Semi-formal kimono are the forgotten middle child of the kimono family. They’re like your business suit or little black dress. They’re a necessary part of every wardrobe for the few times you wear it, but they’re not as glamorous as the formal garments you may own. There also aren’t as many opportunities to wear them as your very casual clothes. Semi-formal kimono bridge the gap and they can be easy to overlook.
The houmongi is the most formal of the semi-formal kimono. It’s also one of the most stunning. A houmongi can be identified by the placement of its pattern. It will have a pattern along the skirt of the garment, on the back of the right sleeve, and on the chest and front of the sleeve on the left side.
The name of this kimono translates as hou (訪 to visit) mon (問 to ask a question) and gi (着 to wear). Put it all together and it means visiting wear. Historically, this kimono was worn when visiting others. Today, a houmongi is appropriate for many formal occasions including attending a wedding as a guest, graduation ceremonies, or the first shrine visit of the year.
A houmongi can be worn by both married and unmarried women. It’s a good alternative for women who are unmarried, but feel that they are too old to wear a furisode (the formal, long sleeve kimono that are traditionally worn by unmarried women).
The iromuji is a plain, solid colored kimono in any color except black. There may be a pattern woven into the fabric of the kimono, but any dyed decorations are forbidden on an iromugi. The kanji that makes up the name include iro (色 color) mu (無 nothing) and ji (地 ground) aka, a kimono with nothing but a solid-colored background.
An iromuji is the most versatile of any kimono. It’s often described as the “little black dress” of the kimono world because it can be dressed up or down with accessories to move it up into the formal category or down into the casual category, just like a little black dress. To increase the formality of your iromuji, start with the number of kamon (family crests). Iromuji with no crests are the most casual, then there are versions with one, three or five crests. A five-crested iromuji is the most formal. You can also increase the formality of an iromuji by adding an obi (the belt) or accessories that have metallic threads.
A more formal iromugi can be worn to the same events as a houmongi. A plainer iromuji is the kimono of choice for tea ceremony hosts. Anything fancier would draw attention away from the actual ceremony to the person performing it.
Iromuji that are black are called mofuku (喪服) and they are used as mourning wear. They are only ever worn at a funeral.
Edo Komon (江戸小紋)
The last of the semi-formal kimono is called an edo komon. They take their name from the place they were developed, Edo (江戸 old name for Tokyo). Komon (小紋) means small pattern and it refers to the arrangement of thousands of white dots on a solid colored background that is the hallmark of this kimono. The dots are so small that they are only visible up close. From a distance, an edo komon looks identical to an iromuji; just a solid colored kimono.
Edo komon can be worn anywhere that a less formal iromuji can be worn, for example a Japanese tea ceremony or the theatre.
I always wonder where someone wearing one of these kimono is going. Have you ever seen them around town?