You might already know, there are certain rules that apply to wearing a kimono depending on the occasion, age or marriage status of the person whom will be wearing one. Have you ever seen the most formal kimono for married women? It is an elegant black kimono with a beautiful pattern around only the lower part of the kimono. It is called ‘Kuro-tomesode’ and this kimono is getting very popular among non Japanese due to it’s elegant appearance.
Kuro-tomesode is written as ‘黒留袖’ in Japanese and it means black kimono with fastened sleeves. The base color of this kimono is completely black and patterns are only around the lower part of the kimono and there are absolutely no such pattern on the upper section. The patterns are usually designed with kissho-monyo (吉祥文様), a motif which means auspicious omens. The motifs are always something which bring or symbolize good luck and happiness such as ‘shochikubai’ (pine, bamboo and plum tree), crane, turtle, golden and silver threads are often used in order to add beautiful and formal accents. A very typical feature of kuro-tomesode is the number of kamon. Kamon is written as ‘家紋’ -meaning family crest. The most known kamon is the one from the Imperial family, which is the chrysanthemum flower. Each Japanese family has their own kamon and Kuro-tomesode must have 5 kamons on the upper part of kimono; 3 on the back and 2 on the chest. The fabric of Kuro-tomesode is always silk and a high quality silk is often used such as hama-chirimen (浜縮緬), which is high-quality silk produced in Nagahama, Shiga prefecture and tango-chirimen (丹後縮緬), which is also high-quality silk, produced in Tango, Kyoto prefecture.
This most formal, elegant and beautiful kimono can be worn by married women for auspicious events such as weddings , engagement party and newborn baby’s first shrine visit, but I would say that Japanese people nowadays are more likely to wear Kuro-tomesode only for a wedding. As Kuro-tomesode has fastened sleeves, only married women can wear one. However, not every married woman who is invited to the wedding can wear Kuro-tomesode. Kuro-tomesode is worn by female family members who are married such as grandmother, mother and sister but especially worn by the mother of groom and bride. Thus, you cannot wear Kuro-tomesode even if you are married or are a married friend of bride or groom. In such cases one could wear iro-tomesode or homon-gi. If you aren’t married but young, you can wear furisode.
Let’s talk about obi and accessories such as obi-jime, obi-age (obi bustle sash in English), Japanese sandal and bag. The combination of obi and kimono is very important and of course applies to Kuro-tomesode. Fukuro-obi is more likely to be paired with Kuro-tomesode and these days and it should be elegant, gorgeous and a high-quality obi such as fukurooi with golden and silver threads as you would wear it to the auspicious event. Obi style is often nijyu-daiko. In regard to the accessories for Kuro-tomesode, ‘white’ is the key color. Obi-jime and obi-age should be white – it is ok to have gold or silver accents. You might feel tempted to add some colorful obi-jime or obi-age but you must not since it is considered as a taboo to put colorful ones together with Kuro-tomesode. Gold, silver and white are the color for a Japanese sandal and bag and again it isn’t good to have colorful ones. In addition, Sensu (fan) is also a must-have item for Kuro-tomesode and you put it between obi and obi-age. Be careful as you shouldn’t fan yourself with it. It’s considered bad manners.
Kuro-tomesode is a gorgeous and elegant kimono for married women but the occasion to wear it is so limited. Therefore, a lot of Japanese women no longer have their own Kuro-tomesode and they will rent from a shop whenever the need to wear one to a family member’s wedding. I’ve heard that lately Kuro-tomesode has caught the attention of kimono-loving foreigners and they see Kuro-tomesode as similar to a black dress that would be worn to a formal event. Interesting view point, isn’t it? I recommend that you wear Kuro-tomesode whenever you have the chance so you can savor the elegant, gorgeous and formal feeling!
From Kyushu, Japan, based in Germany. Obsessed with the beauty of kimono. Wearing my grandmothers’ and mother’s kimonos when I go back to Japan is becoming a routine activity. I especially love the unique and cute antique kimonos!