Kuro tomesode: The most formal way to dress

What is tomesode?

Tomesode is the most elegant and formal kimono for married women. It corresponds to an “evening dress” in Western clothes, although it can be worn any time of the day. Kuro tomesode is in black overall, and iro tomesode is in various colors. Both kuro tomesode and iro tomesode are worn by relatives attending a wedding ceremony. Kuro tomesode can be worn only by married women, but iro tomesode can be worn by single women as well.



The origin of kuro tomesode

In the Edo period, the furisode with its long sleeves pinned short and all its miyatsuguchi (small opening in the side of kimono for women and children) sewn and closed, worn by the younger generation after their marriage, was called tomesode (literally meaning pinned sleeves). Tomesode in modern times refers to kimono with patterns only on the left and right bottom, which was called Edo zuma in the Edo period and was popular among geisha. They used to be in various colors before, for furisode’s sleeves were pinned and made into tomesode; but in the Meiji period, the concept of black formal in Western clothing was brought in and it became popular to wear black tomesode. To wear kuro tomesode for auspicious events after marriage signifies that a woman would not change her “color” any more, for black cannot be dyed into any other color.    


Kuro tomesode, the most formal way to dress

“Kuro tomesode” refers to tomesode in black with the family crest in five places; in the back, on the sleeves and the chest.


There is no kuro tomesode with mitsumon (the family crest in three places) or hitotsumon (the family crest in one place). Plain chirimen (silk crepe) is used for kuro tomesode; another distinctive feature of it is that there is a pattern at the skirt but not on the chest. Kuro tomesode used to be worn with shiro habutae kimono (white, thin and soft kimono worn as an underwear) as nimai gasane (total of three kimono; the undergarment, shiro habutae and tomesode). In modern times, the fabric called hiyokuji is used along with lining, to make it look double at the sleeve and skirt (hiyoku jitate).  


Who can wear kuro tomesode?

Kuro tomesode is kimono to be worn by those who welcome guests. Generally, kuro tomesode is worn by people in close relations with a bride or a gloom; relatives such as a mother, a grandmother, an aunt or a sister, and a matchmaker or a wife of a matchmaker. On the contrary, it is considered to lack respect or manners for a guest to wear kuro tomesode and be leveled with the parents of a bride or a gloom. For that, it is more common for only relatives to wear kuro tomesode.  

If you are attending a wedding as a guest and wearing kimono, make sure your kimono is less formal than kuro tomesode. We recommend semiformal attire, such as iro muji (colored without pattern) kimono with hitotsumon, tsukesage houmongi (visiting wear with a simple pattern) and elegant komon (kimono with a fine pattern).


What are the accessories to match kuro tomesode?

Formal gold, silver and white accessories are to be used with kuro tomesode. There are various accessories such as obi, obi jime (decorative string used to hold a kimono sash in place), obi age (obi sash), zouri (shoes) and a bag. When wearing kuro tomesode, choose a formal fukuro obi (double-woven obi) with gold or silver as its main color and tie it in niju daiko (double tied puffued-out bow). Obi age should generally be white; it could have gold or silver thread too. Obi jime should be white as well; you can choose hiragumi (string made by flat braiding), marugumi (string braided so it has a rounded shape), maruguke (tube-shaped string filled with cotton and such) and a white one with gold or silver parts. Also, “suehiro” is a must-have when wearing kuro tomesode. Suehiro refers to a fan to be sandwiched by obi. Zouri and a bag should be gold or silver; they should be gorgeous yet match kuro tomesode. Nagajuban (long undergarment) should be white and the one used for formalwear.

It might feel like many of the accessories have gorgeous designs, but it is usually an auspicious event to wear kuro tomesode, so make sure you are properly dressed up with the right accessories.