What’s In a Kimono? Part 1

I mentioned starting this topic a while back, and since I’m not currently working on images I figured that this would be a good time to start!

Name: Kikunami (菊波) - Chrysanthemum Waves
Type: Houmongi (訪問着)
Time Period: Late Taisho/Early Showa (1925-1935)
Age: Antique (81-91 Years Old)
Condition: Excellent - No Staining or Fading
Material: Silk
Motif(s): Chrysanthemums and Waves
Execution and Technique: Master Painting Skills (Yuzen)
Value: $100-200 USD

Since this is the first one I figured that I’d do the one that all readers have seen previously as this is the kimono that I’m wearing in my icon photograph. The layout of information is the same that I’ve used in the book that I’m writing, so it may come to feel normal in time.

Let’s start with the easiest one: material. How do I know that it’s silk? Well, besides that I could do a burn test (take a small thread out and see how it burns), I can see that it has some very slight wrinkles that only high density natural fibers have. Also, due to its quality and age, I know that Japan did not use synthetics for their kimono of higher formality at that time.

Now, let’s look at type. The sleeves are open towards the inside of the garment, so it’s for a female. It has short sleeves, so clearly it’s not a furisode. It doesn’t have small overall patterns, so it’s not a komon. It’s not a solid single color, so it’s not an iromuji. The patterns flow from one panel to the next, so it’s not a tsukesage. There are motifs above the shoulders, so it’s not a tomesode. Besides that there is only one option left, this piece is a houmongi due to its continuous pattern that doesn’t stop between panels. 

Most people will freak out when you can tell the exact age of a garment, but that usually only happens when the person who does the freaking out is not well versed in your area of expertise. So, how can I determine it’s age to within a 10 year span? First off, it has red lining. This is a characteristic of kimono made prior to World War II. After the war white and/or cream became the default lining color.

The next step traces back to its execution and techniques, specifically how it was applied to the fabric and the different stylistic characteristics that define a kimono’s age. By looking at the chrysanthemums and waves we can see that the painting skills look very light and “painterly”, which is usually a characteristic of Taisho Period (1912-1926) kimono. However, the flowers and waves contain a slight outline which became popular right after the Taisho Period. This phase in which kimono designs began to adopt more “western” looks is known as Taisho Roman. During this time the Art Deco phase was underway in the West and Japanese designs shifted from light, almost ethereal subjects to ones that began to show outlines akin to popular movie posters at the time.

Since this piece still has some Taisho characteristics it was likely made at the very end of that period and/or the very start of the next period, the Showa Period. The Showa Period lasted a very long time (1926-1989) and can be broken down into many different phases, the first being the shift from the painterly designs of the Taisho to the slightly more bold motifs from the Western influence. This phase lasted until the end of World War II. Since this piece still has prominent Taisho influence I can deduce that it was made at the very end of the Taisho Period and/or the start of the Showa Period.

When it comes to antiques a garment or fabric is considered antique at 80 years of age and not the usual 100 due to its fragility. Since this piece is approximately 81-91 years old it is, for all intents and purposes, an antique

The value itself is based off of current market values for kimono of similar quality and caliber that have actually sold within the last twelve months. Prices are tracked from various online websites and the prices that I give are what you would actually expect to pay online and not some hyper-inflated retail price that many other people try to push. Kimono are not as expensive as most people seem to believe, and I think that seeing the hyper-inflated prices tends to turn people off before they can even get their foot in the door. As this series progresses I will show kimono whose prices will be into the thousands of dollars, but note that they are incredibly rare and that I have been collecting and wearing for well over a decade (the last time I checked it was about 11 years) and, I do admit, I own some very nice pieces. But, the majority of the kimono that I own are more akin in price to this one, with the intent of purchase to actually wear them or just because I really liked the design.