Kimono Hime

Kimono Hime is a magazine that features a style of kimono mixed with contemporary accessories such as high heels, giant fluffy earmuffs, shawls etc. In doing so it breaks the rules of wearing kimono but, maybe because the art of wearing kimono are so incredibly vast, intricate and thus daunting, this technically incorrect way of styling of Kimono Hime has been partially responsible for a resurge in wearing kimono in Japan and it’s an beautiful thing to see.

I have been googling lots about it and I’ve come across many things that didn’t sit right with me so I decided to google some on cultural appropriation, too.

Cultural appropriation is often confusing, especially for someone who was brought up in a society that still bears a lot of colonialist aspects (i.e. Westerners always feel justified in taking an aspect of another’s culture and strip it from their meaning for our own personal gain, for our own personal expression). After a long train of thoughts I often wonder cynically that all cultures will ultimately mix and there’s no getting around that but isn’t this idea is instilled in me because my culture has still so many remnants of colonialism and teaches me it’s okay to use elements of another’s culture for my own personal gain? I’d say yes. I don’t think I am the voice to be talking about this because of that. But because I felt uneasy about it I feel the need to include some ideas on cultural appropriation of kimono along with the stylings of the Kimono Hime magazine. It’s a weird juxtaposition perhaps but, hey, whatever.

That said, for me to decide whether or not the idea of you wearing a kimono would be offensive, I would have to know a few things: Do you actually know HOW to wear a kimono? Do you know the rules for wearing one, such as how to match the kimono to the current season and how to choose appropriate accessories based on the occasion AND the formality of the kimono? What kind of kimono do you plan on wearing — do you have a real one or just a kimono-shaped bathrobe? There are lots of rules to wearing kimono, do you know ANY of them?

You also need to learn about cultural appropriation. I’m assuming you’re not even in college yet so it might be a tough concept to grasp. Plenty of college-educated adults struggle with it. But I would suggest that you start by reading through the Wikipedia article on cultural appropriation to get an idea of what I’m talking about. But at the end of the day, a white person deciding to turn the cultural clothing of a minority group into a costume is in NO WAY equivalent to a member of a minority group wearing a ballgown. Life isn’t fair, as many of these people can tell you — white people have a long and sordid history of stealing minority’s lands, destroying their languages and cultures, tearing children from their homes, and trivializing the things that minority peoples have done to try to maintain their cultures. One way we as a group do that is by taking things from other groups and using them WAY out of context, for example, pretty much any instance of a white person (especially a woman) wearing a Plains Indian war bonnet. Unfortunately the thing that makes cultural appropriate so tough is that the line between borrowing and using things APPRECIATIVELY and simply APPROPRIATING something and using it inappropriately is very fine, and people disagree on where that line actually is.

Your right to express yourself is NOT being denied. You are just being told that you can’t express yourself in a way that offends other people. This is NO different than being told you can’t wear a t-shirt with the F word or the N word on it to school. Also, consider this: How would the people around you react to a Japanese or Japanese-American student who wore a kimono to school on some day other than Halloween or some other day specially set aside for ethnic clothing? If the answer is that nobody would even notice one way or the other and that student would be allowed to go about his or her day without being treated differently for it, good for you, you happen to go to a very enlightened school. But chances are that person would get a lot of attention, not all of it positive. So why should you, who by your own admissions is not Japanese, get to wear kimono to school any time when they probably couldn’t without risking everything from stares to violent bullying? THAT is what is unfair here, not that you are being told that certain costume choices are off-limits because they might offend someone.
A wise and super informative Yahoo answer

Re: Cultural Appropriation of Kimono. Like the Karate Gi or Kendo uniform, Kimono is Clothing worn specifically for some purposes. You cannot practice Tea Ceremony without leaning to properly dress yourself in Kimono, and learn what is appropriate for the tea ceremony and what isn’t. Cultural appropriation is wearing the most outrageous Kimono Hime to Tea Class, and insisting that it is correct, or good enough. Likewise with Japanese Koto, Shamisen, Ikebana and other japanese cultural ‘arts’.
Anonymous breaks it down at the kimononagoya tumblr.

it makes me, as an ethnically-Chinese person who also gets glossed over as ‘Japanese’ by people who don’t give a fuck about such distinctions, extremely uncomfortable when i see something like that. if i wore a proper kimono – and god knows i would NOT unless my Japanese friends begged me to and even then – i might get compliments, but i would also be perceived as a stereotype, especially in the ‘West’ here. and then i could take that kimono off, and i would still be seen as an ‘Oriental’, along with all the baggage that comes along with it. afp takes off the kimono and goes back to being ‘normal’ and default ‘white’. afp’s whole shtick is but one of a very long history that continues even today of yellowface. it might seem like such a small thing – it’s just a kimono! – but when you have all these incremental actions that take place on a wide scale in white culture, it becomes more than that. it leads to a world where there are lots of people who don’t know what the difference between China, Japan and Korea is and don’t care to. and so forth.
And so much more brilliance here.

my response to this is clear and simple; i don’t think the issue of institutional racism and discrimination can be completely divorced from the question of cultural appropration. they feed into one another. one would not exist (at least not in the same way) without the other.
The ever-insightful Julia on cultural appropriation.

Lastly, I like these two coordinates because it shows you can inspire yourself on kimono without being culturally appropriative, several intricate layers create that distinctive silhouette. Yeah, those are kinds of kimonos they’re wearing under it but you can just as easily create this silhouette with a dress. Personally, I have been inspired by the kimono pattern clashing of Kimono Hime and Osen in these two outfits. It’s all about the patterns and colours for me (as always).

More on kimono
More Kimono Hime magazine scans here (and then some kitsuke book scans too!).
Here is a tumblr that discusses Kimono styling with the traditional rules in mind.
This hub of V&A on Kimono is quite interesting.
You can find some info about the traditional art of wearing kimono on wikipedia, too.

More on Cultural Appropriation
my culture is not a trend.
Wikipedia is insightful.
Indo-Chic by Ananya Mukherjea
Accosted by Racist Costumes by Katrina Richardson

11 Comments

  • OH MY GOD ELINE. THIS POST IS AWESOME. AND YOUR BACKGROUND IS AWESOME AND I’M CRYING ON HOW GOOD THIS IS.

  • This is really lovely! I like that you actually addressed cultural appropriation, and you care enough to research these beautiful articles of clothing and all the aspects that come along with it. Most people would just wear it because it’s “trendy” ignoring historical implications, but you really know your stuff and appreciate the culture surrounding it. That’s cool!

  • Good post, I’m always impressed by how in-depth you go about important subjects ~ although I feel kind of shameful now about my Halloween costume of two years ago being a weak reference to Cinco de Mayo without any prior knowledge to the celebration or what it stands for.
    I also found that the tumblr “my culture is not a trend” although the person running it has a right to be angry about people boiling down their Native American culture to a trendy costume ~ I think the use of the word racist is misused, its more like these people are just ignorant. It’s better to correct ignorance and share knowledge of a the prior referenced culture, rather than just have a go at them.
    But, yes, excellent post ~ I definitely want to learn from the wealth of information out there and be more sensitive to the real meanings behind cultural references.

    • Well, you know, racism is just imbedded in our society so everyone has (at least) a little something of that in them, it’s not shameful or horrible or whatever you want to call it, so long as you actively try to fight against those prejudices.

      The term racism/racist isn’t overused at all, considering Western history, it would be unbelievable if all that would just suddenly disappear out of us and our culture.

      It’s not anyone’s job to continually educate other people on any kind of matter either, no matter what colour you are. If you continually come upon racism in your daily life, it has to be exhausting to tell people to change/think differently time upon time again. You cannot expect anyone to do that. I don’t think we can even imagine what it’s like either.

      Idk, I’m white, I don’t know about racism, I just did some googling. It wasn’t hard. Encourage others to think for themselves and do some damn research. Esp. in these times of the internet, you know? Stop wanting everything handed to you (I am talking as much about me as any other white person).

      • I think what I was trying to say about the word racist, is not that its overused… but that in the context I referenced its just too aggressive a word.
        But, yes I agree with you terms of it being no ones job to educate others, we should all as individuals, educate ourselves. Although, sorry if I wasn’t clear, I was referring to when people actively do call others out for being prejudice – but do it aggressively so, which I believe is simply counterproductive.

        P.s. I recommend watching “Make Bradford British”, its really interesting in terms of trying to integrate people from different cultural backgrounds in a place where racism is predominant.

        • I don’t know about that specific tumblr but yeah I have seen that happen too. Their anger is so founded but it scares people away, which, you know, good for you when you want to achieve that but you see this alienating anger occurring on tumblr when people are actually trying to explain stuff. It can make tumblr stressful, so I try to avoid those things tbh.

  • been thinking about this a little bit lately. i came across a turquoise gorgeous vintage cheongsam in a thrift shop, and tried it on. it didn’t fit, but i wondered if i would have bought it if it had. because i liked the colour? the cut? i didn’t buy it to sell in my vintage shop, because that felt too complicated.

    for someone who has a very limited knowledge of what a cheongsam is (or a kimono for that matter) i decided in the end it would have been naive and misguided of me to wear such a thing without at least first informing myself.

    it would be so much more refreshing if people used opportunities like these to inform themselves and learn about the rich history behind said garments instead of just wearing them and reacting defensively when people ask them why they feel the right to do so.

    thanks for writing out your ideas about this eline!

  • Recently I got invited to a friend’s wedding anniversary, it was held in an Indian restaurant and the guests were advised to dress Indian. I felt extremely uneasy about wearing a sari – for an Indian woman it probably comes as natural as breathing air, but me attempting it even after googling how to do it properly just felt terribly disrespectful to the whole culture, something along the lines of “if you don’t know anything about it, why pretend you do?” Tried coiling something slightly hinting at the shape of a sari while staying familiarly Western, but in the end found a cute jacket patterned with tiny Indian elephants and that solved my problems.

    Funny how learning one term can instantly nail down what seemed like vague and complex ideas. Thanks to you I can now through “cultural appropriation” around like a cool kid ;]

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