I quite frequently get emails asking for an opinion on what/how old a kimono is. Typically this is pretty straightforward, but a few times now, what they had was an antique kurotomesode that had seen some shit. For a quick explanation, a kurotomesode is the most formal dress for a married woman that is identifiable by being black (kuroi-) and having a pattern on the hem. And I will slap the “antique” label on basically anything that qualifies as being pre-WWII.
Further still, some of those emails get a whole lot weirder than just a kimono having seen some shit, because the kimono in question has definitely been altered, and the ultra super mega precious list of contemporary rules shrivel into a corner and cry about them. This is where things get confusing if someone is trying to do their own research, because even though it technically ticks all of the boxes for “kurotomesode,” they have to contend with both the fact that antique kimono don’t give a single solitary fuck about contemporary rules, and the garment doesn’t make a ton of sense for antique sensibilities, either. Both at the same time! Weee! But there’s always a pretty “…well, they were trying to follow the rules with no money,” reason.
Now, I have gone over the absolute insanity that is buying antique kimono domestically here in the United States. But did you know that directly post WWII Japan was a land of nightmarish kimono chaos as well? It was just a different flavored nightmare. The USA flavor is cat piss. The Japanese flavor is shoyu and a fucking knife.
In the United States, I have Executive Order 9066 and “war prizes” to contend with. That comes with the fun…yeah, I’m gonna use the word fun…of trying to reverse engineer the travesties that result from a kimono being in the hands of someone who had contempt for the culture it came from. When it comes to pieces I buy direct from Japan, the difficulty becomes dealing with changes made due to necessity, adhering to standards, and lack of funds leading to the kimono crafting hour.
So today I have a treat for you. Here are a bunch of kurotomesode that I bought intentionally and explicitly because they meet these parameters. First, they were purchased direct from Japan and to my knowledge have never been to the USA. Hell, some of you probably bid against me for one or two of them. And to those people, I have this to say: you’re welcome, this is now my problem to deal with and not yours. And second, they have all been altered explicitly because of post war necessities. It’s worth noting that plenty of other kinds of kimono have had this stuff done to them, I’m just focusing on kurotomesode today.
This one is pretty obvious. It was once a furisode, and she had her sleeves cut because a different kimono was needed.
While her condition is quite good, even though she does have some fading and I’ll address that. I’m pretty sure it’s just UV damage.
Sometimes we’ll get sleeves that have been sewn up to be shorter–sometimes in a way that defies logic, you’ll see–and in this case, unfortunately, that’s not what happened here. There is a little bit of sleeve in that seam allowance, and I have my thumb where the fabric ends inside in that second picture there. But that sure as shit isn’t enough to be the whole length of a furisode sleeve. They did keep the momi (safflower dyed silk) lining though. So I don’t have to invent Skynet just to go back in time and merc a bitch…
Of course, furisode, even the most formal ones like this one was, didn’t give a single solitary shit about having a pattern above the hem. They were meant to be highly decorated, and indeed she was.
Now kurotomesode with a pattern above the hem are not unheard of. There are plenty of examples of these that were made on purpose, especially as western seating arrangements were starting to become more popular at the end of the Meiji Restoration. One of my favorite kimono is built like that on purpose. See:
But that one was never a furisode. It was designed to look like this, and it shows, because notice how it’s not randomly missing chunks of pattern where the sleeves terminate.
So why would they do this to this furisode? Simple! Because a kimono rule that has always been in place, to my knowledge, is that the formality of the garment trumps most other attributes. Because with five kamon, it matched the formality of the event it was needed for, but not the age or marital status of the wearer. But it was all they had, and so it had to do. SLICE.
It is worth noting that antique furisode actually still get chopped today because people want to wear them as anything but furisode. This practice makes me make noises.
Yes, you’re welcome, I’m very funny. This piece got off light, all things considered.
Special note: The shitsuke ito (basting stitches) placed in this piece were added fairly recently, or it’s just been treated very kindly over the years. Since they are not stressed, pulled tight, or otherwise making problems for the fabric, I’m leaving them be for now. I’ll have to take them out when I do restoration work, but they can hang for a bit. Remember: when buying second hand kimono–especially antiques–with shitsuke ito, make sure to inspect them. If the piece hasn’t been treated well over the years and the shitsuke ito are very old, they could be doing more harm than good. These fuckers pulled tight can slice through lining fabric. Make sure they’re still doing their job, and always remove them before wearing.
This piece is older than she looks. Wanna know how I know that? Well you see:
See that giant, weird-ass halo around the mon (family crest)? That’s the outline of the one that was originally there, which gives me the clue that this is older than it looks. The dye used to scribble it the fuck out wasn’t the same pigment blend as the original dye used to create the body color, so it faded an entirely different shade. And as you can see, the kamon applique is peeling off. This kurotomesode was probably always a kurotomesode and nothing else, but it was modified to look newer and for someone else of a different family. Why was it done? Because the family that needed this kurotomesode couldn’t afford a new one, and had to make do.
As a highly personal aside, do you see the detail on even just the flower buds on that fucking hakkake (inner skirt lining)? Look at it!
Speaking of amazing hakkake…
Swing And A Miss:
So remember that whole thing about how in 1945 kimono production effectively shut down, and that’s when momi was no longer being produced for kimono on the reg? Well right before that, having a red lining in a kimono was starting to be seen as, how shall I say, kinda fucking too much? It’s come to my attention that style regions gave more of a shit about that than others, which is a big reason so many pieces with intact momi are still around. But, lots of kimono had their whole ass linings replaced. For example, this one:
When I first saw this one, I knew there was going to be some kamon fuckery because of this:
Look, a pair of spot where the dye has been suspiciously discharged. You know what that means!
Yup. This is a whole ass thing. I’m actually starting to have a collection of these. Here’s just the ones I have within reach:
But that’s not the thing about this kimono that’s weird as hell. Did you see it? I’ll help:
Someone sewed this back together after a bit of a bender, I’m thinking. I’ll fix that.
Why was this done? Same reason the others were, they had this, they needed it to be different, the changes were made because buying new was not an option.
Roll It Up Hard:
Yeah hi, here’s another furisode. But they didn’t attack this one with scissors anywhere near as hard.
When this one showed up I felt the weight in those sleeves and didn’t bother to do a single goddamn thing before digging all of that sleeve out of it. Some of that sleeve surely got snipped, but there’s enough there to make a very awesome piece, and that’s what I’m gonna do.
Also they did the absolute bare minimum to try to conceal the red lining. I appreciate the fuck the police attitude.
I, too, will be fucking the police, because I’ll be removing those.
So, there’s this belief out there in the western world that kurofurisode were meant to have their sleeves cut after the wedding. And the only damn place I’ve ever seen this written is in the listings of sellers that spell a lot of things wrong. To the best of my knowledge and research, however, this is not a thing that was done unless out of necessity.
In fact, there’s even a word for it when there’s a matching kurofurisode and kurotomesode set: kaesode. To just hack off a bunch of intricate artwork would be an absurd waste of money, and disrespectful. And frankly, if they were ballin’ so hard that they could afford to do that without thinking about it, then they could afford the fucking kaesode to begin with.
When you have a kurofurisode that was hacked to make a kurotomesode, it was done out of necessity, not out of some ritual or tradition. Which then answers, of course, why this kimono got cut and a white stripe: because they needed a different kimono than the one they had, they couldn’t afford another one, and this is what they did.
Roll It Up Harder:
Here’s another good example of doing the bare fucking minimum to shut people up.
She maintains her glorious momi lining, but those sleeves? Short and white. It’s okay though, because you can really feel the the oh fuck this of days gone as we inspect those sleeves. Have a look:
Firstly, down at the bottom of that white strip, there is no seam. They made zero attempt to make this look like it was relined from less than a meter distance, and you know what? Respect. That’s when I whip out the bear mace, too.
But do you know what’s actually kinda fucky about this sleeve? Look at it. Those seams are thick as hell. And I can report that the sleeves themselves are unreasonably heavy for their size. Time to whip out Knifu Chan! Note that I hacked the white strip in half to make my life easier because I have zero intention of preserving that change and so I don’t care about it.
Holy mother of silk origami, this shit got folded up twice. I actually started laughing pretty hard when I finally released the whole sleeve. I felt like one of those birthday magicians with the silk scarves, except since I have a knife, my trick is technically an act of violence. Fully sewn up, the sleeves measured 47cm/18.5in. Released, there’s 77cm/30in of viable fabric. LOL me looking at the other sleeve all like:
Once again, the reason was necessity. I was once told that outside of furisode, longer sleeves are for younger people–and then the standard of what “long” meant changed as time went on. Notice how you don’t see those dramatic sleeves on modern kimono that aren’t furisode of some kind. But I now know that sleeve length on antique kimono outside of furisode is near entirely preference. I can definitely see the correlation = causation fallacy at work there, though.
I’ll be doing some pigment replacement to adjust the UV damage, but other than bringing those sexy ass sleeves back out, she’s in great shape.
Last on our menu today is…
Fuck The Police:
She lonk. She stronk. She only has partial changes and a thiccc-ass badonk, behold:
All of these of these pieces will eventually get their own evaluation entry, but this is the one I’m the most excited about. So do you see that? Do you see that whimsical goddamn fuckery in the armpit holes and the sleeves? Here I’ll get us closer.
While there is every goddamn chance that this was done by someone frustrated to the point of tears because they lived in an occupied country with no money to buy a new kimono to celebrate a wedding with…wellll, you see, I’ve gotten pretty cozy with suffering in this exact context with kimono, and let me tell you, there is just something about this job that makes me feel that the person who installed these patches was saying this instead:
“You can all eat my whole asshole. I’m not fucking this up. Momi is better.”
And to be fair, they’re right. I’m on team this person for life. They didn’t cut the sleeves, either. There’s a thick folded little bundle here.
See that bend just to the right of my thumb? You can really see how thick this fabric is to do that.
So my task with this piece is minor stain removal, deal with one of the most awkward fugitive pigment issues I’ve ever seen–seriously, I have no idea how it happened, it looks like UV damage but the pattern of fading looks like a sweaty motherfucker was wearing a goddamn t-shirt under it. I’ll deal with that, remove the white patches, let the sleeves back out.
This about concludes our little skip down the What The Shit Happened Here road that is the effect of WWII on kimono. I hope it was informative if not at least bizarre as hell for you.
Join me next time when I will be maybe showcasing kimono or I’ll have a tutorial or stain removal product test ready for you. I’ve been a bit under the weather and so a lot of my work came to a halt. What can I say, nobody wants to hoarf on a kimono. If I do, I can clean it, but I don’t want to clean my hoarf off of kimono. I want to clean someone else’s really old hoarf off of kimono. Because that’s definitely a normal and healthy thing to do with one’s time, yes.
While you’re here, visit the poll I have running and tell me what you think if you haven’t. Or don’t. I’m not a cop.
And for the record, all jokes aside, your modern kimono looks fucking amazing on you and don’t you ever let anyone tell you what you like isn’t good enough.