The kimono is essentially an ankle-length gown with wide sleeves. It is secured at the waist with a sash called an obi. Japanese men and women of all classes wore the same fundamental dress. As the kimono was minimally tailored, fashion was based on fabric and pattern rather than on cut.
Peasant kimonos were usually made of hemp or cotton with stripes or simple printed patterns; middle class kimonos were often patterned silk; court kimonos were typically heavyweight silk brocades. A court lady might wear as many as five outer kimonos at one time. Under this, she would might wear a fan-shaped train attached to a belt around her waist and two white silk or crepe under-kimonos.
The most exotic kimonos were those used in traditional Noh plays. The actors wore fantastic kimonos usually made from heavy, stiff silk with exotic designs often worked in gilt thread.
The Japanese considered kimonos as works of art in their own right and often hung them over screens as decorations.
As well as the kimono itself, the obi (sash), netsuke (toggle) and inro (pouch) are also collectable. Through the Edo period (17th century) the obi was a simple cord or ribbon but by the 19th century it was much wider and more decorative. The material and the manner of tying the obi were important fashion statements.