If you fancy something a bit alternative this summer, check out the delights of yukata.
Temperatures are back to ‘normal’ in France the past couple of days – a bit lower than normal, actually – but we had been basking in a heatwave for a while this past week or so.
Thirty-degree heat for days on end gave me the opportunity to rediscover the delights of wearing yukata.
Yukata are a form of Japanese kimono that are worn as bathrobes, sometimes for sleeping, and for casual wear in spa resorts and at the coast. Made usually from cotton, though sometimes hemp, and often in the colourway blue and white, they are the most wonderful, comfortable, airy garments you could imagine. Japan has a hot, humid climate in summer and the Japanese know a thing or two about how to keep cool.
I have a sizeable collection of vintage kimono, but until now, only two yukata – one in polycotton, a gift from a friend, and the one shown above, in a cotton ‘ro’ – a fabric woven with thousands of tiny holes that look like hemstitching and allow air to pass right through (see bottom picture).
Having lived in these for a couple of days, along with a silk ro kimono that was almost equally cool, I splashed out on three new ones – two worn vintage and one overstock from a shop clearance. I’ve always wanted a yellow yukata (the one above was 10 dollars); the floral one below (four dollars) is just gorgeous and has these lovely curved sleeves, and the stencilled one (99 cents) is in cotton Ro for maximum coolth.
One of the reasons yukata are so comfortable in the heat is that – as with all genuine women’s kimono – they are open under the arms. From where the sleeve meets the side body, the body is open for about eight inches, and the back of the sleeve is also open to the wrist. This is to prevent the kimono from binding when you wear a deep obi sash, but it also allows the free passage of air where you would otherwise be the most sweaty.
Kimono are traditionally worn wrapped left over right (in Japan, only corpses wear them wrapped right over left), but since I’m a westerner I feel no need to uphold tradition in this way, and I wrap mine right over left because it feels more natural to me. I hitch up the overlength, sash it with a narrow cord around the waist, drape the rest freely around the hips and sash it closed around the waist with a long silk scarf. I close the neckline with a brooch.
The kimono at right, with the long sleeves is a different kind of summer kimono – silk gauze, known as ‘sha’. This stiff, transparent, featherweight silk stands away from the body rather like silk organza, so it feels like you’re wearing nothing at all. Sha silk kimono are far more formal than cotton yukata, and in Japan would always be worn over an underkimono, but since I work from home, I wear mine as yukata. Nothing is more comfortable when you’re working at a desk all day.
You might think that the sleeves of kimono would get in the way, but personally I don’t find this. The shorter, curved sleeves stay out of the way, while the longer sleeves can be tucked into the side body when you’re working, or tied back with a cord.
The big surprise is to see how addicted the DH has now become to kimono. Back in the winter I suggested that he wear a wool ‘juban’ – a kind of underkimono – as a top layer, and he found it so comfortable that he now practically lives in it, swishing around the house from morning to night. So I’ve just ordered him a yukata as well – this 1950s number in splashy cotton. Note the different shape of the sleeves – indicating a man’s style. The side body and sleeve are also closed, for those of you who prefer to be more covered up.