The Clothes Fit The Man…or do they?


One of the benefits of wearing kimono is that you can hide a bit of weight gain under the flowing garments.  One of the problems of wearing kimono is that you can hide a bit of weight gain under the flowing garments!

I am not very tall for an American male (just shy of 5’8″) and normally not very large either.  So finding vintage kimono to fit my size has not usually been about height or weight, but rather about arm length.  I rarely find an older kimono that reaches past my mid forearm.  So, I tend to only measure the wing span.  The overlapping front was never an issue, but last year my juban started “shrinking” and one or two of my vintage obi were no longer long enough to get a decent knot.  A bit of background:

About ten years ago I lost 50 pounds.  I had just tipped the scale at 200 and realized I was not living a healthy lifestyle.  So I began to watch my food (no more cheese, low fat, no processed food, etc) and got back into regular exercise.  I went on my first trip to Japan with my wife and was pleased to receive numerous compliments about how I did not fit the “American Stereotype”.  I kept the is up for about 8 years.  Then things slowly slipped back into old habit.

Where does the kimono fit into this?  Well, one of my best strategies for keeping track of my weight gain or loss is how my clothes fit.  Choosing to wear kimono daily means I no longer had to worry about tight fitting trousers or shirts.  The only litmus test was the vintage obi and I could easily avoid those.  Slowly I gained weight back until I finally said enough this past holiday season.

Four months later, after numerous pushups, pull ups, sprints and hours in the gym, I am happy to say I am back in the same form as my first trip…maybe better as I am using strength training as my exercise foundation.  Earlier this week I tried that vintage obi…sometime in the past years it “stretched out” and I can tie a nice knot again.  Funny how clothes do that.

REAL Clothes?

I’m nearly finished with my third year of wearing kimono as my daily teaching attire at the community college where I am a Professor of Anthropology.  My kimono has become so normal that I rarely get questions or comments anymore…unless I happen to be wearing western clothes.

In the spring I also coach high school lacrosse and often have to wear my athletic clothes to the campus on days when I have a game immediately after work.  Colleagues or a student sometimes remark about my not being in my regular garb.  Occasionally a student walking past fails to recognize me!  But, this past week someone said “Hey, you’re wearing real clothes”, to which I replied, “I wear real clothes everyday.”

I don’t think this person meant to be offensive, but the comment made me realize how easily our perception of the “other” can be colored by our expectations about what is normal and therefore, “real”.  Are costumes “real”?  What about regalia?  Is traditional clothing only authentic when it is worn by a real member of the culture?  Who gets to decide what is real or fake?

For me kimono is no less real than when I wear western clothing, a kilt to play bagpipes, or my uniform for coaching.  Each garment is part of who I am, wether it be by acculturation or enculturation.  Certainly after three years of being in kimono, my presence has become so much the norm that it is only when I am not wearing Japanese clothing that anyone takes much notice.  But, I always keep it real!  IMG_0504