Kimono and Yukata are traditional Japanese garments that have charmed their way around the world due to their beauty and style. Both are full-length T-shaped robes that have long sleeves and are secured with a decorative belt, worn by both men and women. Whilst they may look very similar, there are subtle variances between a kimono and yukata that a true Japanese culture enthusiast should be aware of.
Kimono, the Dress That Embodies Japan
The kimono is a traditional Japanese garment and Japan’s national dress. When worn, a kimono often indicates the wearer's age, gender, the formality of the occasion, and sometimes, their marital status. In ancient Japan, the kimono was considered daily wear by the Japanese people.
So... What is Yukata?
Yukata literally means bath clothes, although their use is no longer limited to bath wear. It is the most casual unlined traditional garment, usually made of cotton, linen, or hemp for summer use. Yukata can be worn by everyone, men or women of all ages, for many informal occasions. While the yukata nowadays is widely popular in Japan, its history is relatively recent compared to the kimono.
Kimono are the more traditional and expensive garment. Usually made of silk or brocade, the traditional kimono is worn with at least two collars. As silk is considered a more luxurious material, the patterns of the kimono reflect this.
In comparison, yukata were originally made to be worn by Japanese nobility after a bath to cool down. As they were primarily used for this purpose, yukata are typically made from cotton or polyester and so are often more affordable than kimono.
Yukata are associated with summer and summer activities. They are worn in other seasons inside a ryokan (japanese inn) or onsen (hot spring) building, as they are handed out to guests for use, but they rarely will be worn outside in colder seasons. A kimono has more layers and it can come with all sorts of accessories to make it suitable for all the seasons.
Yukata are worn in ryokan or onsen, to attend matsuri (Japanese festivals) such as fireworks festivals, for other summer activities, or just strolling around. Kimono, on the other hand, are most commonly worn for more formal situations, such as ceremonies at shrines and temples, weddings, or graduation ceremonies. Also, even though it’s less common nowadays, some people still wear casual types of kimono for daily errands around the city.
Yukata are easier to wear because they don't require as many accessories as a kimono. You don’t have to wear a specific undergarment with it, and you need just one or two strings to close it, while a kimono needs three or four strings. Yukata is paired with a casual obi, which is easier to tie. Since it is more acceptable to play with an informal obi, Japanese girls often tie it in self-invented and original styles.
Kimono are usually paired with a formal or semi-formal obi, depending on the occasion. The yukata is worn together with geta and bare feet, while kimono is paired with zori and tabi.
Regardless of the differences between kimono and yukata, there is one very important rule for both. You must wear the left panel over the right! Wearing them the other way around is seen as extremely rude in Japanese culture, as those who have passed away are dressed in a right-over-left kimono. So just make sure to double-check how you are wearing either your kimono or yukata before leaving the house.