A yukata is the most informal type of Japanese kimono. Made from light-weight unlined cotton and easier to wear than traditional kimonos, it 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) also provide these robes 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, featuring 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 essential, and the wearer would need help getting dressed. Tabi socks, designed for thonged footwear, finish the ensemble. The Japanese rarely wear formal kimonos in summertime, except on formal occasions such as weddings.
The images below are of cotton yukata, which feature bright colours, floral patterns and relatively simple obi; few specialised accessories are necessary, and the wearer could put one on without help. For convenience, you can hook a pre-tied butterfly bow on the back of the obi. Socks are not worn, thus allowing the feet to breathe during hot summer weather.
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.
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 fastens in a bow at the back (a special technique in itself). You will see that the wearer adjusts the length of the garment by hiding excess material under the obi, and so a one-size yukata fits a wide range of heights. Note too that the left side wraps over the right; in Japan, right over left is reserved for dressing a body for a funeral.
Japanese kimonos sold by The Kimono Company are casual wear in the yukata style, easy to put on and care for, and perfect as dressing gowns (though popular too as fancy dress). And, of course, their designs are firmly rooted in Japanese tradition.