What is a yukata?

By The Kimono Company on 24/04/2014

womens yukata and a mans yukata

A yukata is the most informal type of kimono. Made from light-weight unlined cotton and easier to wear than traditional kimonos, the yukata is a popular casual garment for men and women during Japan's hot, humid summers; it is commonly seen at festivals and hot spring resorts (yukata literally means bathing clothes) but increasingly at other public events as young women in particular view them as a stylish option. Traditional Japanese inns (ryokan) and hot spring resorts also provide yukata for their guests as loungewear.

The following images show the basic differences between a formal kimono and a yukata.

In this first image you see examples of formal kimono: rich silk brocade, subtle colours, a subdued pattern, and a very elaborate obi (sash). Although not visible, various items of underwear and accessories are also required, and the wearer would need help getting dressed. Tabi socks, designed to be worn with thonged footwear, finish the ensemble. Formal kimonos are rarely worn in summertime except on formal occasions such as weddings.

Formal kimono and obi

The images below are of cotton yukata: brightly coloured, with floral patterns and relatively simple obi; few specialised accessories are required, and the wearer could put on a yukata unaided. For convenience, a yukata owner could buy a pre-tied butterfly bow to hook on the back of her obi. Socks are not worn, thus allowing the feet to breathe during hot summer weather.

three young women in yukata

Men generally wear darker colours and plainer, often geometric patterns, with a narrow obi that ties neatly at the back. A man's yukata set often comes with a drawstring bag.

three young men in yukata

Yukata have seen a revival of popularity in recent years. Whereas a formal kimono may cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds, a complete yukata set including an obi and a pair of geta (wooden clogs) often sells for less than £100, bringing it within reach of younger people and giving fresh life to a kimono tradition that had begun to decline.

The following fascinating video demonstrates how to put on a yukata. The process is hardly 'casual' to Western eyes as it involves two ties, an inner belt and a long outer obi, which is tied in a bow at the back (a special technique in itself). You will see that the wearer adjusts the length of her yukata by hiding excess material under the obi; a one-size yukata will therefore fit a wide range of heights. Note too that the left side of the yukata is wrapped over the right; in Japan, right over left is reserved for dressing a body for a funeral.

Japanese kimonos sold by The Kimono Company and others are casual wear in the yukata style: normally worn as bathrobes or dressing gowns (though popular too as fancy dress), and with a narrow matching belt, they are very easy to wear and care for, and of course their designs are firmly rooted in Japanese tradition.

Tags: yukata | formal kimono | obi | ryokan | tradition | festival | video

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