Yukata vs Kimono: Learn the Difference in Japanese Culture

by Megan Taylor Stephens

When you think of traditional Japanese clothing, kimono probably instantly come to mind. The elegant silken dresses secured with a thick obi sash are ubiquitous in Japan’s art and culture. Kimono certainly hold a special place in Japanese history that continues until this day.

You may think that kimono include all Japanese robes and dresses—but you would be wrong! This article will shed light on several traditional Japanese articles of clothing in the “kimono” family and highlight their significance as well as key differences.

What is the History of the Kimono?

The precursor to the kimono was the kosode. The kosode appeared as early as the Heian period (794-1185) and was worn by both men and women. Inspired by the Chinese pao robe and adopted by the Japanese court, the kosode was a simple white silk undergarment with a robe worn over it.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), the kosode transformed into a more sophisticated stand-alone garment. By the time the Meiji period (1868-1912) rolled around, kosode (“short sleeves”) were called kimono (“things to wear”), revealing how commonplace they became. Kimono evolved to be longer and narrower than kosode. Men gradually stopped wearing kimono for everyday dress. Women continued to wear them, but over time they were worn for more formal occasions and not as a daily outfit.

Kimono are not just pretty dresses—they hold much more meaning than most people realize. Historically, they announce wealth, beckon good luck, and signify class and rank. For example, darker colors meant more expensive dyes, which corresponded with higher socioeconomic status. A pattern of fans symbolized prosperity and warded off evil, while cherry blossoms represented renewal and beauty.

Nowadays, many people don’t consider the meaning behind the motifs and simply select colors and patterns they like. Most women wear kimono now only at the fanciest of occasions, such as weddings and religious events. Men still occasionally wear more subdued and plain kimono at formal events.

a rack with many kimonos

How are Kimono and Yukata Different?

Many people confuse yukata with kimono. Yukata are a simpler, summertime version of the kimono. Here is the low down on yukata.

There are nine different types of kimono, and yukata are one of them. Yukata are usually made of cotton and were originally used as a type of bathrobe—after all, silk kimonos can’t get wet! Then people started wearing them as pajamas or nightgowns around the house. They basically have roots as casual lounging kimono. These days, people wear yukata on warm summer days when there’s a traditional event to go to, such as a festival (matsuri).

There are other differences between yukata and kimono as well. Yukata have shorter sleeves than kimono and don’t have an inner lining like kimono do. Kimonos involve lots of accessories, such as a complicated obi sash, undergarment, tabi toe socks, and lacquered wooden sandals called zori. In cold weather, a haori jacket is worn over the kimono. Hakama trouser skirts can also be worn with kimono. A yukata needs fewer bells and whistles: it is simply put on along with a streamlined obi and wooden geta sandals on bare feet.

Kimono are expensive. They generally cost $500 or more and can easily cost thousands of dollars in some cases. Yukata are more affordable, though there is a range in price based on quality of the product.

a grey loungewear kimono

To experience the versatility and comfort of a yukata, we recommend this Relaxing Loungewear Robe. The company that makes these has been based in Kyoto for a century and has perfected the balance between form and function using master craftsmanship. The high-quality robe has a neutral gray color and is made of the softest of recycled cotton with a terry cloth lining. It is perfect to wear after a bath or hot tub soak, and it is so cozy that you won’t want to take it off the rest of the day!

See the difference between yukata and kimono yourself with our video!