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How to Mix and Match Prints Using Japanese Kimono Rules [Updated]

japanese kimono obi rules

by Tina Boomerina (Christina Gregoire)

Would you like to know how to mix and match floral and geometric prints just like the big-name fashion designers? Japanese kimono and obi rules can guide your use of color and pattern until you get the feel of it.

mix match article

Print on Print Rules

And, mixing things up can be a lot cooler than you think.

The Japanese have spent centuries inventing beautiful ways to pair prints and patterns for different seasons and for various levels of formality. But, traditional kimono, layering, and obi sash rules could fill an entire book. So, here are a few general guidelines to help you learn how to mix and match clothing to create your own chic and trendy outfits, just like the ones you’ve seen on catwalks around the world... maybe better.

Japanese Kimono and Obi Coordination

Even though I grew up around many beautiful Japanese objects and textiles, which my grandfather brought back from his business trips to Asia, I am no expert in kimono and obi coordination.   My print and pattern tips have been gathered from cool websites like Immortal Geisha. So, if you want to jump onto the eclectic fashion trend, check out immortalgeisha.com and KimonoNagoya.tumblr.com and similar sites.

Handmade Japanese fabrics are too expensive for most of us. However, modern printing techniques allow all women to own facsimiles of hand-painted silk and decorative patterns. And, combining clothing from different periods and from different parts of the world is the core of true bohemian chic... even when we're not talking about Japanese clothing.


Mixing and Matching Colors in Prints

The mix and match trend started a few years ago, but it's still hip and fresh, like this beautifully mixed up outfit from Stella Jean fall 2015 ready-to-wear. And, photos are the easiest way to get a sense of what makes an intriguing combination of florals and stripes, or florals and polka dots, or tribal geometrics with animal prints, or... you get the idea. So, follow the links for ideas.

japanese style article

Kimono Print Rules

Here are some basic rules of thumb used with traditional Japanese clothing:

Muted Colors for Kimono: Colors and patterns worn by older Japanese women are not as bright or as intricate as those worn by younger women. It's up to you to follow this rule or ignore it. Personally, I look washed out in extremely muted hues, but I look like a clown in most Crayola colors... so I wear colors that fall in between these extremes. And, even though prints behave differently than solids, you can get a sense of what flatters your complexion by holding various solid-colored fabrics up to your face.

Obi as Focal Point: An obi is the belt or sash that holds a kimono together. When I talk about obi guidelines, I want you to think of a handbag or a scarf if that's easier for you to visualize. However, an obi is not an afterthought. The obi is often more elaborate, more expensive, and more of a focal point than a kimono or furisode or... whatever. I get all the different kinds of clothing mixed up.

japanese style article

Younger Women Wear Brighter Colors

Contrasting Patterns and Colors: In general, an obi is chosen to contrast with a kimono. This idea can work the same way with Western clothing and accessories. If you have a skinny waist, use an obi (or patterned scarf) as a belt. If not, use this same idea to find a great contrasting handbag or gypsy-style scarf or pair of shoes or colored bangles or whatever you think will give your outfit the proper punch of elegance... as in this gorgeous kimono hime.

Don't overdo it at first. It takes a while to get the balance and proportion right. And, some fashion houses still don't get this right. But, YOU can!

fashion article

How to Mix & Match Prints

Coordinating Kimono and Obi: There are three main ways to "match" obi colors with a kimono.

Okay, "match" is the wrong word... but I'm using it in the broadest sense. Hey, if you follow the rules above, a red kimono "matches" a green obi. And, in a way... it does. Of course, it doesn't match, but the Japanese use color combinations that should not work, but they do. Also, black and white are neutrals that go with every color.

how to use kimonos for fashion inspiration

Kimonos for Fashion Inspiration

I'm not into following rules, but there's a link to a great website that explains how to choose wonderful color combinations in more detail. I like trial and error, but the Japanese have worked out a color chart with rules that can be used with traditional garments. But, coming up with unique and inspiring combinations doesn't mean you have to follow a chart. Beautiful combinations are more art than science.

Tips for Mixing and Matching Prints

You don't need to reinvent the wheel. Why not learn from the people who make some of the most amazing clothing and textiles on earth? Here are some classic combinations to try:

Mixing Prints and Patterns With Modern Clothes

Pretend that you are trying to mix and match a dress and a handbag, or a skirt and a top. Use these Japanese ideas for inspiration. The basic, versatile Komon (a kimono robe with a small repeating pattern) is as practical as a pair of denim jeans. You can use this idea with your own wardrobe. Any skirt with a small repeating pattern can be used as a solid. Here are more tips:

  • Pick a color from the main print and use that color to tie your outfit together. (This child's outfit actually has several repeating colors... super easy to do.
  • Patterns of different scale are easier to mix and match. And, try layering, so that only a fraction of each pattern shows.
read about fashion

Plaids & Stripes Mix With Everything

Mixing and Matching the Wrong Way

Try mixing and matching everything in your closet with everything else. The more you browse around online studying the endless artform kimono and obi, the more you're going to want to mix up the patterns and textures and colors of the clothing you already own.  There are lots of examples of patterns that should not go together, but look fantastic in a surprising way

Kimono Hime - Modern Kimono Outfits

And, for a special treat, I have just discovered that there's a magazine for the fashion trend that mixes traditional Asian clothing with Western clothing. It's called Kimono Hime. From what I recall, it translates into something like everyday kimono, but don't quote me.  This is not quite cosplay, but I'm sure there's a lot of overlap. Anyway, Kimono Hime is what really gets the juices flowing. Hey, I could look at these photos all day, and after studying a few of these pics, regular American fashion looks a bit tame and boring.

and one more...

No, I am not telling all you women over 50 to wear this Kimono Hime... well... if you're in an artistic field, go right ahead. However, I think that looking at colorful kimono pics is a great way to get in the mood for shaking up your tired old wardrobe.

print on print for 2015

Designer Fashions for Women

And, do you know what Kimono Hime reminds me of? The Advanced Style blog. If you've never seen that, I don't even know what to say. Both sets of fashion ideas are great at stirring up new clothing combinations. And, that's what will finally get you to put your jeans in your bottom drawer and play around with new looks.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. God knows... once you're 50, you've done A LOT of things worse than wearing the right floral with the wrong geometric. (Even if you can't remember those "worse" things that you did.)

There are no hard and fast rules to follow with Japanese Kimono and Obi coordination, however, the more you study the photos of Geisha and old Asian ladies and little Kimono Hime girls, and you compare their clothing to what's seen on the runway, you will begin to notice more and more similarities concerning color, pattern, scale, and creativity.

More Articles for Baby Boomer Women and Maybe Some of You Younger Cuties:

How to Use Prints and Patterns to Hide Fat

Take Your Trend to the Beach: Swimsuits Follow Fashion Trends

Different Types of Tribal Print and Pattern Trends

How to Do Folkloric Fashion Trend Without Looking Like Heidi

See more photos: Print on Print Fashion Trend or my Pinterest Fashion Boards.

Photo Credits: Prshots.com, flickr.com creative commons, Wikipedia.

  • Main Photo Kimono Obi Prints Patterns: Collage made from creative commons images by Tina Boomerina
  • Print on Print Rules: House of Holland Asos (2015).
  • Kimono Print Rules: DJ Stevenson flickr.com.
  • Younger Women Wear Brighter Prints: Stefan flickr.com.
  • How to Mix & Match Prints: Shorts Penneys EI, blue skirt M&S, blue pants outfit Asos, pink skirt House of Fraser (all 2013).
  • Kimonos for Fashion Inspiration: Free People Asos (2015), Wikipedia.
  • Plaids & Stripes Mix With Everything: Asos Designer Fashion (2015).
  • Designer Fashions for Women: Asos Designer Fashion (2015).

What do you think of this article? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page. It will show up once I approve it, but that could take a week... and I'm hoping to get to the comments before I die. Right now, I'm having horrid tech problems and I've been working on them for a week. I swear... I'm not ignoring you.

Tina Boomerina (AKA Christina Gregoire) is a Baby Boomer born at the end of 1952. Her mission is to make the internet a kinder and gentler place for Baby Boomer women around the world. Tina's specialty is fashion for women over 50.

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  1. Stephanie

    Loved your article. You were right on the mark!

  2. Abu

    I remeber when i was in Japan wearing the Kimono.... aaaaa memories!

    • Tina-Boomerina


      Someday, I hope to visit Japan. I grew up with many Japanese things around me. My mother had a beautiful kimono from Japan and my grandfather worked in Japan and brought back great things... except for the green tea cookies. I didn't like those because they were not sweet. I was only a child. I would love them now.