Watermelon, goldfish, fireworks, greasy food at outdoor stalls--the summer festival season is upon us! It's also the season for wearing yukata, one of my favorite parts of traditional Japanese culture. That is, I like the idea of yukata--in reality, wearing one is not very comfortable. I can't breathe and it's always so hot and I have to toddle around in awkward geta that blister up my feet.
But every year I try to take advantage of opportunities to wear yukata anyway.
I first wore yukata back when I was a college student and my Japanese roommate dressed me. Since then through YouTube videos I've learned to dress myself. I realize I made many mistakes in my early attempts. Though there are many Japanese who don't wear yukata "correctly" either, somehow being a gaijin makes me look 10x frumpier than a Japanese person if I don't make a little effort. Yes, yukata are informal kimono and the idea is you wear them however you like, but I'm going to share some tips on how to look elegant in yukata. If that's not how you want to enjoy yukata, that's ok! This is just how I like to wear it, after some practice and observing well-dressed Kyoto ladies. Here are some little drawings that illustrate common problems wearing yukata (all ones I had in my first attempts!) and a more sophisticated look that I go for now:
Now from the front:
There is one big thing to keep in mind when looking classy in yukata: let go of everything you think you know about beauty and attractiveness. In the West, boobs and butts and little waists are everything, but if you want to wear yukata, those things are not really your friend. Yukata are large, shapeless garments that when worn skillfully can suit any body type; you just have to use proportion and some little tricks to create the illusion that you have a classic Japanese figure. That Japanese shape you want to achieve is rectangular: narrow shoulders and breast-waist-hips are all the same width. If you already have a rectangular body, you'll look great in yukata! For the rest of us, there are two things I've found that really take my yukata look to the next level.
1. Wear a sports bra
Classical ideals of Japanese beauty don't focus overmuch on breasts, but on the back of the neck. The back of the neck is the sexiest part! So hide the ladies with a sports bra, or even the ones they sell meant for wearing with yukata/kimono. Even if you are a small cup size, a sports bra just makes the front of the yukata lie smooth and secure across your chest. One thing to be careful of is that most sports bras are in dark/bright colors; if you have a light-colored yukata it might show through unless you wear a cami or special yukata underwear in between.
2. Pad your waist with towels
It's often missing from the photo guides and youtube videos, but if the area from your diaphragm to your waist is any way narrower than your chest and/or hips, this step will correct so many problems with shape and tightness and instantly make you look more put-together. It will also help the obi make a smooth line with your chest if you have large breasts--in fact bigger girls might need more padding to balance the waist with the chest. Towels will also help balance your shape if you have broad shoulders. No, wrapping a couple dish-towels around your waist will not make your ensemble any more breathable in hot weather, but it will actually make a tight obi feel less constricting.
It might seem strange to hide your curves and do your best to look rectangular, but wearing yukata this way allows one to experience a different, subtler kind of feminine beauty. The drawings don't show it but another big part of being beautiful in yukata is how you carry yourself and behave. One reason yukata is not very comfortable for me yet is probably because I have bad posture! Good posture however is so important when it comes to fashion and beauty. It's also more proper to walk in small steps from the knees instead of from the hips like we're used to. Sometimes yukata make me think "thank YOU feminism!" because it's more acceptable than ever for women to choose comfort over looking nice, but I do enjoy the chance to feel feminine and elegant in another culture. Next time you get a chance to wear yukata, I recommend trading in Western beauty standards for Japanese ones and trying the above two tips to level up your yukata game!