Most people outside of Japan know what a kimono is: a traditional Japanese outfit. What most people do not know is the distinction between the many different types of kimonos and when they are worn and by whom.
The good and convenient thing about Japanese kimonos is that once you understand its concept and grasp the ability to distinguish between the different designs, you are able to tell the kimono-wearer’s social status and ranking, his or her relationship with the host in the party, or even the person’s family background.
This information is especially handy if you were invited to a Japanese wedding and don’t know any of the guests!
Specific types of kimonos exist purely for weddings, whether you are the marrying couple or merely attending as a guest. For Part 1 of the Wedding Kimonos series, we will first take a look at the kimonos worn by the newlyweds.
Kimonos worn by brides are broadly categorized into 3 types: Shiromuku, Irouchikake and Hikifurisode.
Shiromuku is an all-white kimono commonly seen in Shinto weddings, and is regarded as the most formal wedding gown. Like in Western culture, white symbolizes purity and cleanness in Japanese culture as well, with the added underlying expression of the bride’s willingness to be “dyed with the groom’s family color”.
Initially, for about 500 years up till the Edo period (AD 1603 to AD 1868), Shiromuku was the go-to attire for every important occasion; weddings, childbirth, as well as death-related events like funerals, burials and even seppuku. With the influence of Western culture in the Meiji era, however, Japanese people eventually switched to black attires for somber occasions, reserving the Shiromuku only for weddings.
A more colorful bridal kimono than Shiromuku, the patterns on Irouchikake are made by stitching embroidery and pressing gold foil on to the kimono’s textile. Irouchikake – albeit a proper attire in its own right – was less formal than Shiromuku, the highest valued kimono. However, in modern times not much distinction is being made between the different kimonos, giving rise to the popularity of Irouchikake among brides in Japan.
The Irouchikake was originally the formal attire for wives of samurais in the Muromachi period (AD 1336 to AD 1573) during fall season. It gradually made its way into the wardrobes of rich merchants and aristocrats during the Edo period, and eventually became widely accepted as wedding attire.
In a typical Japanese-styled wedding, brides would often wear Shiromuku for the wedding ceremony and then change into an Irouchikake for the reception, as Japanese often associate wedding ceremonies with the color white.
Hikifurisode is the latest addition to the collection of Japanese bridal kimonos. It’s the least formal out of the three, and like Irouchikake, it is usually worn for the wedding reception.
The biggest difference in kimono design between Hikifurisode and Irouchikake is the presence of the obi, a waist sash and kimono accessory used to hold a kimono in place. In the case of Irouchikake, the obi is tied under the haori, the outer kimono. Hikifurisode, on the other hand, has the obi on the outside and looks more like the typical kimono that we are used to, except that the hem is not raised (hem is raised for unmarried women). Brides are also more able to show off their individual style with the Hikifurisode as there are more obi accessories to choose from and to pair and match with the kimono’s design.
On top of sartorial differences, the bride wearing a Hikifurisode would also be styled differently than if she were wearing an Irouchikake. As Hikifurisode is deemed as more “modern” than the other two bridal kimonos, the Hikifurisode-wearing bride’s hair would usually be done in the same way as a Western-dress-wearing-bride. The Irouchikake-wearing bride and the Shiromuku-wearing bride would have their hair in Bunkintakashimada style, a traditional Japanese bridal hairstyle (the Bunkintakashimada hairstyle is a lengthy and difficult hairdo though, so most brides usually just put on a wig).
The Groom’s Kimono
Not to forget the other half of any marrying couple, there’s a kimono made especially for the groom as well. In a Japanese-styled wedding, the groom wears a Montsukihakama, but usually referred to as just hakama (hakama generally refers to men’s kimono, but when spoken in the context of weddings, it is usually understood that it is referred to as the groom’s outfit).
Like the Irouchikake, the hakama started out as semiformal attire for samurai families in the Edo period. During mid-Edo period, it became the most formal attire for male commoners, and eventually in the Meiji era the hakama came to be recognized as the most formal attire for men of all statuses.
Unlike brides, though, grooms don’t get to choose which kimono to wear in Japanese weddings. Too bad!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the wedding kimono series for kimonos worn by family members and guests!
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