Bathrobe vs Kimono: The Differences That Matter


When I stayed in a Japanese monastery, I wore a kimono all of the time. The monastery had no heat and while the indigo and white cotton kimono was comfortable, it didn’t keep me nearly warm enough in the freezing weather atop Mount Koyasan. I longed for the cozy bathrobe I’d left at home.

 

Here I am in my kimono – with long underwear and a wool sweater underneath and a wool hat.

 

Bathrobes are inventions of the western world, while kimonos evolved in the east. Bathrobes are traditionally made of terry cloth, worn indoors while still wet, and have narrow sleeves. Kimonos are traditionally made of silk, worn outdoors, and have wide sleeves. 

Though I didn’t know it at the time, the type of kimono I wore in the monastery is called a yukata. It’s a lightweight, informal kimono meant to be worn indoors. It is far different from the kimono Japanese women and men wear for formal occasions like weddings or funerals.

Let’s talk about the important differences between bathrobe vs kimono. Then we’ll take a look at an exciting international fashion trend that combines the best elements of each. And finally, I’ll share my favorite products in each category.

 

The Difference Between a Bathrobe and a Kimono

 

 BathrobeKimono
OriginsAncient Greece and Ancient RomeChinese Brought it to Japan via the Silk Road
Common FabricsTerry Cloth, Chenille, Kashwere, Fleece, Satin, Silk, BambooCotton, Silk, Rayon, Wool, Hemp, Polyester
AccessoriesThin Belt Around Waist Slippers or SandalsJapanese Umbrella, Undergarments, Jacket, Hairpin
Common Places to Wear ItIndoors as Loungewear, Outdoors to a Pool or BeachFormal Garment, Motif and Fabric Dictate Where Kimono Should Be Worn

 

Both bathrobes and kimonos are types of dressing gowns that are belted at the waist. That’s where the similarities ended, until recently when these gowns merged to form a new fashion sensation called the “bathrobe kimono.”

 

Bathrobe vs Kimono: Origins

 

Though the bathrobe and kimono are both robes, each has a distinct history and evolution.

 

Origins of the Bathrobe 

 

 

The bathrobe has its origins in Ancient Greece where the toga and the cape were popular clothing items. At the time, ancient Greeks wore the chiton which often had a decorated hem that revealed their residence (much like a coat of arms). The chiton was worn at ankle or knee-length.

Ancient Romans wore togas as well. The longer the robe, the higher the person’s social status. 

Later, sleeves were added and these sleeved robes that fell to the floor became status symbols in Western Europe and were worn by clergy, judges and academics. 

Only in the 19th Century did the bathrobe become the more informal type of clothing made from heavier material and worn as loungewear mainly inside.

 

Origins of the Kimono

 

The kimono was brought from China to Japan along the Silk Road

 

The concept of the kimono, on the other hand, was delivered via the Silk Road from Chinese traders who visited Naru, Japan. The Kimono was a T-shaped robe with wide arms that was worn outside by men, women and children in the place of other clothing. 

The way to wear a kimono was very particular. For example, the left side of the robe was always wrapped over the right. Then several wide strings called koshihimo are wrapped around the waist before a sash called an obi is fitted on top.

The kimono evolved throughout the centuries to include various types, including the yukata, the cotton kimono most akin to a bathrobe. The susohiki is worn by geisha, who perform traditional dances. This type of kimono is longer than others. The iromuji kimono is a plain colored kimono worn for tea ceremonies.

It used to be that the art of how to wear a kimono was passed on from mother to daughter or father to son. Today, though, the traditional kimono is worn for formal occasions and many young people only wear the yukata as a fashion statement. For this reason, there are kimono schools that visitors to Japan and locals can attend to learn the traditions that surround this unique and complicated garment.

 

Bathrobe vs. Kimono: Fabrics

 

 

Both the bathrobe and the kimono have broadened their appeal over the centuries, mostly by expanding the range of fabrics available.

 

Bathrobe Fabrics

 

9 bathrobes of different colors hanging on hooks

 

The modern bathrobe is designed to absorb moisture after the bath and it’s most commonly made from terry cloth fabric. 

However, over time, the modern bathrobe has evolved to serve a variety of purposes. The Bathtubber post Top 10 Reasons to Wear a Bathrobe will definitely want to make you yank that robe hanging in your closet off the hanger and put it to good use.

In addition to preserving modesty around some family members, it can do quite the opposite with other family members and house guests—the modern robe is frequently part of getting sexy for sex! In this iteration, the bathrobe is often made of satin or silk, luxurious fabrics that indicate a special time is soon to come.

Today’s bathrobes are made in lightweight materials like cotton or chenille, medium-weight materials like kashwere (my absolute favorite!) or fleece, and heavier weight bamboo and terry cloth.

Almost always these bathrobes are manufactured in a factory, which is only worth mentioning because this fact stands in stark contrast to how the kimono is made.

 

Kimono Fabrics

 

satin kimonons on a rack

 

Traditionally, kimonos were made out of hand-dyed and hand-painted silks and satins. Silk is still the most formal kimono fabric, but beginning in the early Meji period, other fabrics were used. These included wool and rayon, followed later by cotton, hemp and polyester.

Today’s kimonos are typically made from a single bolt of cloth. And even today, many kimono are handmade, at least partially. 

Motifs that are painted on kimonos always have significance. Kimonos might feature a lotus flower that symbolizes good luck or the peony flower that symbolizes nobility and wealth, or a crane that symbolizes a long life or a long marriage.

Yukata are the lightweight kimonos known to be more comfortable than a traditional, heavier kimono. Yukata are typically made from cotton or hemp and worn to outdoor festivals or indoors for lounging. 

In addition to wearing a yukata in the Japanese monastery, I was also given a yukata to wear when I stayed at a traditional Japanese inn, called a ryokan. Visitors to these inns will wear the yukata around the inn and to the restaurant inside the hotel, and then to enter the dressing room for the onsen, or hot spring. 

(By the way, the Japanese hot spring can change your life! No kidding! Read all about Japanese Baths here, and discover how to experience their life-changing magic right in your own home.)

 

Bathrobe vs Kimono: Accessories

 

It is in the realm of accessories that starkly contrasts the vast difference between the western bathrobe and eastern kimono.

 

Bathrobe Accessories 

 

 

Because the bathrobe is such an informal item of clothing, it hardly has any accessories whatsoever. Commonly, there is a thin belt that wraps around the waist of the bathrobe and is made of the same material as the bathrobe itself. 

If a person is wearing a bathrobe to a swimming pool, hot tub or spa, they will probably wear sandals or flipflops, but no particular type is prescribed.

A bathrobe can be worn over clothes to keep warm, over a bathing suit, or over a naked body inside the home. User’s choice!

 

Kimono Accessories

 

the back of a woman walking through cherry blossoms wearing a kimono and holding a parasol

 

A kimono, on the other hand, has specific undergarments that belong with it. In fact, the kimono undergarments is an industry unto itself, as it’s a high priority to protect a pricey kimono from sweat and body odor, as well as from wrinkles. Undergarments include the underpants, under robe, and under skirt. 

 

But, of course, only the wearer will see those accessories. There are a number of other accessories for the kimono meant to enhance it’s overall appearance. These accessories include the:

 

  • Bangasa – a sturdy Japanese umbrella with a bamboo handle

 

  • Haori – a kimono jacket, that falls to the hips or thighs, and is worn open

 

  • Kanzashi – decorative hairpin or barrette made of gold, silver, tortoiseshell, jewels and other materials

 

By the way, there are stores dedicated to each of these items. When I was in Kyoto, I visited a kanzashi store that catered to the geisha, women who “entertained” male visitors. The hair pins in that store sparkled with jewels and many were priced at several thousands of dollars just for one!

 

And then, of course, there is the footwear to go with each kimono. There are wooden clog-type of kimono shoes, as well as softer cloth open-toed sandals.

Where to Wear a Modern Bathrobe vs Kimono

 

At first glance, the rules for where to wear a kimono these days seem more fixed. After all, the kimono is often a formal garment, and certain types of kimono are expressly made for specific circumstances. 

That said, the bathrobe is as informal as the kimono is formal. You wouldn’t wear a bathrobe to a five-star restaurant, would you? So in that way, the rules for where to wear bathrobes are equally stringent. 

Let’s take a closer look at these social rules:

 

Where to Wear a Bathrobe

 

parents and young child all in white bathrobes taking selfie

 

For certain, you can always wear a bathrobe inside your own home. Even if you have guests staying with you, it is perfectly appropriate to wear a bathrobe around the house. However, if you’re serving the guests a formal dinner in your dining room, then you’d need to hang the bathrobe in the closet and put on nicer clothes.

Many hotels will often give you a bathrobe (usually white terry cloth) to wear. The bathrobe is meant to wear in the hotel room after bathing or showering. If the hotel has a spa, visitors can wear the bathrobe with slippers that are often provided to the hotel spa. 

And also, hotel guests can wear the bathrobe over a bathing suit to the hotel pool or jacuzzi. It is fine to wear the bathrobe in the hotel hallway and elevator, as long as you also have on footwear. However, typically, it would be considered bad manners to wear a terry cloth bathrobe into a hotel restaurant, unless it’s an informal poolside eatery.

A silk or satin bathrobe, on the other hand, is usually intended to wear when alone or with a romantic partner within the confines of one’s bedroom. This type of bathrobe typically isn’t appropriate for wearing in a hotel common area or restaurant. 

 

 

Where to Wear a Kimono

 

3 women wearing kimonos with obi sashes

 

As informal as the bathrobe usually is, most kimono are formal garments. And the fabric and motif of the kimono determine where it’s appropriate to wear.

For example, a kimono painted with the sakura or cherry blossom is intended for wearing in spring, when the cherry blossom trees in Japan flower. The cherry blossom represents hope and rebirth. It would not be appropriate to wear this kimono in winter.

A kimono with short-sleeves is reserved for married women. Usually, a woman who marries will simply take her existing kimono and shorten the sleeves. So it would not be appropriate for an unmarried woman to wear a short-sleeved kimono in public.

Most kimonos have a particular sort of event at which they’re intended to be worn. A kurosode kimono is a formal garment made for wearing at weddings by married women. This would not be the right kimono to wear to an informal party or just for everyday wear to the market.

The lightweight yukata is perfect for summer festivals and painted with flowers and birds and other symbolic imagery. In stark contrast, the mofuku is a floor-length kimono worn by both men and women who are in mourning. The fabric is dyed black and there are no motifs or themes painted on.

 

The Kimono Robe: An International Sensation

 

a woman in a kimono robe in front of cherry blossom tree

 

In our increasingly global society, the bathrobe has met the kimono to forge a statement more vibrant and popular than either garment might be on its own. (If you’re familiar with Reese’s peanut butter cups, the concept is similar: chocolate and peanut butter, while both delicious, are exponentially better together!)

The floor-length kimono robe can be worn over jeans and a tank top for a sexy and alluring look. It can be belted and worn with heels as a gorgeous dress. 

A knee-length kimono robe can be worn in summer with shorts and T-shirt to add some shabby chic to the overall look. 

The kimono robe comes in a range of fabrics including satin, silk, and most commonly, polyester.

 

My Picks: The Best in Each Category

 

Whether you are looking for a bathrobe, kimono or kimono robe, I’ve done the research and I’ve got you covered (no pun intended). With that said, here are my picks in each category.

 

Best Bathrobe of All Time

 

 

Holy moly, do I love the Kashwere Seasonless Lightweight Robe! (Since I’m known as the Bathtubber, and so I’m compelled to take a lot of baths–it’s a work thing, of course.)  

Anyway, after a ton of trial and error, I found the bathrobe that never fails me: The Kashwere Seasonless Robe. In fact, Oprah loves this robe too, and included it on her list of Oprah’s Favorite Things.

Even though it’s called lightweight, I’d put it in the more medium weight category.

Plus, this bathrobe is the softest bathrobe you could ever find– it feels like  you are literally wrapped in a cloud. It’s made of a material called kashwere, because it’s as soft as cashmere, but washes better and is less expensive.

This bathrobe is also flattering for different figures, comes in black, white and pink, and it’s super, duper cozy for both men and women. 

In fact, a guy friend of mine is sick and I can think of no better gift to keep him feeling constantly cuddled, so I’m about to send him the Kashwere Seasonless Robe in white.

You can read more about my love affair with this bathrobe here.

 

 

Best Kimono for Beginners

 

 

The Tokyoin Traditional Yukata Robe is an authentic yukata robe made in Japan. If you want to experience a kimono that you can wear in place of a bathrobe or out of the house to a Japanese festival, choose the yukata

I chose this one because it’s unisex and it’s the real deal. It comes with the obi or traditional sash, and you can select from a wide variety of designs that have Japanese cultural themes– including those meant to celebrate certain seasons–and it won’t break the bank. The yukata is widely thought to be more comfortable to wear than a kimono (with kimono undergarments) so you’ll thank me for starting you off with this one.

Because of the bright, vibrant colors, you do need to wash it separately from your other clothes to prevent color transfer. And it will shrink a few inches, so keep this in mind when ordering.

 

Best Kimono Robe

 

 

Hands down the most beautiful kimono robe goes to the Watercolor Floral Kimono Wrap by Kim + Ono. It’s handcrafted and made from polyester charmeuse. It comes in four vibrant and glorious watercolor saturated designs, including one with cherry blossoms. 

This kimono robe is ankle-length and can easily transfer from luxurious home loungewear to out-on-the-town wear. Pair it with jeans and a white tank or T-shirt and you’ve got a show stopping look.

If you prefer, it comes in a thigh-length version too.

 

 

And did I mention the lining? This bathrobe kimono has unique black velvet details that you won’t see anywhere else.

Super comfortable, too!

 

Bathrobe vs. Kimono: Big Differences

 

By now I hope you see that there are big differences between the bathrobe and kimono: while the bathrobe is largely informal, the kimono is usually more ritualized and carries great meaning. 

Fortunately, young people from China to Japan to Europe and the US are now enjoying the informality of the Western bathrobe with the beauty of the eastern kimono. The kimono robe is a modern-day fashion statement that evolved from two great garments over centuries and centuries.

 

Shana

Shana Burg is a bath enthusiast, content strategist, and award-winning writer. She is the founder of bathtubber.com.

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