What is a kurotomesode kimono?
The kurotomesode (黒留袖) is probably one of the most famous and most easily recognizable kimono style. Their unique feature is that they are completely black with patterns only around the lower half of the kimono, which can sweep around the whole body. There are no patterns on the upper body. The patterns are often stitched with golden and silver thread, achieving a very exclusive and formal feeling.
They are the most formal kimono these days, which arguably has to do with the imported western idea of black being a formal color.
Usually they are of solid black color and are not plaid, therefore have no rinzu. The patterns they sport developed through the times from basically “everything” (floral patterns, seasonal patterns, nature patterns, etc.) to more auspicious motifs, as they are mostly worn at happy occasions in modern times. They are always made of silk, preferrably of higher qualities.
Kurotomesode (黒留袖) literally means “black kimono with fastened sleeves” (黒 kuro = black / 留 tome = to fasten / 袖 sode = sleeve), which stems from the tradition to fasten the sleeves after marriage. Before marriage, usually furisode kimono were used, which have long sleeves that can reach almoost to the floor. Opposed to the western tradition of marrying in white, black furisode kimono could be used for the marriage ceremony, which then got their sleeves truncated. As kimonos were, and still are, expensive, this was done to save money and keep the kimono in use.
Tomesode kimono with other colors than black are called irotomesode. (色 iro = color) They are also very formal, but a bit less than the extremely formal kurotomesode.
They usually sport 5 family or clan kamon, which are the insignia of the family. The kamon are normally dyed. This developed during the late Edo period, when the need arose to show affiliation with one clan or family publicly.
Who wears them?
Due to their shortened sleeves, they clearly show to everyone that the wearing woman is already married.
The noteworthy exceptions are geishas, who also often use a kurotomesode during their performances. Maikos usually use kurofurisode, which are usually more flashy and clearly show the younger age of the maiko with the long sleeves.
When are they used?
Kurotomesode are the most used kimono for the mother of the bride and the groom at wedding celebrations. Due to their extreme formality, there are not many other uses for them, although very formal events may see a few kurotomesode here and there.
It is absolutely forbidded to wear kurotomesode kimonos at events of the imperial Japanese family or when they are around. The color black was historically seen as inauspicious and therefore was and still is banned from the imperial palace.
Kimono Kanji 101