First and foremost, what we foreigners must know about Japanese clothing is that in ordinary day-to-day life, most Japanese wear normal western clothes like shirts and pants. Japanese look quite suave in their western attire too, as is seen in their dapper looks in corporate offices in places like Tokyo and others. But what holds the world's interest more about the Japanese clothing is their traditional wear. Most outsiders do not know anything beyond the kimono when it comes to Japanese clothing, but it must be noted that the Japanese people have a wealth of traditional garb.
The following is a brief description of some of the traditional clothes that the Japanese wear.
Worn by - both men and women
Kimono is the most definitive Japanese garment, but what most people don't know is that there are kimonos for men too. But the kimonos for men are not so very flashy and elaborate, they are just simple loosely-seamed and garments with narrower sleeves than those for women.
Women have some really dazzling styles of kimonos available to them, and each one of them is quite a prize to possess. Kimonos are made of silk and they are extremely expensive. The designs on kimonos are mostly unique, which means, you will not be able to find two kimonos of the very same kind. There are many different parts that make up a kimono and each of the parts has a name of its own. Even the opening under the sleeve has a name in Japanese, for that matter. That just goes to indicate how detailed and methodical the Japanese are about everything, even the clothes that they wear.
Kimonos are typically worn with an obi, i.e. the sash that holds it in place. Unique shoes such as geta or zori are worn with the kimono. Women look charming in a kimono, but in today's times the tragedy is that most women cannot wear their own kimono. In times of yore, there were women who used to hire people especially to help them wear their kimonos. Today, that kind of frivolousness is not rampant, but women still look for assistance to get dressed up in kimonos. The direct result of this is that prominence of the kimonos themselves has effectively reduced in Japanese clothing.
Worn by - mostly women
The junihitoe is an advanced form of the kimono, if that were actually possible! In Japanese parlance, junihitoe literally translates to 'robe of twelve layers' and indeed the junihitoe is made to be such elaborate attire. In traditional times, it was worn only by highborn Japanese ladies. The robe is predominantly made of silk and the innermost layer is of the purest white silk. The other layers all drape one after the other over this innermost layer, and the outermost layer, which is designed like a coat is the one that lends the colorful and artistic appeal to the garment.
The junihitoe is a very expensive garment, and is rarely available outside Japan. Even within Japan, it is difficult to get a junihitoe nowadays. The garment is designed with the greatest of esthetic styles. When you see scenes of Japanese regal ladies with very detailed fans in their hands, you are probably seeing them dressed in a junihitoe.
Worn by - women and sometimes men
Yukata is a thin garment that is worn by Japanese women in the hot summer months. This is a very simple garment worn in the kimono style, but it is not as elaborate as the kimono. Literally, yukata means 'bath clothes', but in reality these clothes are worn for several occasions and even some festivals and events like the fireworks displays.
The basic difference between the kimono and the yukata is that the kimono is necessarily made of silk, but the yukata is made of cotton. The structure of the dress is basically the same, but it is less complex. Today, you can find the yukata in several interesting colors, but the traditional yukatas were always made of indigo dyed cotton.
The way the women wear a yukata make them quite stylish, just like the manner in which a kimono is worn. The yukata is kept in place with an obi and they are almost always accessorized with a geta, which are traditional wooden sandals.
The yukata has some traditional and cultural significance too. Normally, the left end of the yukata is meant to be wrapped over the right side. The reverse is worn only for dead people who are leaving in their funerals. Even among the wrestlers, there's some significance. If a wrestler is wearing a yukata in the cold months, then you must understand this is a junior wrestler. It is mandatory for junior wrestlers to wear yukata all times of the year.