Dressing: Maiko vs. Geisha

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Dressing: Maiko vs. Geisha

Getting ready for work involves hours of preparation for a Geisha. One of the functions of the distinctive appearance of a geisha is that it serves as a way to tell the difference between a maiko and a geisha and between a child geisha and an adult geisha. You can tell a lot about a geisha just by looking at her.

Unlike a regular kimono, a geisha kimono exposes her neckline — in Japanese culture, this is considered the most sensual part of a woman.

maiko (舞妓) is an apprentice geisha (芸者).

maiko wears a kimono that has extra long sleeves (they touch the ground when she drops her arms) and is very long, colorful and intricately adorned with embroidery or hand-painted designs. Her collar is red, and her obi is long and wide. She wears tall wooden clogs called okobo to keep her kimono from dragging on the ground.

Before becoming an apprentice, a young woman grows her hair very long so that it can be shaped into the elaborate hairstyles of a maiko. She wears at least five different styles, each one signifying a different stage in her apprenticeship. For instance, a new maiko wears a hairstyle called wareshinobu, which incorporates two strands of red ribbon that signify her innocence. An adult maiko wears a style called ofuku. This change was once determined by mizu-age, or a maiko’s first sexual experience, but now it is simply a function of time. The switch usually occurs when the apprentice turns 18 or has been working for three years.

Apprentice geisha spend hours at the hairdresser every week to maintain their hairstyle. They sleep on special pillows that have a hole in the middle so they don’t ruin their hair while they sleep.

When a maiko becomes a geisha, she switches out her red collar for a white one and her maiko kimono for a geisha kimono.

A geisha kimono is simpler in appearance and easier to deal with. It has shorter sleeves and does not require high clogs to keep it off the ground. A geisha wears zori, which are like flip-flops, and a shorter obi tied in a simple knot. After working for several years, a geisha may chose to wear lighter, “Western-style” makeup instead of the traditional, heavy makeup worn early in her career. A geisha wears variations on the shimada hairstyle and typically wears a series of wigs instead of styling her real hair.


Layton, J. (2005, December 08). How Geisha Work. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from https://people.howstuffworks.com/geisha4.htm

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