Now, I know many areas of the United States and in other countries around the world don't have such a diverse population, therefore kimono are harder to find. However on a rare occasion you may be pleasantly surprised at what you can find! Seattle does have a large and diverse population, and because of the coastal location, many people have relocated here from Asia. However, my experience with hunting for kimono in secondhand shops is that they are easier to find outside of the big city in smaller more suburban cities and towns.
Not only can you save a ton of money building your collection from thrift stores, the thrill of finding a rare treasure in an unlikely place is very exciting. I'd like to share some of the tips that I've learned over the years.
Educate Yourself to Avoid Knock-offs
More experienced kimono collectors can spot a fake robe in an instant. This knowledge comes with time, but for beginners it is easy to fall for a knock-off. There are many robes with Asian motifs that are created for tourists, sometimes made of silk, but usually made of polyester, cotton, or (cringe) satin. The features of fake kimono robes vary widely, but they may have such features as: sewn seams on the shoulders, no sewn seam down the length of the center back, an included belt tie made of matching fabric, stereotypical motifs like geisha and dragons, large picture-like design on the center of the back. Fake robes usually far outnumber real kimono. For example, this week I found 2 yukata and 4 fake kimono robes. This doesn't necessarily mean that these fake robes are off limits to kimono collectors, as they can be useful for recycling the fabric in handicrafts and wearing around the house. And if you get really lucky, a good quality fake kimono may even be nice enough to wear casually as a polyester komon or nagajuban. Even I have a fake kimono or three that can be worn casually (albeit without ohashori) without looking like a novice in a bathrobe.
What to Look ForCostumes: This is the first place I'll look during Halloween season. You may find kimono, haori, yukata, jinbei, fake kimono, obi, or nagajuban. Most kimono found are yukata or komon.
Nightgowns and Bathrobes: This is where to look for kimono on the off season (not Halloween), but it doesn't hurt to look here as well after looking in the costumes section. Don't forget to look in the men's sleepwear section as well, as this is where I tend to find women's vintage blue and white yukata.
Fabric/draperies/table runners: This is where I most often find obi. If you are crafty, you can also look for cheap fabrics which might be nice to sew into kimono items!
Shoes: Look for zouri and geta. Geta are easier to find, especially during Halloween and early summer (with other sandals).
Scarves: This is where they would put obiage if they get any, but I have yet to find an obiage or obijime in a thrift store. However, you may find a nice scarf that could be used as a casual obiage. Obijime would likely be stacked with the belts or curtains section (if mistaken for a curtain tie-back).
Purses: I've found kinchaku, bamboo purses, and kimono clutch purses in the purse section. Also, there are some versatile styles of western purses which may work nicely with casual kimono.
Baskets and wooden housewares: On a rare occasion, fans (oogi, sensu, or uchiwa) and bamboo bags may be here.
The jewelry counter: You may find a pretty brooch that you can wear as (or convert) into an obidome.
Others: Some stores have a section of small goods and knickknacks, sometimes packaged in clear bags and hung on the walls. You can look here for small accessories like fans and compact mirrors, or small collectibles. If you like dolls, Japanese dolls, such as hakata, kokeshi, and kyo ningyou (geisha and dancers), can be fairly common finds at thrift stores. Depending on the store, they can be in the collectibles section or toys. Ichimatsu dolls are super rare finds, however if you are crafty you can make your own Ichimatsu inspired doll using a western bisque or porcelain doll (stay tuned for some DIY blog posts on how to do this!)
Examine Your Finds Carefully:
Look over things carefully, not only to determine if it is fake, but there is often damage. There is a reason these things end up in thrift stores. Sometimes it is tears or stains, or the previous owner no longer has use of it. Try it on and see if it fits you, or hold it up to the light to see if you can see how much seam allowance is behind the lining to determine if you can resew it wider or longer. Look at the price and determine if it is fair. I have seen $300 children's zouri, ridiculously priced because the clerk mistakenly thought they were Chinese foot-binding shoes.
Finding something kimono-related is RARE. I will go for months or even a year and not find anything. Other times, I will find so much stuff that I'm swimming in new purchases. This last week and a half I have visited various stores 7 times (six difference locations) and have bought one brand new modern yukata with tags still attached, one vintage yukata, and have spotted two women's jinbei (one brand new). Fake kimono robes still outnumber real items (I have spotted 4 this week).
There is no wrong way to search around a thrift store. The typical method is the finger through everything on the racks. This ensures you don't miss anything good sandwiched on the racks, but it is also very time consuming. Since I am only going to thrift stores to look for very specific things, I tend to rush through the stores since I know exactly what I'm looking for, and go to only the sections where I tend to find things. Doing this means that I have more time to visit many more stores in a single day. Usually a kimono is easy to spot on a rack since you can usually look at the hems and look for anything really long, but don't rely on just doing that, as you may skip out on haori or kimono which may have the long hems pinned up on the hanger.
Try Antique Stores and Boutiques (with caution):
Antique shops can be good places to find kimono, however they can also be grossly overpriced. Do check out these shops as well, but go in with the mentality to not get too attached to any found treasures that may drain your bank account. I can occasionally find something decently priced, and usually have more formal kimono items, but these shops tend to sell to people looking for something expensive and pretty to hang on their wall or drape on a dining table.
And for the curious, here are this week's finds:
|Brand new yukata with tags, $14|
|Old shibori and stenciled hand-sewn yukata, $5|
|Two woman's jinbei (not purchased)|