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Obi (sash)

The meaning of «obi (sash)»

An obi (Japanese: 帯) is a sash for traditional Japanese dress, keikogi (uniforms for Japanese martial arts), and part of kimono outfits. The obi for men's kimono is rather narrow, 10 centimetres (3.9 in) wide at most, but a woman's formal obi can be 30 centimetres (12 in) wide and more than 4 metres (13 ft) long. Nowadays, a woman's wide and decorative obi does not keep the kimono closed; this is done by different undersashes and ribbons worn underneath the obi. The obi itself often requires the use of stiffeners and ribbons for definition of shape and decoration.

There are many types of obi, most for women: wide obi made of brocade and narrower, simpler obi for everyday wear. The fanciest and most colourful obi are for young unmarried women.[1][2] The contemporary women's obi is a very conspicuous accessory, sometimes even more so than the kimono robe itself. A fine formal obi might cost more than the rest of the entire outfit.

Obi are categorised by their design, formality, material, and use. Informal obi are narrower and shorter.

In its early days, an obi was a cord or a ribbon-like sash, approximately 8 centimetres (3.1 in) in width. Men's and women's obi were similar. At the beginning of the 17th century, both women and men wore a ribbon obi. By the 1680s, the width of women's obi had already doubled from its original size. In the 1730s women's obi were about 25 centimetres (9.8 in) wide, and at the turn of the 19th century were as wide as 30 centimetres (12 in). At that time, separate ribbons and cords were already necessary to hold the obi in place. The men's obi was at its widest in the 1730s, at about 16 centimetres (6.3 in).[3]

Before the Edo period, which began in 1600, women's kosode robes were fastened with a narrow sash at the hips.[4] The mode of attaching the sleeve widely to the torso part of the garment would have prevented the use of wider obi. When the sleeves of kosode began to grow in width (i.e. in length) at the beginning of the Edo period, the obi widened as well. There were two reasons for this: firstly, to maintain the aesthetic balance of the outfit, the longer sleeves needed a wider sash to accompany them; secondly, unlike today (where they are customary only for unmarried women) married ladies also wore long-sleeved kimono in the 1770s. The use of long sleeves without leaving the underarm open would have hindered movements greatly. These underarm openings in turn made room for even wider obi.[3]

Originally, all obi were tied in the front. Later, fashion began to affect the position of the knot, and obi could be tied to the side or to the back. As obi grew wider the knots grew bigger, and it became cumbersome to tie the obi in the front. In the end of the 17th century obi were mostly tied in the back. However, the custom did not become firmly established before the beginning of the 20th century.[3]

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