The kimono is a fabulous way for a woman over 40 to look individual – and it is flattering to every figure type.
When it comes to talking about kimono, I’d better confess an interest. I am a kimono addict – I have over 80 of the things, all vintage, and all bought on Ebay.
This isn’t something you could do even 10 years ago, but with the rise of the Interwebs, you can now get kimono direct from Japan for very modest sums, plus about $12 postage and upwards (it depends on weight). They date from Victorian times (the Meiji era) onwards, but the majority are from the 1960s or more modern, and many have either not been worn, or show hardly any wear.
I am not talking here about the long kimono we’re all familiar with, that you can wear for dressing gowns and for lounging around in. I do have a bunch of those, and will write about them another time, but what many women don’t know is that there are kimono jackets too, which are eminently wearable over normal Western clothing. These go by various names such as hanten, michiyuki and hippari, but the ones that are really interesting from a fashion viewpoint are called haori.
Haori come in various lengths, from hipbone to about knee-length. Unlike a full-length kimono, which wraps over, a haori is designed to be open at the front, and it has long, turned-back lapels, and ties that fit across the bustline. These long lapels give you a slimming vertical line that is very flattering.
Haori are also very beautiful objects in themselves. As with all Japanese traditional garments, because the shapes hardly vary, all the design energy goes into making the fabric gorgeous. Therefore haori come in a very wide range of colours and patterns, from plain black to screamingly bright, and use all kinds of techniques in their manufacture, including hand-painting, shibori tie-dyeing, embroidery, applied goldwork and metallic brocade weaving. They are almost all made of silk.
Although you needn’t go as nuts with haori as I have, even one is a great addition to a wardrobe and gives you a chance to own genuine art-to-wear. More times than I can mention, people have crossed restaurants to ask me where I got mine from, and my sister has had the same results with one that I gave her. Meanwhile, my MIL wears hers indoors as a warm lounging jacket. Some haori linings are so beautiful that western women prefer to wear their haori inside out, as I am doing in this picture.
How to wear them
When you wear a haori, you should pull the collar down at the back, away from your neck, and then the front will fall properly. This feels a bit odd to a westerner, but Japanese garments aren’t designed to fit close to your neck at the back, as you can see in this picture. Haori are voluminous, but if you have a fuller bust, you may find the central gap is still too wide. In this case, you’re better off flipping the lapels forward (they’re often held with cross-stitches that you have to snip), ironing them flat and holding them shut with a long pin or with ties. Quite often, what I do is use proper haori cords (these are like short, thick, woven ribbons) looped around a couple of buttons sewn onto the front lapels.
Haori are easier to wear than you might think, so don’t be put off by the long, dangling sleeves. Obviously, you won’t want to do the washing-up in one but eating at a table, for instance, isn’t difficult. If you have to lean over the table, just hold the sleeve out of the way with your other hand (this is what the Japanese do), but while you’re actually eating, the sleeve is kept out of the way by the table edge. You can easily wear a haori to go out to a restaurant, or for evening events such as the theatre or cinema, on top of a black dress, skirt or trousers, or even over jeans. For stand-up events, choose a haori with a beautiful design on the back – many of these are plain black at the front and function like a tuxedo jacket. I wear my single-layer transparent haoris over bright clothes that I want to tone down, while longer haori make lovely evening coats: my favourites are in the technique known as ‘urushi’, which is metallic brocade weaving.
How to buy them
I buy my haori on Ebay, and the following vendors are foolproof: Yamatoku, Ryujapan99, Ichiroya. However, there are many other reputable vendors – look for those with very full descriptions, and LOTS of crisp photographs, including close-ups or a map of any stains or wear. Start with something fairly cheap in case you’re hit for Customs Duty and until you get a feel for things (but be warned – once you get the bug, it can be difficult to stop). This pictures shows a 1930s haori with hibiscus pattern and a bright lining – you can’t tell from the picture, but it is very long, almost knee-length on me.
Here’s a brief glossary of terms you might come across when buying vintage haoris.
Rinzu – silk jacquard weave which may be used shiny or matt-side out.
Omeshi – thick, heavy, glossy silk of almost furnishing weight, often coupled with urushi (see below)
Meisen – thick, glossy silk like a thick taffeta
Chirimen – silk crepe with a matt finish and flattering drape
Urushi – metallic brocade weaving usually in gold or silver
Yuzen – hand-painted dye technique
Bokashi – watercolour effect (usually a print)
Shibori – tie-dyeing, often in tiny dots that give the fabric a texture similar to seersucker