Yukata 浴衣 (Japanese Bathrobe or Casual Summer Kimono)
The word "Yukata" comes from the word "Yu (bath)" and "Katabira (under-clothing)". Literally it means “bathing clothes”. Originally it was designed to wear after bathing but later adopted for casual wearing. “Yukata” is a casual version of the traditional Japanese dress “Kimono”. Usually it is made of cotton, wrapped around the body and fastened with a sash. Traditionally, “Yukata” is worn after bathing in a public bath, especially in the hot springs, quickly absorbing the remaining moisture but now their use is not limited to after-bath wear. “Yukata” are typically made of cotton with straight seams and roomy sleeves. It is light in weight with very simple structure that gives a sense of relaxation when wore. People like it because of its convenience and ventilation feature. Being a very comfortable dress, many people wear it as a casual dress or a nightdress during the hot and humid Japanese summer. They also love wearing ‘Yukata’ at fireworks displays and other traditional festivals in summer. Traditional Japanese inns also provide “Yukata” to be worn after bathing.
The origin of “Yukata” goes back to more than 1,000 years, the noble persons worn it when they took a steam bath. It is said that they wore it to protect the body from burn injuries from the steam. It was also used to wipe water much the same as a bathrobe after bathing. Originally this dressing gown was called “Yu Katabira”, which eventually shortened to “Yukata”. Later the practice of wearing “Yukata” spread to the common people who started wearing it on the way home from a public bath. Today’s “Yukata” is a completely different thing from old time “Yukata”.
Traditionally, “Yukata” were mostly made of indigo-dyed cotton but today a wide variety of colors and designs are available. As a general rule, younger people wear brighter colors and bolder patterns than older people. Children like multicolored prints, young women like floral prints, while older women would confine themselves to a traditional dark blue with geometric patterns. Since the late 1990s, “Yukata” have experienced a revival as a new “easy-to-wear”, so it became very popular with the younger generation.
“Yukata” and “Kimono” both are the traditional Japanese clothing. “Kimono” is well known outside Japan as a traditional Japanese dress compared to “Yukata”, but very few people know the difference between the two. The basic difference is in their fabric. “Yukata” comes in cotton while “Kimono” comes in silk fabric. “Kimono” is a glamorous dress with very unique designs. Also, “Kimono” is far more expensive than ‘Yukata’. Today, “Kimono” is worn on only special occasions. On the other hand, “Yukata” is just simple and comfortable to wear as a casual garment with a reasonable price. It is not supposed to be worn on formal occasions. Also with “Kimono”, unique shoes and socks will have to be worn while it is not binding in case of “Yukata”. But, as a general, Japanese people wear Japanese wooden clogs “Geta” or Japanese sandals “Zori” without socks.
Since the late 1990s, “Yukata” have gone through so many dramatic changes. In recent years, new types of “Yukata” with attractive designs and contrasting patterns have appeared. The modern stylish “Yukata” soon became popular with young women, who began wearing them as fashionable wear. Traditional “Yukata” typically has patterns of flowers against a white or indigo background. Especially, indigo was worn for going out because the scent of indigo, used to dye the fabric, repelled insects. Patterns are usually traditional Japanese motifs such as flowers or grasses, but with bold, vivid mixtures of colors to emphasize the contrast between the shade of the fabric and color of the pattern. Patterns with modern geometric designs are also increasingly used.
Today, “Yukata” come in various bright colors including brown, orange, pink, and black—very different from the styles of the past. And in addition to traditional geometric and cross-stripe patterns, designs featuring Western flowers, fruits, and even animals have become popular. Generally, younger people like bright colors with bold patterns, while older people wear matured colors and dull patterns. Young women like dressing up in “Yukata” to go out to special summer events such as fireworks or other festivals.
“Yukata” is a very comfortable garment as it is made of cotton, which lets air through. It is a graceful dress that makes one behave in a refined manner. Because once you wear “Yukata”, you always walk in small steps and avoid making large gestures.
Today in Japan, many people prefer to wear “Yukata” as a light and airy dress especially during the hot and humid summer months to feel cool. Because it was originally meant for home wearing, particularly after a bath, many of Japan’s hotels and traditional inns provide “Yukata” in their rooms for customers. They can relax in “Yukata” after bathing and then wear them to bed as well.
“Yukata” are enthusiastically worn at outdoor summer events such as fireworks displays and other festivals. Both young and old Japanese people enjoy dressing up in them to take in the local festivals, or events during the summer months.
The actors of Japanese traditional drama “Kabuki” wear “Yukata” as a practice wear. “Sumo” wrestlers also wear “Yukata” as a routine dress. Japan’s department stores hold “Yukata” fashion shows to promote the casual Japanese wear.