Museum Object

When I recently visited the Victoria and Albert Museum on a Textile Design tip in London, I was instantly drawn to a Japanese Kimono exhibition. There was one kimono in particular that caught my eye which was an satin, embroidered outer kimono which was made between 1870 and 1890. It features ”scenes from two well-known plays… The Uchikake was worn for a kabuki theatre performance. Costumes worn on stage certainly needed to be flamboyant and eye-catching, but the motifs were not normally so literal. It is possible, therefore, that this garment belonged instead to a high-ranking courtesan.” (Anonymous, n.d)


Figure 1-Japanese Outer Kimono/kosode (1870-1890)

A kimono can be defined as a long loose, straight cut, traditionally Japanese item of clothing, which ties with a sash at the waist and has broad, flowing sleeves (Nomura and Ema 2006). It is recognisable for it’s ”T-shaped outline, fluttering sleeves and flowing vertical panels draped from the wearers shoulders”. (Milhaupt, 2014)  The kimono consists of these parts: the right body, the left body, the right sleeve, the left sleeve, the right overlap, the left overlap and the collar. from the wrist to the base of the neck when the wearer horizontally stretches arms. The length of the body and sleeve is different between genders. (Sano and Yamamoto) Kimonos are worn wrapped left side over right and secured with an obi (a sash). The length of the garment can be altered by drawing up excess fabric under the obi. (Anonymous, 2015)  The kimono was often worn with a ‘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 kimono wearer needed a new way to hold the robe closed; and so the obi, the wide sash worn around the waist, was made to fit this purpose. (Joy 2016)

Over the years, the design of the kimono has changed due to change in fashions although it has always retained its recognisable ”T-shape”. The extant kimono measurements reveal that ”the body panels were approximately twice the width of the sleeve panels.”(Milhaupt, 2014) This meant that the garment was a lot more loose on the body which was gathered in at the waist by a narrow sash or cord. In the the mid- seventeenth century, the measurements of the body panel and the sleeve panels were equal, meaning that the body panel became narrower. The obi remained narrow  in order to prevent interruption of the decoration. By the mid eighteenth century, the obi had increased in width in order to break the garment up into lower and upper design spaces. ”Kimono designers responded by concentrating their efforts on patterns that allowed for a visual disruption.” (Milhaupt, 2014) In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the obi ”covered much of a woman’s torso. Again, Kimono designers responded by balancing the visual emphasis on the obi with designs concentrated around the lower half of the kimono.”(Milhaupt, 2014)

Below is a more recent pattern of a Kimono.


Figure 2- Kimono Pattern (2002)

Due to the characteristics of the Kimono, I believe it fits into the Kosode category of kimono. The Kosode, a particular type of Kimono, was worn by women of women of samurai families in the late 18th century to the 19th century have two characteristic designs which have been seen on the Ukikake (Long over garment) and Katabira (unlined summe kimono). (Nagasaki, 1993) Floral designs are very common on both types of Kosode, such as seasonal flowers of bouquets and flower carriages.Waterfalls were a common motif on Kimonos, especially Kodoes in the Edo period.(NOMURA and EMA ,2006)  In Edo and elsewhere, ‘a dynamic urban culture developed in which fashionable dress played a central role.’ (Anonymous 2015) ‘The art of kimono-making grew into a specialized craft’ during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Some kimonos were literal works of art and could cost more than a family home. People would keep their kimono and pass them down to the next generation (Joy,2016.)


Figure 3- Uchikake/long ovegarment (19th century Edo period)

The figures the kimono, ‘shishi'(refers to Chinese guardian lion) and peonies are made of satin and crepe silk, dyed in vibrant colours, which have been applied to a black back-ground and then outlined with couched gold-wrapped thread. The bridge, clouds, water, leaves and other elements are also in couched gold embroidery. The design is padded in places to add  three-dimensionality, while the eyes of the shishi are made from glass as are the ones on the the main figure on the bridge who also has actual hair, probably from a yak or other animal, and buttons of metal. (Anonymous, n.d) The kimono  also features lions and peonies which are both a symbol of nobility. (NOMURA and EMA ,2006)


Figure 4- Detail on the Kimono (1870-1890)


Word Count: 750


ANONYMOUS (n.d) Kimono. [online] Available at [Accessed 6/12/16]

ANONYMOUS (2015) Kimono [online article] Available at

JOY, A (2016) A brief history of the japanese kimono [online article] Available at: [Accessed 7/12/16]

NOMURA, S. and EMA, T. (2006) Japanese Kimono Designs . Mineola, Newyork: Dover publications

SANO, T and YAMAMOTO, H (2002) Design system for Japanese kimono [Online Journal] Okayama, Japan: Faculty of Education Okayama University. Available from:  [Accessed 6/12/16]

Milhaupt, T.S (2014). Kimono, A Modern History . London: Reaktion Books.

Nagasaki, I (1993). Kosode. Kyoto, Japan: Fugioka Mamoru.


Image References:

Figure 1: ANONYMOUS (1870-90) Outer Kimono (uchikake) [Textile piece-Kimono] Photograph took by me at the V&A Museum

Figure 2: Sano, T and Yamamoto, H (2002) Design system for Japanese kimono [Online Journal]Okayama, Japan: Faculty of Education Okayama University. Available from: [Accessed 6/12/16]

Figure 3: Nagasaki, I (1993). Kosode. Kyoto, Japan: Fugioka Mamoru

Figure 4: ANONYMOUS (1870-90) Kimono. [Textile piece-Kimono] Available at [Accessed 6/12/16]



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