The major difference between a Kimono and a Hakama is the construction and style. While a Kimono is a dress that has sleeves, the Hakama begins at the waist from where it splits in two like a trouser.
Japanese folks usually wear the Hakama with a different garment on it. The Kimono on the other hand requires no other garment on it. It is a garment all of its own.
According to some, Kimono means clothing, so to them, Kimono can be any dressing. And they say Hakama is simply trousers. Well, this idea is not supported by history and the deep culture of Japan.
A Brief History: the Kimono
The fashion that influenced the shape of the Kimono first appeared in Japanese history when the Chinese envoys visited Tang dynasty court between 300 and 538 CE. This was called the Yamamoto period of Japanese history.
The Japanese began to adopt Chinese fashion and culture. The evolution of garments that would become the Kimono continued to take shape between 710 to 794 CE when conventions of dressing were stipulated.
This was called the Nara period, and the code of dressing was called Yoro. The Yoro code stipulated that all robes had to be overlapped at the front and the closure must be left to right which follows the typical style of the Chinese at the time.
By 749 CE Japan stopped sending envoys to the Chinese courts. It was the Heian period which ended in 1193 CE. Japan started developing its own fashion independent of Chinese influence.
It was referred to as the national culture of Kokufu Culture or Kokufu Bunka. This inward switch to Japanese-derived dressing was only limited to the upper class, however.
By the end of this period, most clothings among the women featured styles called the Kosode, a type of dressing with layered parts. It was worn with belts to hold it close and was originally worn with the Hakama.
By the end of the Edo period in 1867, the clothes had become more colorful, reminiscent of the way the Kimono features bright colors now. It was influenced by the Geronku culture of luxurious displays of wealth.
In 1869 when the class structure in Japan became abolished, the Kimono lost restrictions on colors. By the 1930s the Kimono was popular enough for ready-to-wear designs to be available for purchase.
It was the Taisho period from 1912 to 1926 when western clothing became popular in Japan that Kimonos too became a staple of Japanese fashion. Until World War 2, Kimonos were more popular among women than men.
Today they are mostly worn for ceremonial purposes.
The Hakama History: a twin of the Kimono
The Hakama developed in fashion alongside the Kimono. Non-Japanese people can easily mistake the two. It is traditional Japanese clothing that came from the Chinese imperial court of the Sui and Tang dynasties of the 6th century.
It was originally developed from Kù, a type of trouser in China.
Hakama is tied to the waist with sashes and they fall freely to the ankles. They are worn under a Kimono that’s been specially sewn for Hakama and this Kimono is known as Hakamashita.
There are two types of Hakama – the divided one called Umanori, and the undivided one called Andon Bakama. The Umanori is like a trouser and was worn by workers in the field and on farms.
Detailed comparison between the Kimono and Hakama
Japanese fashion has become timeless, at least in Japan. We see them in movies and fashion shows but few people can tell the difference between this two clothings.
Here are factors that make them different:
- The style
- The occasion
- The gender
The first difference to consider is the style, both in the construction of the Kimono and Hakama, and also the way they are both worn.
Essentially, the Kimono is worn alone, all by itself. The Kimono is a long piece of garment with a broad sash or rope called obi, to tie it around the midsection or torso.
The Kimono’s closure also differentiates it from the Hakama in that it is a wrapped front garment where the left side is worn over the right side.
The rest of the world can easily think of a Kimono as national pajamas. But the Kimono is more sophisticated. It is commonly worn with zori sandals and tabi socks.
The Hakama calls to mind the image of baggy trousers. The construction involves four straps called the Himo, two long ones in front and two shorter ones in the rear.
If the Hakama is for martial arts, it will have seven deep pleats, two on the back and five on the front. The arrangement is usually asymmetrical which is something of a big deal in Japanese fashion.
When do the Japanese wear either the Hakama or Kimono? Well, interestingly, Hakama is worn by sumo wrestlers when they attend formal functions.
It is also everyday wear of Shinto Kannushi priests at shrines. The Samurai wore it, and so do martial artists. It is also emblematic clothing for ceremonies, religious and secular.
On the other hand, Kimonos are worn today on special occasions like festivals, weddings, and funerals. If you visit Japan and you feel like walking the talk, you can rent a Kimono for sightseeing in the city.
It is clear that Hakamas have more occasions for wearing them than Kimonos. In the past, Hakama was worn by folks who worked on the farm while the affluent wore Kimonos in the royal courts.
So who wears the Kimono and Hakama? Here’s where you find another sharp distinction.
Women wear Kimonos more than men in Japan now. While men mostly chose western suits, Japanese women wear Kimonos, not only on special occasions but even when out walking.
At a wedding, it is common to see women wearing Kimonos, but rare to see men wearing them.
The Hakama is a traditional male formal dress in Japan. Sumo wrestlers wear it on special occasions.
You have likely imagined a sumo wrestler in a Kimono and you didn’t much admire what you saw.
What are the similarities between the Kimono and Hakama?
Though there are marked differences between the two dresses, they share certain similarities too.
- Both are Wakufu
Kimonos are made with silk fabrics, and cotton for Yukata, the summer Kimono. The fabric for Kimonos is either woven from different colors or the fabric is dyed.
Sometimes the thread used is pre-dyed before being woven into the fabric. An example of this is Oshima-tsumugi, a silk fabric used to make Kimonos.
Traditional Hakamas worn by Japanese males is made with stiff silk fabric. They can also be made from aizome cotton, tetron, heavy polyester, and polyester linen.
This is why both Kimono and Hakama are stiff when worn. Hakamas are usually worn by martial arts practitioners like aikido. The stiff material of silk or cotton adds to the aesthetics of martial arts.
The uninitiated may find it hard to tell the difference between a Kimono and Hakama because of the aesthetic that the two garments offer.
Japanese culture, like many others, features the use of bright colors in its fashion. Bright colors like red, blue, and black always feature in Kimono and Hakama clothings.
Both are Wakufu
Note that there is a style of Kimono that is worn on a Hakama called Hakamashita. Together the dressing constitutes what the Japanese call Wakufu or Japanese clothing.
In the photo below the ladies are wearing a Hakamashita (the pink Kimono tops) and Hakama (the brown Hakama trousers).
Please note that this doesn’t suggest that women wear Hakama often. It only suggests that Japanese women can wear Hakamas that has been stylized to be fashionable for women.
Which is better?
Tough question but the Hakama are worn with the Kimono or Hakamashita is better. This is my preference which may be different from yours once you visit Japan.
Hakamas are better because they transcend the genders better than Kimonos.
In modern times, kimonos have been associated with women more. Hakamas have the blessing of both genders. They are worn with Hakamashita by both men and women and it really looks cool.
Although Hakama usually features less color than Kimono which is the only downside I see in the two garments. That can be remedied by choosing brighter colors for your own Hakama.
Japan’s national fashion, Kimono, and its sister garment, Hakama both offer a great opportunity to go back in history and study the infiltration of Chinese culture.
It is interesting to see that the Kimono is still worn today in Japan.
Can you foreigners wear the Kimono or Hakama? Of course, you can as long as you do so respectfully.
You may not have the occasion to wear any of the two dresses in your country, but you can surely wear them in Japan.
You likely have one reason to visit the country now, to enjoy the rich culture and share in the history.