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Trends in Furisode

The Festive Face of Japan’s Kimono Tradition

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A young woman wearing a furisode with a beautiful obi sash.

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The furisode is a kimono for young women with long sleeves that hang down to the ankles or calves. Worn on formal occasions such as weddings and Coming-of-Age Day (a national holiday in January), they typically come in gorgeous colors and decorative patterns. In recent years, furisode have begun to incorporate the influence of Western-style clothing in their designs, and furisode have come to be worn for parties and a wide range of social occasions. With fashion in general tending toward the casual, the graceful furisode has become the key to passing on the rich tradition of kimono to the next generation.

History and Designs of FurisodeThe term furisode, literally meaning “swinging sleeves,”refers to kimono with long, flowing sleeves. This type of kimono has its origins in the kosode (“small sleeves”) style of clothing that appeared in the Heian period (794-1185) and later developed into the kimono we are familiar with today. By the early Edo period (1603-1868), the furisode had become the standard formal wear for unmarried women. The garments are also said to protect against disaster and disease by shaking off misfortune with their long sleeves.

Furisode are decorated with auspicious motifs, such as sho-chiku-bai (pine, bamboo, and plum), cranes and turtles, and the ceremonial ox carriages used at the Heian court. Recent trends include floral patterns. Elegant classical flowers are especially popular, including plum, cherry, and chrysanthemum. Red and pink are the most popular base colors, followed by delicate shades like white, beige, and various pastel colors. In a parallel trend, furisode in black, purple, and other subdued colors are also appearing on the market, as well as the current “in” colors of green and turquoise. Contemporary twists using pearl or lamé (shiny fabric) sheens are also available.

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The chic colors give this outfit a grownup look.

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A yellow obi sash catches the eye, setting off the fashionable green of this young Japanese woman’s furisode.

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Coordinating from Head to ToeA growing number of women are coordinating their furisode outfits in more Western styles. These include matching the kimono with an obi (sash) in a contrasting color and wearing an inner collar lining with lace, sequins, or embroidery. Rhinestone or pearl-chain accessories are often worn over the obi, and many young Japanese women are opting to use the same color for the bag and sandals.

Another common approach is to coordinate the hairdo and manicure with the colors and patterns of the furisode. Pompadours (in which the hair is brushed up into a roll around the face), French braids, and other modern twists are now being added to the traditional Japanese hairstyles normally worn with furisode, topped with large corsages and floral hair pins for additional flair. Many women have special manicures done to match their furisode and add floral decorations or gold foil with a Japanese look.

The Continuities of Japanese StyleThese days, there are more occasions for dressing up in furisode than ever before. In addition to their own coming-of-age celebration or wedding (brides at traditional weddings wear a special kind of furisode called hikifurisode with a padded, trailing hem), women also wear furisode to other people’s weddings and graduation ceremonies. For graduation, it is common to wear a hakama, or a long pleated skirt, over the furisode. Some women have also taken to dressing in furisode for New Year’s shrine visits or at Christmas parties. Furisode is no longer once-in-a-lifetime attire.

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A touch of red in the hair sets off the vivid colors of this furisode.

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Although Japanese women no longer wear kimono on an everyday basis, the traditional dress still punctuates Japanese life at important milestones. Children wear kimono for the Shichi-go-san (7-5-3) festival, which celebrates children’s growth at the ages of seven, five, and three; many women wear furisode to celebrate Coming-of-Age Day the year they turn twenty; and some brides still choose to dress in the traditional all-white shiromuku ensemble for their wedding. Wearing a kimono is not without its complications, including functional issues, maintenance, and strict rules regulating how and when certain items should be worn. But for many young Japanese people today, these same factors may make a refreshing change from a daily regime of casual clothes like jeans and T-shirts.

Shops selling secondhand kimonos and clothes and accessories made out of kimono fabric have become popular among young Japanese people in recent years. Today’s young Japanese have grown up with very limited opportunities to wear a kimono. It is remarkable that they have developed such a close affinity with the culture all the same. (February 2011)

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