A samue is a garment that a zen (Buddhist) monk wears when he performs samu, or duties such as daily sutra chanting, and the cleaning of the precincts of the temple.
Samue' originally referred to clothes generally worn at the time of the samu, and there was no specific style. The samue is worn when the monk works to maintain the temple, such as cleaning, chopping firewood, and work in the fields. Because it is a work garment, it is not worn at the time of formal Zen sitting meditation or Buddhist memorial services.
Although it is not clearly known when the current style of samue appeared, it is certainly not older than Meiji period, and one estimate suggests that it was first used at Eihei-ji Temple between 1965 and 1974. The original form it took was one of overalls and work pants worn over a kimono, and the samue at the time actually had wider sleeves to fit the kimono sleeves in them. There is also a 'nagasamue' with a longer upper section, which is worn by monks of the Soto sect when leaving the temple grounds. Most samue are tied with a rubber cord or the like at the wrists and ankles so that dust will not enter.
The main material may be polyester, linen or cotton. In general, ascetic monks called daishu wear black samue, and monks of senior ranks such as chief priests wear indigo or brown except for black within the so-do halls.
Monks of the Nichiren Sho sect also own 'jimukoromo' similar to samue. Jimukoromo are worn at times other than those of Buddhist memorial services or devotional exercises. It has a cord to let through the kesa (Buddhist stole), and a kogesa (literally small kesa) is worn over the jimukoromo at training meetings and conferences. Its color is usually gray.
Because they are loose-fitting and easy-to-wear, samue are not necessarily unique to monks but often treated as a kind of relaxing room-wear along with jinbei (informal summer clothes for men), and they are warmly regarded by many. For general use, there are samue considerably different to those of monks which come with a chanchanko (padded sleeveless kimono jacket), worn on top of the upper section, and made of sashiko (an old needlework technology) or quilt.
Some mass retailers have been known to erroneously sell jinbei as samue.