There are a few risks–or maybe “hazards” is a better word–when buying vintage and antique kimono domestically. You are, frequently:
A. buying from someone who really doesn’t know what they have, and never knew how to care for it
B. buying based off of really bad photos
C. cannot anticipate how they will ship it.
D. ALL OF THE ABOVE
And therefore, THIS happens a LOT:
I actually have no desire to shit-talk people for not knowing what they have when it comes to these things. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone to be any kind of an expert in kimono. I live, most of the time, in a magical state of balance where I both marvel at the weirdness of condition and alterations done by those unknowledgeable, and I don’t hold any particular personal grudges against whoever did it. I do, however, wonder what goes on in the minds of people who wad up 5-ish pounds of silk into the smallest USPS Flat Rate Box it’ll fit in. Because JAYSUS CHROIST.
This kimono purchase has been a bit of an adventure. When I buy a kimono domestically (as in from within the USA rather than importing it from Japan), I usually try to go in with the expectation that there will be something for me to fix. As usual, once I extracted it from the package, I got to searching for damage and trying to identify it. This one, though? This blew expectations. All of them.
What I know immediately is that this is an old kuromontsuki (black kimono with five crests). VERY. OLD. They stopped weaving fabric like this and they stopped making kamon (the five white crests) that large at the end of the Meiji Era. It’s also finely padded throughout, with concentrated thickness at the wrist holes on the sleeves and at the hem, which is also a trend that died with the Meiji Era. This is a reminder that the Meiji Era ended in July of 1912.
It’s not that I am not used to having Meiji items–I have a few. But this one kills me. I HAD SO MANY QUESTIONS. See the adorable little pattern of bamboo stalks and chrysanthemums at the hem? Those are on the right panel of the kimono, and I sat staring at them with my confused laser eyes for a good fifteen minutes. Why is that weird, you ask? Well, unlike western fashion, kimono are meant to be wrapped left OVER right. And that’s not optional. Wrapping it right over left is reserved for those who are dead and ready to be cremated; so yeah, it’s a hard rule.
So is this a kimono for a corpse? No. Those are constructed entirely differently, are typically white, and I’ve actually never seen one just available for sale outside of funerary businesses.
As I stared at it, unblinking and tongue flopping around between my teeth, I realized that I saw one once, kind of maybe understood why, and then never saw it again and now I couldn’t remember properly why this kind of kimono exists or what it’s called. I asked around my fellow kimono nerds, some of which are reading this (HI!), and they were able to help me figure it out. This is a flash-in-the-pan high fashion trend from the end of the Meiji Era. In the same way that men’s haori (jackets) are only decorated on the inside, this was meant to show flashes of its beauty. Hidden decadence. Iki.
Incidentally, while I was able to find a few examples of these in books, I have yet to find another one that’s black and bears five kamon. For those unaware, five kamon (family crests, the white medallions) is peak formality. In loose terms, you can determine how formal a garment is by how many crests it has. Five crests are reserved the highest of formal occasions such as weddings, funerals…you know, ceremonial shit!
Let me get to the cool part. (Hahaha, like I haven’t been literally vibrating with excitement while typing this, right?) So yeah, it came packaged pretty dreadfully, and I had a lot of concerns about that because domestic purchases can be in weird condition. Well, it certainly is in weird condition. I…uh…can’t find anything wrong with it. NOT. A SINGLE. THING. I would bet a goddamn kidney that this is a Meiji Era kimono, but I can’t tell at all that this as ever even been WORN, let alone any physical evidence that it’s 100 years old. Its worst problem was that it was wrinkled. The lining is in excellent shape, with no fraying, shattering, or stains. I can’t find a single pull, fade, hole, or patina in the shell. The design isn’t smudged, none of the embroidered embellishments are stressed. The hem is perfect with no dirt, no redistribution of the padding, not even some goddamn lint. The kamon are perfectly solid with no hazy dye bleeding or yellowing. This might be the closest to mint condition kimono I have in my possession, and it’s certainly one of the oldest.
On private advice, I wrapped her gently in rice paper and stored her away from the light. When it’s no longer…pandemicing outside, I may have this one professionally appraised. Until then, she’s safe and I’m happy to have her, even if I didn’t have to offer tender loving care to put her back together again.