= Women’s Garments =

by Joshua L. Badgley

In this section, we will present only historical information on the individual garments worn by women. In a later section, we will detail the construction of these garments. Therein we will also address information on these garments and how their use might be applied to historical re-enactors. All of the graphics with a blue border link to larger images which will pop up in a separate window. Likewise, when the text discusses other garments, highlighted words will bring up a small image of the garment mentioned (to save readers from scrolling back and forth to see what is being referenced).

This is far from a complete listing of all the garments that existed in all of Japan from the days of Jinmu. Rather, it is a presentation of the more important garments and the ones key to making up the various outfits most important in Japanese history. For the sake of simplicity, for the present we are presenting only garments worn from the Heian period through the Sengoku period (794–1604), although at some point we plan to add earlier garments and the Nara variants of Heian clothes already covered here.

Akome (衵)

This is a garment worn with the uchiki sugata and similar outfits from the middle Heian period. It was worn above the hitoe and below the other layers. It is cut generally similarly to the hitoe, with a double-wide body and a long, open collar. The front and back are, like the hitoe, left sewn together at the sides. It is lined.

The make of garment is the same for everyone from the Empress on down.

Koaoi pattern

The surface color is light green, the pattern koaoi, and the fabric itself is a stiff patterned silk. The lining is also light green, unpatterned, and of plain silk.

It is sometimes called “akome no kinu,” and often in garments of the Heian period, when a reference is made to “kinu” as an item of sub-wear (that is, below over-robes), it is the akome, or a longer version of it, that is being discussed.

There is also a men's version of the same garment. As is typical of Japanese garments, the name is based on form, rather than function, and the men's and women's versions are quite different, but still share some similarities

Hakama (袴)

This is the generic term for trousers--typically a bifurcated lower garment attached with ties around the waist. The same term is used for both men's and women's trousers, though there are some differences. Women regularly wore hakama in the early periods, but they started to do away with them in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), and they are rarely seen in later periods except in formal outfits.

The iconic image of women's hakama are the haribakama, also known as nagabakama (though not to be confused with the men's nagabakama, which became popular in the Edo period). As with other Heian period hakama, these early style hakama had a single waist-tie that was sewn in a “U” shape on the top and which tied on the left side, rather than in the center.

Along with the haribakama, which were largely impractical outdoors, there was a more practical form known as kiribakama. These were “cut” short, only coming down to the ankle, which made them ideal for traveling, such as someone on pilgrimage to a shrine or temple.

Besides hakama we also see other lower garments, such as variations of the mo, wrapped skirts or aprons. The two were even conflated in the mobakama, a pleated wrapped skirt with waist ties like hakama.

Eventually, hakama fell out of fashion. They remained in use by the court for things like the karaginu-mo, but otherwise they were eschewed.

Hitoe (単衣)

This is an unlined robe (hence the name) worn under the Karaginu-mo. Traditionally it is either a kurenai (orange-red) or a pale green color, and almost invariably the pattern is yokoshigebishi, or one resembling the background of this page.

The sides are sewn shut, and the large, open sleeves are only partially sewn to the body. The collar is long and open. It is two panels wide, and so is very large. It is a long garment, typically trailing behind, even when standing.

The general cut of the hitoe is repeated several times by different garments.

Itsutsuginu (五つ衣)

Meaning “five robes,” this was originally just that five robes (uchiki), one on top of the other. There could actually be more than five, but this became the standard. This could also indicate a single garment made up of the five layers or even a cheater garment where it looks like five layers, but only where it could be seen.

Karaginu (唐衣)

Literally translated as “Chinese robe,” the karaginu derives from the Chinese court clothing worn since the Nara period. It came to its current form in the Heian period. The garment itself is simple. The body is two panels wide, sewn down the back, but not attached at the sides. Instead, it is attached to two large, open sleeves on either end. The neck is square, and situated somewhat at the back of the garment, when laid out flat. There is a collar of the same fabric as the rest of the garment that goes from one side to the other. Unlike the hitoe, there is no okumi. The fabric is typically some form of brocade with roundels. Along with the mo, this is one of the two main garments in the karaginu-mo, and isn't really worn with other outfits.

Kosode (小袖)

The kosode was first worn as underwear by Heian kuge, who wore them under their nightclothes. This kosode was of the tsubosode variety—that is, the sleeves are straight “tubes” rather than sculptured or shaped sleeves, or else they were sharply tapered and cut rather close to the arm.

Kosode were commonly worn as uchigi (as well as underwear) by buke during the Kamakura era, at which time they became legitimate outer garments in their own right and became more dressy and full, with less sculpted sleeves. When the kosode became outer wear, the juban (or hadajuban) developed as replacement underwear robes. Essentially, it was identical to the older model kosode, and served as underwear (much like a modern white T-shirt) from the Muromachi period through the Edo.

The undergarment kosode of Heian and Kamakura was invariably white; Muromachi and Momoyama versions were patterned, from which a particular type of garment, called the aigi, came about.

As it became an outer garment, the kosode replaced all of the hitoe style layers, at least for informal outfits. This led to a kosode based outer garment to replace the uchiki, including an uwagi like outer garment called an uchikake.

In the Heian period, commoners wore a kimono-like garment which also started to be called kosode since the sleeves were small. (These kosode were only slightly different garments than the Heian nobility’s underwear.)

An important point that must be made is that kosode (literally “little sleeve”) weren’t just so called because the sleeve was small; they were given the name because the sleeve opening was small (especially when compared to other garments of the period, which were often termed ōsode, or “large sleeves”).

Though we have no pattern, here, please check out Kosode Made Simple by Lisa Joseph. Her website is an excellent resource for re-enactors.

Kouchiki (小袿)

Meaning “small uchiki,” the kouchiki is the same shape as the uchiki and hitoe, but smaller, both in length and in overall width, with slightly narrower sleeves, which helps show off the layers underneath.

Mo (裳)

The mo, in its most general form, refers to a selection of non-bifurcated lower garments. Though the most famous is the train-like garment worn with the karaginu-mo, described below, there were also earlier forms that were more like a wrapped skirt. It also is related to other wraps, such as the shibiradatasumono or the kake-yumaki.

While there are garments that could be related that show up in Kofun era haniwa, the first clear representation of a mo appears to be from the Asuka period. The Takamatsuzuka mural shows women wearing a fully wrapped skirt, or mo. These are depicted as striped and appear to be pleated or gathered at the waist. There also appears to be a second skirt underneath the upper one. This seems to accord with styles seen on the continent. At least one example of a mo from the Nara period remains in the Shōsōin repository. Rather than a straight skirt, it is actually two levels, gathered at the waist and then gathered about halfway down.

As a part of the court costume for noble women, the mo continued to be a part of the formal outfit for women into the Heian period. However, by the middle Heian period, the form had changed to its more common form: a train that trails behind, rather than skirt that wraps around. This form of the mo is largely trapezoidal in shape. There is a waist band and ties that hold it to the waist, and then there are long ties, or hida that trail behind. The long garment is created by sewing together strips of fabric. Long panels of fabric are cut at a diagonal, so that they form two irregular trapezoids with one long edge along the selvedge and the other on the bias. When piecing it together, the cut sides of the panels are sewn together, facing up, while the selvedge are sewn together, facing down. The edges are not otherwise hemmed.

Although it remained a part of the formal karaginu-mo, this garment otherwise fell out of use, though some form of wrapped skirt did continue in use here and there, even if it was just a simple wrap of cloth, but its use was the exception rather than the norm.

Mobakama (裳袴)

This is a hybrid garment, a cross between the mo and the hakama. It is an ankle length wrapped skirt, pleated into the waist ties. These ties wrap around the body and are tied on the side. This garment appears to have been used in the Kamakura period.


This is a simple apron with a long name. It is believed to have evolved from the mo. It is a simple piece of fabric with ties to hold it around the waist.

Uchiginu (打衣)

Sometimes called an uchigi, this should not be confused with the uchiki, even though it is similarly cut. This garment, however, uses a fabric that has been stiffened through a process of beating the fabric. This was typically worn underneath the outer layers to provide more body to the garment as a whole, particularly in the later period when stiff, angular looks were considered fashionable.

Uchikake (打掛)

Popular in the Muromachi period and later, the uchikake replaced the uchiki as the informal wear for high class women. In form, it is similar to a kosode, with the same style sleeves, but it tends to be longer, trailing behind the wearer.

Uchiki (袿)

Also known simply as “kinu,” or robe. The uchiki is of a similar cut to the hitoe, but its use is different. It serves as foundational garments for many of the court outfits, and informally it can be worn in layers without the uppermost garments. In the summertime, these would be only a single layer of fabric, while winter garments would be lined. Though individually simple, the combinations of them in various colors are what creates the impressive displays of the court ladies.

Yumaki (湯巻)

The yumaki started out as a simple wrap used when going to a bath (yu means “hot water” while maki means “wrap”). While there are a variety of wraps, they all share in common the fact that they are simply made of cloth and they do not have ties to hold them on.

The most basic yumaki appears to be a white cloth, which upper-class women would wrap around a hitoe when going to the bath.

A more common form of the yumaki is called “kake-yumaki,” and appears to be worn with the kosode. In the art of the period, this appears to be of colored or patterned fabric. While it is commonly a single panel width, we also find evidence of two-panel width kake-yumaki, as well. In this form, it appears to have continued, at least among commoners, into the Edo period.


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