The irotomesode (いろとめそで 色留袖) is a kimono with a solid color background these days. In the past, stripes could have been woven or dyed into the background to form a light pattern. The unique feature of the irotomesode is that there are no patterns on the upper half of the body and the sleeves. Patterns only sweep across the lower body and most of the time go all the way around the kimono.
They are always made of silk, but can be of varying silk quality.
The irotomesode originally developed from furisode kimono. After the marriage, the furisode kimono’s long sleeves were shortened to create a “tomesode” (留袖), which literally means “shortened sleeves”. (留 tome = to fasten / 袖 sode = sleeve)
This was due to the impracticality of long sleeves for married women while doing housework.
They can have from 1 to 5 kamon, which are the family or clan insignia.
Who wears them?
As mentioned above, they are exclusively worn by married women. Back in the days, when kimono were even more expensive than today (relatively), you couldn’t really afford to own many kimono. Therefore the furisode ones you had from before your marriage got their sleeves cut, to show everyone that you are married now and to make housework easier.
Irotomesode may be worn occasionally by older unmarried women, when they feel that a furisode is not appropriate anymore.
When are they used?
As one of the most formal kimono, they are used for formal to semi-formal occasions. They are often used by guests at wedding ceremonies, who are not directly related (first or second grade) to the bride or groom. Wearing them at a tea ceremony would also be okay, as the ceremony itself is a very formal act.
At Japanese wedding receptions you can see typically all types of kimono: Uchikake for the bride, furisode for unmarried woman and irotomesode or kurotomesode for the relatives.
Kimono Kanji 101
irotomesode いろとめそで 色留袖
furisode ふりそで 振袖
You want to see a tomesode kimono in motion? Here you go, although it’s the irotomesode’s black brother, the kurotomesode.
You want to see around 4 dozen tomesode in motion (mainly kuro, but a two iro as well), watch this contest of “putting on your kimono as fast as you can while not screwing up your kitsuke”.