Celebrating the History of the Traditional Japanese Kimono in Every Modern Design

At KIM+ONO, one of our most central missions is to create an inclusive space for each and every one of our customers. From our kimono store to our online shop, inclusivity and the celebration of every body is an integral part of how we create our modern kimono robes. As a small family business, founded by women of color, we know that representation matters. Whether it’s through our editorial photos, our in-store events, or the team we work with, a representative point of view met with equitable opportunities for everyone is essential to fulfilling our mission of inclusivity. In other words, it’s important to walk the walk.


An equally important element in our mission of inclusivity has to do with representing the culture and history of the Japanese kimono. While we do not “replicate” traditional kimono, our kimono robes are inspired and influenced by the rich history behind these traditional garments. Our co-founders, sisters Renee and Tiffany Tam, had moving experiences with these pieces as little girls, and the beauty and significance of the traditional Japanese kimono stayed with them as adults when they took over their family business and started designing their modern kimono robes, plus size kimono robes, and pieces in the kimono style for the modern woman.

We have often shared the brief history of the origin of the kimono from both Japanese and Chinese cultures in other journal posts, but because history and heritage are vital parts of our own creative process and development of KIM+ONO, today on the journal, we’re sharing a more detailed exploration and celebration of how those historical influences have set the stage for our mission of inclusivity and our modern kimono robe designs.

Handpainted Silk Cherry Blossom Kimono Robe
Photo by Maria Del Rio
History of the Traditional Japanese Kimono as Cultural Identifier

To begin, the traditional Japanese kimono started out as perhaps the most inclusive garment of all time. According to J Stor Daily, “The first ancestor of the kimono was born in the Heian period (794-1192). Straight cuts of fabric were sewn together to create a garment that fit every sort of body shape. It was easy to wear and infinitely adaptable.” It’s that adaptability that allowed the kimono to evolve into a kosode, which was worn by men and women as an outer garment. It was so common in Japan and nowhere else in the world because from “The years 1603 to 1868 [which] are known as the last era of traditional Japan[,] Japanese culture developed with almost no foreign influence during this time. And the kosode was one of the key elements of what it meant to be Japanese.” So as Japanese culture was introduced more and more to the world, the kosode and the kimono became synonymous with Japan to the rest of the world. Not only were they cultural identifiers to the rest of the world, but the details of the kosode and kimono—the style, motif, texture, material, color, and production technique—would all indicate your social position within Japanese society. According to J Stor Daily, “Each individual garment was the biodata of its wearer.”

Peony & Bird Kimono Robe
Photo by Delbarr Moradi
History of the Kimono Between Chinese and Japanese Cultures

While the kimono is the traditional garment of Japan, and the hanfu of China, there have certainly been influences and inspirations passed back and forth between cultures. While both cultures, Chinese and Japanese, remain distinctive of one another, they would borrow and build off of each other to create new and unique garments particular to each culture. For example, in the Japanese Heian Period, according to Culture Trip, clothing that was similar to what we’d note as a modern day kimono “was often worn with the Chinese-influenced hakama (a type of long skirt with or without a division to separate the legs, similar to trousers), or a type of apron known as mo. Later, it became fashionable to wear the kimono style garment without the hakama. This meant the wearer needed a new way to hold the robe closed; and so the obi, the wide sash worn around the waist, was born.” While the kimono is a Japanese garment, the cultural conversation between both China and Japan influenced how the garment changed over time to become the modern kimono we see and know today.


Handpainted Silk Process
The Specific Elements of the Traditional Japanese Kimono Robe

So what exactly is a traditional Japanese kimono robe and how did it influence our modern kimono robe designs? According to My Modern Met, a kimono is “typically hand-sewn into a “T” shape from 4 single pieces of fabric called tans and tied with an obi, or belt.” The style of each kimono will depend on criteria ranging from marital status to what kind of event the wearer is attending. The symbolism of each kimono is essential to the traditional garment as well — the symbols, motifs, patterns, and other parts of the kimono design are all meaningful and represent personality traits, virtues, or values of the wearer. Traditional kimono are handmade and handcrafted on materials like silk, hemp, and even linen. While other synthetic materials can also be used, those traditional fabrics remain the most popular for a traditional Japanese kimono.

Plus Size Washable Silk Yuri Kimono Robe
Photo by Maria Del Rio
How the History and Heritage of the Traditional Kimono is Celebrated and Understood Today

After 1868, when Japan exited a period of isolation and trade began more heavily with the rest of the global population, there was actually some decrease in seeing the kimono worn.“As its actual wearing decreases, so its symbolic status expands and it comes to stand for Japan in a globalised world,” says Anna Jackson, curator of Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to BBC.com. All over the world, the kimono has been having a resurgence in fashion for some time. Quimonos in Portugal, Spain, and Europe are celebrated and worn as pieces of a modern wardrobe. In fact, quimonos are so popular that there are whole Facebook group dedicated to loving and celebrating these pieces. “Kumiko Ishioka,” according to BBC.com, “has a Facebook page on which kimono wearers from all over the world can connect to share their enthusiasm.” She tells BBC.com, “We can look at people who enjoy kimono freely, classically or traditionally, as they like,” she says. BBC comments: “Those elements, together with a new, edgy breed of kimono designer have succeeded in putting the kimono back where it belongs – on the street, not on a pedestal.

Plus Size Silk Kuren Kimono Robe
Photo by Maria Del Rio
The Intention Behind Each of our Modern Kimono Robe Designs

With the rich history of the Japanese kimono at the forefront of their minds, our designers and co-founders Renee and Tiffany Tam decided to bring the influences from these historical garments into every day modern designs. The two sisters grew up traveling with their parents all around Asia, being introduced to kimono and kimono artisans as little girls. The love of the heritage and intention behind those pieces made an impression—and more than that, just made sense—to the Tam sisters, and out of that connection and reverence for Japanese culture, the modern day kimono robe was born. Whether they’re designing plus size kimono robes, modern kimono wraps, or kimono jackets, each piece holds the modern woman in mind. Tiffany and Renee design the symbolic elements of each modern kimono robe to bear significance and value, much like the historical designs of traditional Japanese kimono had. With a single cut of fabric, T-shaped sleeves, and handcrafted construction, the production of these modern kimono robes are influenced by traditional and timeless techniques. Whether it’s a quimono for a wearer in Portugal, or a plus size kimono robe for a wearer right here in California, the intention behind each of these pieces is a celebration of culture and a celebration of the person wearing it. 

Inclusivity is at the heart of our mission, and we hope that each and every time you slip into your own modern kimono robe, whether you’re headed out for a walkabout or staying in and adding a little luxury to your day, you feel confident in your own skin and as beautiful as you truly are.

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