The kosode (KOH-so-da) is a basic item of Japanese dress for both men and women. It was once worn as an undergarment, and is what most people imagine when using the much broader term kimono. The literal meaning of the term kosode is "small sleeve," which refers to the sleeve opening. Kosode are T-shaped and roomy in cut and more than full-length. They evolved from the original Japanese robe, called the hirosode, which flowed with many colored fabrics layered one on top of another.
When Japan changed from a medieval castle-centered society in the late fourteenth century, women in the royal court changed from wearing fourteen unlined hirosodes to wearing the scant kosode with red hakama, or trousers, on top. Soon the hakama were set aside by women and the kosode became a full-length garment in its own right. However, since the hakama had held the garment closed, when the kosode became the basic female garment women needed a sash, a band about the waist, to customize the kosode to the wearer's size. Thus the simple obi sash was invented.
Over time kosode gradually developed into a wide variety of styles, with patterns and fabrics designed with the wearer's shape in mind. Kosode making has long been a thriving industry at the very heart of Japanese culture, and today, although most of the population wear Western-style clothing for ordinary dress, it is still very important to the Japanese identity.
Gluckman, Dale Carolyn, and Sharon Sadako Takeda, eds. When Art Became Fashion: Kosode in Edo-Period Japan. New York: Weatherhill, 1992.
Kennedy, Alan. Japanese Costume: History and Tradition. New York: Rizzoli, 1990.
Kosode: 16th–19th Century Textiles from the Nomura Collection. New York: Kodansha International, 1985.