Obi is the belt that is worn over a kimono or yukata. The history of the Obi is said to be older than that of kimono, and for samurai, it is a place to put their swords and for women, it was a clothing item to claim personality.
They can also be seen as decorative wall hangings or have their fine material used to make varying accessories. There are many types of kimono obi, most worn by women. Obi for Japanese kimono have their own formalities and can be worn in a wide variety of styles.
Quick Guide To Women's Obi Formality
Hanhaba Obi = Informal
Nagoya Obi = Informal / Casual to Semi Formal / Formal
Fukuro Obi = Formal Obi
Maru Obi = Super formal Obi
Fukuro and Maru obi are considered formal women's attire. It's usually worn by brides, Geisha or Maiko with a formal kimono such as kurotomesode and furisode.
The fukuro obi is a slightly less formal style than the maru obi. It was created in the late 1920s. The fukuro obi is made with a fine brocade or tapestry, which is patterned along 60% of its length on one side. The back of the fukuro obi may be lined with a plain silk or brocade, making it less expensive and less bulky to wear than the maru obi. Even though the fukuro obi is not as quite formal as the maru obi, the fukuro obi can be used for formal occasions. The length and width of the fukuro obi is the same as the maru obi.
The most convenient obi today is the nagoya obi. First produced in the city of Nagoya at the end of the Taisho era (1912-26), the Nagoya obi is lighter and simpler than the fukuro or maru obi. The nagoya obi is characterized by a portion of the obi being pre-folded and stitched in half. The narrow part wraps around the waist, while the wider part forms the bow of the obi tie. Typically these obi are considered casual to semi-formal attire, the formality largely depends on the style and design of the nagoya obi itself.
“Han” means “half” and “Haba” means “width”. As its name suggests, its width is around 15 cm (5.85″), whereas the width of the standard obi is about 30cm (12″). Hanhaba obi are considered an informal kind of obi for kimono and are typically worn by women. These types of obi are worn with a kind of casual kimono known as a yukata, and require less kitsuke accessories to wear in a traditional fashion.
In a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony, a bride will wear a white obi. In the Edo era, a widow may dress in all white to signify that she will not remarry.
There is also plain black obi, which is often made with the finest silk woven with barely any pattern or design. Sombre, yet lovely, plain black obi is worn as part of the mourning attire.