japanese lightweight jacket that often serves as an extra layer over a yukata or more recently kimonos. While it’s certainly classed as a jacket, in truth, compared to the western sense, a hoari is a much thinner and looser type of clothing. As such it’s not something that is restricted to outdoor use only.
It’s a perfect addition in the summer months when days are warm but cooler in the shade, or for taking the edge off a brisk wind.
Where to find haori
Of all the Japanese clothing on this list so far, the haori is perhaps the easiest to get hold of. This is due to it making a resurgence in modern fashion. The style itself has changed very little, more so the designs.
In truth they can be a bit scattered everywhere with very few places specialising in them. However for modern designs try someone like:
Failing that, Amazon and Esty may be a better bet for wider selections.
Lastly we have something for the lower half of the body called hakama. This item of clothing often resembles that of a skirt, although both men and women can wear them. There are actually two different types; the andon bakama which is very similar to a western skirt and is very tubular in appearance; and the umanori which is worn more prominently by men which have trouser-like components inside and a visible division on the front.
In Japan, Hakama used to be a common garment, at least on the male side of things; the umanori was worn by virtually all samurai in combination with some of the other items on this list. Women rarely wore them outside of academic occasions.
Today, the wearing of Hakama is reserved for primarily two occasions; exceptionally formal events such as weddings, and some forms of martial arts that are part of the uniform. Aikido being one such discipline.
Where to find Hakama
Due to hakama being mostly used for martial arts in the modern day, you can find some basic styles in the same places as those you will find zori.
Alongside that, modern interpretations of the hakama can also be found in places like:
Traditional Japanese clothing has certainly left a mark as being historically and culturally significant to the Japanese people. However, they have also had a remarkable effect on western fashion and are adored by many more cultural admirers.
Is true that the chance to wear some of these clothing items outside of Japan may be somewhat limited, but many have also been adapted into new styles without overtly changing its core heritage.
It’s actually quite remarkable how the possibility now exists to embrace the uniqueness of Japanese tradition for yourself.