Left Over Right – Florence Welch Gets It Wrong – Celebrities in Kimonos

wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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Left Over Right

I notice that Florence Welch, of Florence and the Machine, wears a furisode kimono in her Dog Days video. What really puzzles me is that she wears it with the fronts the wrong way round; she has the right front over the left one, whereas kimonos are worn left over right. Even if she didn’t know the left over right rule, it is very obvious with her kimono, as you can see from the third picture of her below, because the left side of the front has the deep, fancy pattern on it and the right front has only the smaller, simpler, bottom end of the design, so she has the nicest, most striking part of the front pattern hidden under the right side’s front. It would also look so much nicer with a sash that was about 3 inches deep and firm enough not to gather up, like a wide belt or something, worn with the buckle at the back.

Florence and the Machine

Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine

Here in the West, women wear their clothing fronts right over left and men wear them left over right but in Japan both genders wear their traditional clothing with the left front over the right. Well, that is unless they are dead, because, in Japan, only a corpse wears the kimono fronts right over left. It is not just people from outside Japan who get it wrong; nowadays most Japanese people do not wear wafuku (traditional Japanese clothing), so they don’t tend to know the rules involved in wearing it. It is not altogether unusual for a Japanese person who is wearing a kimono for the first time, perhaps a yukata one at a summer festival, to wear the fronts the wrong way round and it is also not unusual for an older, more informed Japanese person to rush over to them and try to switch their kimono fronts around, horrified that the young kimono novice is dressed as a corpse. Yukata kimonos usually have an all-over repeat pattern, so the pattern doesn’t make it obvious that the left front should be on top.

With a tomesode, houmongi, tsukesage or furisode style kimono it is usually obvious which front should be on the outside, because the pattern on the left front will be much more decorative but on a kimono with an all-over repeat pattern, such as a komon style kimono and most yukata kimonos, it is not obvious, which is why kimono novices get it wrong, especially if they are used to western world style women’s clothes being worn the opposite way. However, on the kimono Florence Welch is wearing in her video, it is very obvious which front should be on the outside but she still got it wrong.

Florence Welch

My daughter, who thinks she knows nothing about kimonos, has clearly picked up a fair amount of kimono knowledge from me over the years, mostly while modelling kimonos for me, because it was her who saw the video, spotted Florence was wearing a kimono and noticed, to her chagrin, that she had the fronts the wrong way round.

In saying that, way, way back when my daughter bought her first Japanese kimono, the one that made me want one and started me collecting, we didn’t know the left over right rule either and it was not obvious because that kimono had an all-over repeat pattern, so we do have photos of her wearing that first kimono with the fronts the wrong way round. Had it been one like Florence’s, though, I’m sure we would have realised which front went outside simply by looking at the pattern, so we can’t work out why Florence didn’t realise it.

We westerners seem to find it so hard to overcome our tradition of right front over left front for all women’s clothing, even when the pattern on the kimono makes it obvious the left front should to be on top. I even, however, saw some full sized paper kimonos, made and displayed by a Japanese artist, with the woman’s kimono fronts correctly placed but he had the man’s kimono fronts incorrectly right over left. It’s only here in the West that all women’s clothes are worn right over left, not the case with Japanese kimonos, regardless of whether one is male or female (unless it is a corpse, then it’s right over left). Here in the West, only men’s clothes are left over right. I understand western women’s clothes are right over left due to the fact that women of fashion in the past used to have maids to dress them and right over left was easier for the maid facing the wearer but I don’t know for certain if that is true.


Everybody Loves A Kimono

It seems everyone loves a Japanese kimono. Below you can see a photo of Dita Von Teese dressed up as a maiko (apprentice geisha). It’s a pity she is not wearing okobo geta, like those shown further down this page. When Dita Von Teese visits Japan she always gets a new set of photos taken of herself in a kimono. It takes them about an hour to get her dressed up, in preparagtion for the photos. Dita advises that every woman visiting Japan should do this too.  If you are not likely to be in Japan, you can always treat yourself to a genuine, Japanese kimono from my www.wafuku.co.uk website. Below Dita you can see Sarah Jessica Parker, in Sex In The City, wearing a floral kimono to a party, Kate Winslet in Mildred Pierce, Vanessa Williams, playing Wilhelmina Slater in Ugly Betty, Drea de Matteo in Desperate Housewives, wearing a pretty orange kimono, which I think is actually a girl’s one, rather than a woman’s one, and she has the fronts, like Florence, the wrong way round with the right one over the left instead of left over right. Janet Jackson,  Madonna, Jessica Alba, Reese Witherspoon and a few others and, of course, my daughter in the kimono that started my obsession with them. Since kimonos, when worn the traditional way, are worn with a big fold-over at the waist and, with children’s, big tucks at the shoulders, the children’s ones are actually quite big when the tucks are taken out and the waist isn’t folded up, so they can have a nice fit on an adult, as you see on Billie Piper.

Dita Von Teese dressed as a Maiko


Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex In The City


Rita Ora Models a Wafuku kimono.
The May 2014 edition of Elle Magazine (UK) features the singer, Rita Ora, whom you can see modelling one of the silk kimonos from my www.wafuku.co.uk website.


Rita Ora in a kimono from www.wafuku.co.uk kimono


Above, on Rita Ora.


The same kimono (not on Rita).


Kate Winslet in Mildred Pierce

wearing a shortened, soft silk, antique kimono, in lovely muted colours


Vanessa Williams, playing Wilhelmina Slater in Ugly Betty

wearing an embroidered furisode kimono


Drea de Matteo in Desperate Housewives

she too has the fronts the wrong way round


Bowie yukata

David Bowie

wearing a casual, cotton yukata kimono.


Billy Piper

in what is actually a little girl’s kimono


Janet Jackson


Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink,

wearing a pink, antique kimono, with another kimono hanging on her door in the film


Hope Davis in The Matador

wearing a komon kimono open over black trousers & top



even she has the fronts the wrong way round


Jessica Simpson


Justin Lee Collins in a really nice men’s kimono and hakama


Shirley MacLaine

wearing a hoari kimono jacket over her kimono in the first photo


Jessica Alba as Sue Storm of the Fantastic 4

in a white kimono, as the bride at a Shinto style, Japanese wedding


Miranda Clarke in the tv series Firefly

wearing an antique Japanese kimono over her dress


Also from the tv series Firefly

The heavily pregnant character in this episode is wearing a red, Japanese michiyuki. Michiyukis often have covered buttons down the front but they actually fasten with press studs. This girl has hers only fastened at the top, with the front pulled slightly open because she has the large, pregnant bump that they want to emphasise in these scenes. They don’t normally lie open when worn.


Reese Witherspoon


John Wayne

in The Barbarian & the Geisha






Freddie Mercury

from the band, Queen.



Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury

From the movie Bohemian Rhapsody



Gene Simmons of Kiss

wearing what is actually a women’s kimono.


beat chain

The Beatles wearing  Japanese happi (festival jackets),
provided by Japan Airlines to first class passengers.

The chainlink pattern on their happi is one of the komochi-Yoshiwara patterns, this one being “Yoshiwara-tsunagi” a single link wide chain. There was a guide to entertainment at Yoshiwara, at Tebiki-Chaya, at the entrance to the Yoshiwara.
Komochi-Yoshiwara was used as the pattern on the noren of “Tebioki chaya”, the guide teahouse. At the time, Yoshiwara wass representative of stylish play for rich men. The chain represented the hold such pleasure had in keeping them in Yoshiwara and the suffering of the women bound to stay there. It has remained a popular motif on happi and summer yukatas.


My daughter



Uchikake Kimono

That one now belongs to London’s Grange Park Opera for a production of Madame Butterfly, photo below of Cio Cio, in Madame Butterfly, wearing it.


Too Small is Iki

I was talking to someone recently about Japanese geta and zori. The facts that they are rather narrow, that the toe post is in the middle and not offset to one side like western world flip flops and that they all tend to be quite small in length and don’t seem to vary an awful lot in size were mentioned. The narrow soles and the fact that the toe post is central means one side of the foot overhangs the side of the sole. The Japanese also allow their feet to overhang the back of the sole, with both geta and zori, they don’t consider that to look too small, they consider it iki (quietly stylish) but to the western world eye it looks slightly odd. We in the West expect the entire foot to sit within the edges of the shoe’s sole and not to overhang it at the sides and back. Below you can see a diagram of how they should be worn and why they are worn that way.

How the Japanese wear geta

In the photo below, you can see an example of what I mean.

maiko geta

It shows the foot of a maiko (apprentice geisha) in her high geta, called okobo, with the side of her foot up by the toes hanging slightly over the side and the heel hanging over the back. If the foot does not overhang the back of the sole, that is also considered fine but you can see that an overhang is considered acceptable with traditional Japanese footwear. The person I was talking to about this wanted a pair of my zori for a photo shoot but thought they were no use because all were a little too short in length for the model but, on learning that the Japanese often wear them with heels overhanging, selected a pair for the photo shoot after all.

I have an entire blog post all about Japanese traditional footwear here




  1. I noticed that about Florence, however I wore my kimono that way for Halloween. No one noticed I was being a dead Geisha 😦

    I think the subtlety was lost.

    1. If not in Japan, it really doesn’t matter how one wears a kimono, it just semed a shame that Florence’s wasn’t worn to advantage, as the most striking part of the pattern was hidden by wearing the fronts the wrong way round.
      I still found it nice to see her wearing a kimono. I saw the actress Billy Piper wearing a child’s one as an open robe in a tv show and Jessica Lange wearing a haori jacket in a film recently. Each time I spot one on TV, I can be heard exclaiming…’Ooh. Look! A kimono’… or haori kimono jacket or whatever. I feel strangely pleased each time I see one.

      1. I think actually her wearing it in the funeral style was intentional. The lyrics of the song and the symbolism within the music video itself refer to a kind of death in the self (unrequited love let’s say) and not to mention some of the sort of apocalyptic symbolism going on reaching across religious symbols from numerous sects (4 horsemen reference for example). I have my doubts that this would have escaped the directors and cinematographers eye for detail.

      2. I’m not really convinced. A corpse would not wear a kimono of that type, so if it was intended to be funereal, right over left would not be enough. One would also never belt it with a thin band like she has, so too much seems incongruous with it being deliberate. I’m guessing, though.

  2. Kimono love is catching – already since I started wearing real Kimono on a more regular basis 3 years ago (I used to make my own cheap silk short furisode style kimonos at uni, akin to the 99p ones on ebay) more people have been wearing them. I am part of the gothic subculture so the opportunity to wear kimono is vast.

    I am currently experimenting with a kimono style that still closes and falls properly even with a corset figure!

    1. I really envy the opportunities the gothic subculture gives you to publicly wear kimonos. I tend to wear the kimonos only at home but, in public, I often wear the haori kimono jackets.
      Every so often I’ll wear a girl’s kimono as a pretty coat (my daughter and my sister do the same). Girl’s kimonos are, on me, a fairly long coat length and, on an adult, girl’s ones hang well when worn open with no sash, so they work well as coats. Adult women’s ones don’t work so as coats but girl’s ones are ideal on adult women.

      I love corsets too, though my corset days are over as I am too old for them now, being 53, but my daughter wears them now and then and she learned how to make proper, boned corsets.
      I can’t quite get my head around corsetry with kimonos, as the kimono ideal is a tube with absolutely no curves anywhere, including no going in at the waist and as flat a bust as possible, whereas corsets are all about curves, giving the nipped waist and the full cleavage. My imagination struggles to put the two opposites together in one image but the idea intrigues me.

      Your little photo that shows on your comments makes me think of Betty Page and, therefore, shades of burlesque, which often produces fabulous outfits. Admittedly the photo is just a very tiny thumbnail picture, so not absolutely clear in detail. My daughter is in the midst of making a ship hat for a burlesque club night, one with an old steamship cruise liner, I think is the plan, to go with a lovely, stylish, sailor dress the has.

  3. When I was little I modeled kimonos for a fashion show and got to keep all the kimonos I wore! My family didn’t move to Japan till years after I grew out of those beautiful kimonos so I never got to wear one out in public. I used to dress up in them at home though when they still fit. When I was a teen my Japanese grandmother made me a yukata and I wore it during the obon festival in my neighborhood! I love kimonos but never could afford the full get up though. now that I live in the states I really miss seeing them! I love all the info you have on them! It’s nice to see my culture is valued by others too! I miss Japan!

    1. Hi.
      Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog.
      You were so lucky to have kimonos as a child. I would have felt like such a pretty thing if I had them when little.
      My (adult) daughter has lots of kimonos and, at home, wears them a lot. Since she is planning to have children soon, we have been collecting children’s kimonos, in all different sizes, for boys and girls, for her children.

      My sister has just been in hospital for a short while and in there she wore a girl’s kimono, open as a robe (although she too is an adult), instead of wearing a robe/dressing gown, and everyone commented on how beautiful it was. Girls’ ones are full length on her if she does not do the fold-over tuck at the waist and she takes out the big tucks that children’s ones have in the shoulders, to widen them. Even though she was walking about in pjs and a robe, she felt and looked elegant and pretty.

      My sister and my daughter particularly like wearing girls’ ones, since they wear them open or with just a simple, wide elastic belt (with the belt fastened at the back) without the tuck at the waist and without an obi and girls’ are a good fit for that and make a very elegant, pretty robe. Adult ones, on their height, need the fold over at the waist unless you take up a hem and they don’t hang well if worn open, without a sash, so they both like wearing the girls’ ones.

      I, of course, am completely hooked on kimonos and I love almost anything Japanese that is very different from anything here in UK.

      I’m always learning. There is so much to learn about traditional Japanese clothing and I pick up more as time passes but I will never know enough to consider myself an expert. I am an enthusiastic amateur who researches the subject whenever possible, to try to increase my knowledge bit by bit. I am glad you enjoy the information I put online. If something becomes a passion, one likes to share it.

      1. Hi,
        Do Japanese women in traditional dress ever wear a satsuma ceramic belt buckle ? I have a collection of satsuma belt buckles which I THOUGHT were part of Japanese a traditional kimono. Or, like satsuma hat pins were they made for the export market only?
        Kind regards

      2. I assume for export market, not, as far as I am aware, part of wafuku (traditional Japanese clothing).

  4. Im glad I found your post actually I bought a very lovely Dark blue Kimono with white kanji writeing on it at a convention I went to I dont get to wear it much but when I do I like to wear it the right way ><

  5. About 7 years ago, I made a peach silk kimono and entered a store here in Atlanta. There was a lovely elderly Japanese woman and she greeted me kindly but said ” A beautiful kimono but you are dead!”

    I had right over left. She undressed me in the store, slapped at my belly and laughed at my western underwear and closed the kimono correctly. Then she taught me to walk properly, and I was wearing high geta, and she showed me how to throw out my legs/feet like the geisha walk. We walked up and down the aisles of the store, she being my walking stick! She later showed me some old photos of her at 18 looking like a beautiful maiko. Then she was burned in the war, (Nagasaki) but still dressed in a beautiful kimono. She looked like a butterfly!

    She has died since, but I will always remember this lovely Japanese woman who took the time to set this American woman straight about kimono wearing and gave of herself such kindness and shared her personal history.

    Lady Nyo

    1. How nice to have got such assistance from the Japanese woman. Nice too that such a little gesture has caused her to be remembered after death, which is the best thing we can hope for; to be remembered well by the living.
      I learned many years ago that the way to remember the correct way round for kimono fronts is to think of ‘left over rice’, which sounds like ‘left over right’ but gives an image to make it stick. You are certainly not alone in not realising at first that they are not worn the same way round as western world women’s clothing; many, many Japanese don’t either, since so few ever wear a kimono now, and it is apparently not in the least unusual for older women in Japan to do the same to them that the Japanese lady in the US did to you, grab their kimono fronts and switch them over right there and then.

      1. You are wise and compassionate…as was this elderly Japanese lady. That she ‘cared’ about properly closing a kimono might seem like a little thing, but it wasn’t. Not to her, and not to her culture. “To be remembered after death”….Yes. the best we can hope for!
        Lady Nyo

  6. I was looking for any reference about the kimono cover going right over left and I found your site. You are correct, right over left represent a dead body. Sad that most Japanese don’t know that, when I was in Japan, we all received a yukata and our mother taught us the left over right.

    I took Asian American Studies and my teacher said she took a group to Japan. The students wore yukatas and had it right over left. She told them to switch it because it disrespected the dead. The thing about Japanese culture, you do not disrespect the dead, because if you do, you bring shame to your family.

    If what you’re saying is true, the Japan I saw and learned in college is kind of sad.

  7. I confirm that the tradition is “disappearing”. I am wearing a yukata today and one of my classmate who is Japanese told me that I was wearing it the wrong way: the men way (left over right). As he is from Japan and much more older (50) than me he really made me doubt!

  8. Some artists wear it that way on purpose because they are trying to portray a ghost like being or making a statement about being dead to this world… that their personal sadness makes them feel dead deep inside….

    1. Perhaps but I suspect that it is incredibly rare and most likely to be a Japanese wearer rather than someone from The West.

  9. Thank you for your blog! I’ll return again in the future. I was looking for some confirmation of left over right today, because I’m sewing a costume. I think it’s a simple hakama. After living in Tokyo for 4 years, now back in Canada, I miss wafuku a lot.

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