“Kimono” is the Japanese equivalent of the English “clothes.” While it has come to be accepted as meaning the simple robe with wide sleeves that forms the general silhouette of most Japanese attire, some additional terminology is essential. As with hairstyles, Japanese clothing of the Edo period told the observer a lot about the person wearing it.
Women’s clothing had more parts and variations (duh, because women actually enjoy fashion) but still followed strict guidelines. The principal difference in cut was between married and unmarried women and girls.
Unmarried women wore furisode, which had long sleeves reaching past the knees. Flirtation was theoretically practiced by fluttering these long sleeves to attract a man’s attention; however, considering that marriages were frequently arranged between young people who didn’t even know each other, they seem to have been rather wasted.
Married women wore a variety of kosode, which had more practical shorter (only about hip length) sleeves.
However, there were quite a few variations that described the different types of fabrics and specific patterns of decoration used. Tomesode, irosode, etc.
Brides wore white, topped with an uchikake (a longer robe with a padded hem roll to help it drag as a graceful train), to signify that they were dead to their birth families. A large stiff hood was worn over the hair to hide the “horns of jealousy.” After the marriage ceremony, they would change into red, signifying their birth into their husband’s family. There was often a red uchikake, too, depending on the wealth of the families.
By far the most complicated part of a woman’s ensemble was her obi, the wide stiff sash around the waist that was tied in a large decorative bow at the back. Once again, the type of bow also provided indicators of marital status. Eligible women wore more flamboyant bows, while married women wore simpler ones. Brides wore large slanted bows that extended nearly past one shoulder, and since the uchikake covered the bow, it made them look humpbacked.
Samurai wore kosode with sleeves similar to those of married women, but in plainer fabrics. Over this closefitting robe they wore hakama, loose pleated trousers split nearly to the knee on the sides and fastening with narrow ties around the waist. A samurai never appeared in public without his hakama and at least his shorter sword, even indoors. The longer katana was added when he went out – anywhere. At court, hakama so long that they dragged on the floor over a foot behind the wearer were worn to ensure that no one could move quickly enough to potentially attack their rulers. A haori, or loose knee-length coat with an open front, completed full samurai dress and usually had between 1 to 5 family crests on it: center upper back, outside of sleeves, and both sides of the chest. More crests, called mon, meant higher formality.
Merchants wore a kosode tied up around their knees, with tight leggings underneath.
Peasants wore just the kosode, going barelegged.
Shinto priests wore robes with brocade collars.
Buddhist priests and monks presumably wore their traditional orange.