The Physics of Kimono Hair according to Blossom – Part 1: Face Shape

It’s funny how many life lessons one can extrapolate from a kimono – from the structure, the history of how the design came about, the type of cloth, the knots… it’s all really one massive exercise in coordination. You don’t really need Plum or I to point that out. So after sweating buckets over the right obi to go with the right kimono with the right sort of footwear, kanzashi and bag, you’d think you’re done with the hard part. Well, there’s the issue of what to do with that mop of cilia on top of your head – your hair. How are you going to do your hair? The ginko style isn’t going to suit everyone and unless you’re a real Japanese, this is going to look super costume-y on you.

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Theatrical but no. Unless you’re really Japanese or Liza Dalby.

Big huge no-no there. There are easy escape routes like the chignon but if you’re non-Japanese and are wearing a kimono to a function, you don’t want to look just okay. You want to look great. That means getting the right updo, dammit. Thusly, I’ve regurgitated what I’ve learned about wearing your hair with any sort of kimono. I’m not a professional and God knows, there are days that I need help with my own hair but if I can save someone out there the trouble I went through in choosing what hairstyle to choose… why not? If the kimono was ice-cream, your hair is the topping that makes or breaks it.

Personally, I prefer the more polished look since the kimono is a garment meant for semi-formal to formal events. Unfortunately, having short curls puts me on the road towards ‘fun and flirty’ as opposed to ‘dignified goddess’. :/

When choosing an updo to go with your kimono, there are a few things to consider:

1. Face shape
2. Hair colour, type and texture
3. Length of hair
4. Accessories
5. The function you’re dressing up for (Dinner? Open-air wedding reception? Prom?)
6. Your own personality and threshold for fussiness

Because this is going to be pretty long and lengthy… I’m just going to touch on face shape.

Before starting, get a jacket with a proper collar. This will help you see how your neck looks like, more or less, and how high you ought to style your hair without having to put on a kimono.

By now, you should know your face type is one of these types:
– round
– square
– heart
– oval

Depending on the shape of your face, there are certain parts of your face you want to elongate or disguise.

For round faces, choose updos that add focus to your crown and elongate your face. Side swept fringes and long, tousled bangs able to be tucked behind the ear will work well. The idea is to break the line of your cheek and jaw. Avoid slick backed styles and flat bangs as these just look awkward and have a tendency to look school-marmish. This is a nice example, even if it is Selena Gomez:

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If you’ve got a squarish face, then you might want to consider adding some wispy (not unkempt) strands at the side of your face to soften the angles:

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Heart-shaped faces have wide foreheads and cheekbones and a rather pointy chin. So choose updos that give the illusion of a smaller forehead and not-too-small chin. You could do a half-up-half-down hairstyle if you’ve got short to medium length hair. If you’ve got longer hair, you could pin your hair a little lower or to a side bun where it can be seen from the front. Try not to pile everything on top of your head or hide it. Wispy but arranged strands look nice so I’d suggest really experimenting.

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If you’ve got an oval-shaped face, then you’re lucky. The common opinion is that you can pull off most styles with little consideration in choosing. I still say experiment because while the style might suit your face… There’s still the issue of hair colour and texture to consider next. (And you oval-shaped faced people thought you could get away easy…. XD)

~Blossom

I did try to find a more varied range of pictures but scouring the internetz for examples and trying to guess which face looks like which shape is harder than it looks. Much, much harder.

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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