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Dressing for Summer in Yukata

Light Cotton Kimonos Are an Elegant Way to Beat the Heat


A yukata with corsage featuring roses on a purple background. (C)Yumetenbo/Dreamvision Co.,Ltd

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Japanese summers are hot and humid. Often the heat continues even after the sun goes down and evening falls. The yukata (unlined cotton kimono) is the perfect clothing item for days like these. Yukata are becoming more and more popular as retailers offer an increasingly wide selection, ranging from traditional designs to more contemporary ones featuring frilly accessories and other such embellishments. Reasonably priced yukata sets, which include an obi (sash) and a pair of geta (wooden clogs), are now widely available, making these traditional garments more accessible to young people.


Yukata are a summer favorite for men and women. (C)Takashimaya Co., Ltd.

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A yukata patterned with big flowers on a navy background. (C)Takashimaya Co., Ltd.

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Origins of YukataIn Japan, brightly colored yukata are as much a part of summer as the festivals and fireworks displays to which they are frequently worn. The yukata is a variation of Japan's traditional clothing: the kimono. In contrast to formal kimono such as furisode (kimonos with long, draping sleeves for unmarried women), yukata were originally designed to be worn in summer after bathing and as cool, comfortable evening wear.

Nowadays, yukata made of cotton are worn outdoors as regular clothing in the same way as western clothing, and they have become quite fashionable. A popular fashion trend for yukata this year is the retro look - patterns that were popular in the Taisho (1912-26) and Showa (1926-89) eras, including sweeping floral designs in vibrant colors. On the other hand, more contemporary designs, including such patterns as roses, butterflies, hearts, and polka-dots against purple or pink backgrounds, are also seen in combination with such modern embellishments as chiffon ribbons and corsages applied to obi, along with frilled collars. Traditional yukata, which feature such simple, understated motifs as morning glory flowers and bamboo against a white or navy background, are also making a comeback. The variety of combinations of color, design, and pattern seen in yukata continues to expand.

Enjoying Yukata It is not only women who are enjoying the growing variety of yukata; the number of men wearing yukata for summer outings is also increasing. Another trend is that yukata styling is becoming more sophisticated. For example, people are having yukata made from fine fabrics, using various sash clips, which are not traditionally used on yukata, and also wearing tabi (split-toe socks) with zori (fabric-covered thong-style sandals), which are typically worn with kimono, instead of geta.

Reflecting the recent demand for yukata, mass retailers are selling yukata sets including obi and geta at such low prices as ¥5,000 ($53 at ¥95 to the dollar), and these deals have even attracted customers with no experience of wearing traditional clothing. At the other end of the price spectrum, high-end department stores sell yukata exquisitely crafted from the finest materials for about ¥70,000 to ¥80,000 ($737 to $842).

In contrast to the formal rules that govern the wearing of kimono, the popularity of the easy-to-wear yukata is affording people more opportunities to enjoy traditional clothing in their daily lives. (September 2009)

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