Traditional Japanese Clothing Through Ages

When it comes to traditional Japanese outfits, almost everyone thinks about Kimono. However, Kimono is not the only traditional Japanese clothing that people are still wearing today. In this blog, we’ll explain the differences between the 14 most popular types of dress being worn from the Heian Period up to now.   

Traditional Japanese clothing – From Heian to Heisei 

The history of Japanese clothes styles

Japan traditional dresses, which still remain in their community to this day, are the perfect combination of ancient visual culture and artistic values. They reflect Japanese ideology and social values through history ages. 

Japanese traditional clothing first appeared in the Heian Period (794-1185) named as Kimono. The original version of Kimono was said to be elegant and extremely complicated with up to 12 layers and the total weighs roughly 10kg. However, when it came to samurai and their families, Kimono was designed to be much simpler and easier to move in normal life. Besides the most well-known form – Kimono, there are various other types of garments. Each type of garment corresponds to a special occasion, such as festivals, ceremonies, or weddings. The materials, colors, and layers used for the clothing differentiate them and their significance, as the looks are also often worn seasonally. These patterns are considered auspicious and have the meaning of wishing for longevity: crane, phoenix, pine tree, plum blossoms.

tradional japanese clothing

Kimono has color and patterns matching with seasons

From Heian to Heisei (1989-2019)

The beginning of World War II marked an important change in Japanese fashion. Most Japanese began wearing Western clothes in daily life, and Kimonos only on special occasions. Nowadays, there are fashion trends that have unrestrictedly extended beyond national boundaries thanks to the exploration of media. The old and new, Western and Eastern costumes have been mixed that shapes Japanese modern fashion as well as creates new combinations such as Visual kei, Lolita, cosplay and Harajuku street fashion. 

Types of traditional Japanese clothing


Appeared during Heian Period, Kimono (着物) is undoubtedly the most iconic and easily recognizable of all traditional Japanese costumes. Literally, “Kimono” is a Japanese word meaning “thing to wear”. From the 19th century, it’s used to refer specifically to the national costume of Japan worn by both men and women. 

tradional japanese clothing

Kimono are a marked feminine costume and a national attire

In modern times, there are multiple types and subtypes of Kimono. People choose Kimono depending on their age, the season and event that they’re attending. During the winter, people usually wear Awase Kimono which can be made of woven fabric like silk or synthetic fabric.  Because of the cold weather, rustic colors and patterns (like russet leaves) with multiple layers are preferred. In warmer days, light, cotton Kimono with vibrant colors and floral designs (like cherry blossoms) are more common.

tradional japanese clothing

Silk is considered the ideal fabric for more formal Kimono

Traditional Kimono can be made of silk, silk brocade and satin weaves which bring a sense of elegance and velvetiness. Modern kimono is more casual and typically made with less-expensive easy-care fabrics such as rayon, cotton sateen, cotton, polyester and other synthetic fibers. 


Basically, Japanese Kimono is tightly wrapped around the body in several layers and kept stable by one type of sash known as “Obi”. The process of wearing a Kimono is considered intricate due to multiple layers that need to be formed and included accessories to wear the Kimono correctly. First, we put on white socks called Tabi which is made from very soft and comfortable materials, normally cotton. Then the undergarments – a top and a wraparound skirt are put on one after another. The next layer is the Nagajuban (under-kimono), which is then tied by a Datemaki belt. Finally, the Kimono is put on, with the left side covering the right, and then tied with an Obi. 



Furisode (振袖) is regarded as the most formal style of Kimono and worn by Japanese unmarried women for social functions such as the coming of age ceremony, graduation day or relative’s weddings. Many girls get Furisode from their granma’s age.   


Furisode is a colorful style of Kimono with long sleeves that are tied with a brightly colored Obi

Furisode has extremely long sleeves that are hung down about the length of the ankles of the women. The longer the sleeves are, the more sophisticated it is. Furisode is made of very fine, brightly colored silk with gorgeous and youthful patterns. The price of Furisode varies depending on the material’s quality, design and workmanship normally would be around A$15,000 for the whole outfit.


The Yukata (浴衣) is the informal version of Kimono, which is worn in the spring and summer, specifically for onsen bathing, festivals and cherry blossom viewing ceremonies. Because of that, it will be made from lighter fabric and brighter colors, and generally less expensive than the traditional Kimono. 

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The yukata was originally worn as a bathrobe, but in Japan currently, it is generally worn only as a summer garment


A special garment which is worn by Japanese brides in their wedding, with every piece is made in white, from the under-robe to the obi. Shiromuku (白無垢) is one of the most extravagant pieces of traditional Japanese clothing. The pure white color represents purity and cleanliness, and in some regions, it’s the symbol of the sun’s rays. 

 japan traditional dresses

Another traditional symbolic element of this use of white is that it was said to position the bride as a blank canvas, ready to adopt the color of the groom!


Besides some designs for women like Furisode and Yukata, Tanzen (丹前) is a Japanese men’s outfit and is predominantly worn in the winter. Generally, Tanzen has a similar shape to Kimono, however, it is padded by more layers and also thicker material to avoid the cold. Darker colors and plainer patterns are favored because it fits a man better.

japanese dress names

A Tanzen could be sold around 10000 yen in Japanese stores


In the old-time, Happi was worn by a Japanese house servant. It’s is a light jacket with straight short sleeves, open-front and often seen in deep blue indigo or brown. The back of the Happi is usually adorned with a crest. Today, it becomes a typical costume being worn by team members, particularly in dances or festivals. 

Happi usually comes in plain colors, typically blue, with red, black and white also popular


Obi is a kind of ornate sash that wraps around the final layer of Kimono and functions as a belt. It’s often extremely thick and could be in the same or contrast color with Kimono to bring a harmonious combination. Women’s Obi is larger than man’s and primarily used to decorate the whole outfit, while man simply uses the Obi to keep all the layers tight.

Obi serves as the final touch to the costume


A more formal incarnation of the Tanzen, Haori (羽織) is a medium-length jacket designed to be worn over the Kimono. Spearheaded by Geisha in the 1800s, it gives Japanese women a noble appearance like the gowns of Western ladies. Women’s Haori could be excellently matched with Western-world clothes, such as dresses or jeans, while men’s Haori usually has decorative linings hidden inside.

Haori was traditionally created to be worn by men of all occupations


Originated from the royal attire of the Chinese dynasty, in many ways Hakama (袴) was a predecessor to the Kimono we know today. Hakama comes into two varieties, the undivided and Hakama, which looks a little like a long pleated skirt, and the divided umanori, which resembles loose-fitting pants. There is a belt to tie at the waist and sleeves fall approximately to the ankles. Today men are more likely to wear Hakama under their Kimono on formal occasions, while women typically only wear it for graduation ceremonies. 

The Hakama has seven pleats, five in the front and two in the back


You must have seen this type of clothing before, in countless manga and anime series or Japanese movies set in the 20th century. Gakuran (学ラン) is the sleek, traditional boy’s high school uniform which was modeled on European navy personnel clothes. It has a long buttoned coat with an upstanding collar, full-length slacks, and typically worn with black dress shoes. It’s interesting that there is a female version of the uniform known as sailor Fuku that consists of a navy blue skirt, white shirt, and colored neckerchief.

The word “garukan” literally means “Western student uniform”


This’s funny, Fundoshi (褌), which is mostly worn by laborers or rickshaw drivers in the past, is the traditional undergarments of a Japanese man. The Fundoshi has several different styles and today, it’s often seen as the loose apron-like front at Hadaka Matsuri – the country’s infamous naked festival held at in February in Okayama.

Nowadays, the fundoshi is mainly used not as underwear but as festival (matsuri) clothing


A shoe-sock hybrid, the Tabi (足袋) is a traditional piece of footwear with a separate big toe. Tabi is most commonly seen to be worn with Japanese sandals, normally in white color. 

Tabi is the traditional Japanese socks dating back to the 15th century

Geta/ Zori/ Okobo

They are a unique type of sandals which are specifically used to mix with traditional Kimono or Yukata. Commonly, Geta (下駄) is made from wood and elevated from the ground using wooden teeth, which keeps your cloth away from snow and dirt.  

Geta’s prices change by the kind of wood used

Zori (草履) is made of lacquered wood and considered surprisingly formal while Okobo (おこぼ) is a simple platform sandal that is no more than a block of wood with straws on top.

Okobo is also referred to as pokkuri, bokkuri, or koppori geta from the sound made when walking


Being used as a headband, Hachimaki (鉢巻) is loved by sushi chefs across the nation. It’s said to be first adopted by Samurai in competitions. Today, it’s handy for hot days to prevent sweat from dripping in the eyes. 

Hachimaki: The Japanese headband that fires up the spirit


So you see, it’s really complicated when differentiating types of traditional Japanese clothing. Hope this blog helps you with that. 

Any comment or question about Japanese dress names or things to do in Japan? Leave it below, we’re happy to help!

About Hayami Mori

Hayami Mori is an awesome travel blogger & photographer. She was born and raised in Tokyo and have been here for nearly 25 years. She loves traveling and always wants to introduce her beautiful Japan to travelers from all over the world. Therefore, her blog is a great source of information for people looking for what to do in Japan as well as provides some tips to make their trips unforgettable.