For 40 minutes non-stop, a proud grinning mother wraps, layers, and properly belts her compliant 20 year old daughter in a kimono. It is a radiant spring day in Kyoto, where I, along with others equally textile-obsessed, am learning the ways of this ancient city where the kimono has shaped society for 1200 years. The mother isn’t explaining - she doesn’t know English nor we, Japanese. It just takes that long to put on a kimono correctly. Don’t ask me to repeat. 

The kimono is wrapped left over right (until death when the final dressing laps right over left) - and it holds many such rules. The length of sleeves reveal one’s station in life (long for a young, unmarried woman, swooshing and flirting in the breeze; shorter as you go). The signature crest marks one’s family of origin; the cherry blossoms or maple leaves dictate which season it is worn, and the colors reveal the class to which one belongs.

The kimono almost died out after WWII, as the Japanese moved to Western dress. The price of a woman’s kimono spiked upwards of $10,000. They became rarer still when women were trapped after earthquakes, unable to run quickly in their long, tight garb.  

But in the last few years, the kimono is returning with a surge of popularity among the young women of Kyoto. I saw the beautiful out for dates in this full glory, and found scores of lovely leftovers at the Flea Markets of Kyoto. Fortunately for all of us, I have wonderful friends who still source these vintage pieces from Japan and let me pour over their treasure to select a few for you.  

When I bring them back to the ibu studio, we take in the extra fullness, slash the sleeves that love to get into the sushi sauce, and open up the front so that all the rules are gone. What’s left is effortless ease, elegance, and the perfect jacket for jeans or evening, free at last. It’s one of our signature looks and I love it for it’s deep cultural roots as well as for our liberated spin on it. History, still in the making.

All the best,
Susan Hull Walker