The Gaijin’s Insight into Kimono Coordination

Having drawn the recent avatars for our site, Blossom noted that she looks girly and that it was all a matter of perception. Perhaps she’s right, but I always perceived myself to be a lot less feminine than she was. However, she pointed out that one area of femininty I displayed was a desire to coordinate clothes according to obscure fashion rules. She’s also right. I do like to coordinate clothes when I have the desire to be pretty. That’s also part of the reason why I enjoy kimono coordination and find it a delightful task. So, I’ll be giving you Plum’s Gaijin Insights to Kimono Coordination.

Let me just point out before we begin that I am no expert. All the tips I’m giving you here are a result of my own personal tastes and what I see generally works according to some rules about colour selection and design. If you have any other tips to share, please feel free to comment and let me know.

First, let’s look at what will be visible when you put on a kimono (minus accessories like zori which I will be covering in another post). Pictured here is a pretty standard set up, we’ll be discussing all of these save the obi-dome.

Kimono Overview

Tip 1: Busy+Busy=Bad – Consider your kimono’s design.

Design Concept: Focal Points – part of a design that your eye is made to focus on, the key element in your design.

A lot of kimonos are easy to coordinate, usually bearing a pretty solid colour for the body with some woven or dyed motifs on the base, sleeve and/or shoulder. These are generally easy to coordinate since your obi will naturally draw the eye against a plain background. Yukatas and Furisodes tend to have bright designs all over, and are harder to coordinate since the eye will be drawn to the patterns on the yukata or furisode more so than the obi if your obi itself has designs on it.

Essentially, you want to decide at this point if you want your obi or the kimono to be your focal point. If your kimono has a striking design, pick a subdued obi. If your kimono has a relatively simple design like a tsukekage, pick an obi that stands out.

Tip 2: Colours Make or Break

Design Concept: Colour theory – Analogous and Complementary Colours.

Kimonos will usually come with certain motifs woven or dyed onto it. Flowers seem predominant, though there are many other sorts of motifs. When you select an obi design, you might want to either match the motifs on your kimono (e.g. flowers with flowers) or you can go for a similar theme with different elements (e.g. flowers with butterflies). Now comes the hard part: colours.

Let me introduce to you two concepts of colour theory.

Colours that are side-by-side on the colour wheel; matching colours

Analogous Colours: Colours that are side-by-side on the colour wheel; 'matching colours'

Colours that are opposite on the colour wheel; Striking colours

Complementary Colours: Colours that are opposite on the colour wheel; 'Striking colours'


Colours taken from both opposites and side-by-side; Focal point colours

Split-Complementary Colours: Colours taken from both opposites and side-by-side; 'Focal point colours'


An example of split-complementary colour scheme - yellow and green base colours with purple accents.

An example of split-complementary colour scheme - light orange and green base colours with purple accents.

It’s not too much information, but selecting colours based on your colour wheel will ensure you never go wrong. I’ve found that since your kimono essentially has three elements to coordinate (your kimono, obi and obi-age/jime), the split-complementary colour schemes are the best if you choose for your obi to be the focal point. Assess the predominant colour of your kimono. If the colours are purple and blue, an orange obi would be a good focal point. If your kimono is busy with colours, patterns and motifs in yellow and green, then an orange obi from the analagous colour scheme would not overpower your patterns. For yukatas, the complementary colour scheme works best.

Since you have already chosen your focal point, you now want to choose an obi-jime/age to draw attention to it. Using the above colour rules, you should try to select them in colours that are analogous to either your obi (if that is your focal point) or your kimono.

Tip 3: Musubi Meanings and Obi Types – RESEARCH

Design Concept: Not looking like an idiot to the natives.

Please, please research your musubi. Each type of knot has certain unwritten rules about who should wear them and when. For example, the most basic knot – the taiko-bashi – is worn by married women while unmarried women wear the ‘sparrow’ fukura suzume. While I think Japanese are willing to forgive the fact that some of those musubi knots are mixed up, it’s hard to get away with wearing the wrong sort of obi or knot formality entirely.

There are most commonly 3 types of obi depending on the formality of the occasion. The least formal is the hanhaba (half-width) which can be worn with yukatas and kimonos in very casual occasions. Next in line is the Nagoya obi, which is worn for casual to semi-formal events. Up the line is the Fukuro, the most formal and practical of obis these days, and also the longest for those more elaborate knots. The more formal the occasion, the more elaborate the design of the obi and the more complicated the musubi you have to tie.

If all else fails, wikipedia is your friend.

Blossom and I can spend hours trawling sites to mix and match a basic set. While all the tips above might seem daunting to you now as were they when I just learned them, sooner or later you’ll begin to be able to pick instinctively. Still, better to take some extra work to plan before hand rather than look like something a rainbow vomited out :/

~Plum

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6 Comments

  1. yukikahou said,

    September 10, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Nice intro to the colour wheel there :). Are you guys in the art/design field? I think it’s a great idea to apply the wheel to kimono, although I sometimes find that budget and what is available to buy limits how well you can coordinate an ensemble more than art theory, haha.

    Is the obi-brooch called an obi-game? I think it should be obi-dome: http://www.shop-japan.co.jp/english-boku/obidome.htm

    Anyways, I love how your blog is dedicated to kimono, because a lot of attention in Singapore in focused on yukata, which is quite informal. If you ever intend to do a kimono spree or whatever from Rakuten.jp, do inform me, ‘kay? πŸ˜€

  2. plumandblossom said,

    September 10, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    HAHA you’re right, it’s dome XD /edit.

    Also: Rakuten.jp is awesome o.0!!! TY! We’ll let you know when we have money to burn haha. No, we’re not in the art/design field, though I did use to work as one so no wonder why I try to rationalize everything haha. Agreed, budget tends to limit our choices but like marriage and bras, we take the best fit we can find XD

    Thanks for your kind comments and views ^_^ It’s great to know that people are out there enjoying our blog and kimono-love.

    ~Plum

    • yukikahou said,

      September 10, 2009 at 9:54 pm

      Ahaha~ i think i know who you guys are already after looking more closely at the new avatars. LOL. Keep in touch πŸ™‚

      • plumandblossom said,

        September 10, 2009 at 10:15 pm

        XD shhh… we’re hiding…

        ~Plum

      • plumandblossom said,

        September 10, 2009 at 10:48 pm

        Yar…. >_<; Don't bust us open. Lol.

        ~Blossom

  3. Tnelson said,

    October 1, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so, Excellent post!


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