Irome (color combinations) (色目)

Irome refers to color combinations used in juni-hitoe (the ceremonial attire of a Japanese court lady consisting originally of twelve layers of unlined kimono worn one on top of another) and so on. Irome are created by various methods including using the outer and lining materials of different colors, layering multiple dresses and using warp and weft of different colors. The typical method is the layering of dresses inside out, which is specifically referred to as the Kasane no irome (color combinations for female court attire).

The foregoing irome was well established by the mid Heian Period and it is mentioned in the Tale of Genji and Makura no Soshi (The Pillow Book).

Irome are broken down by the season and the time of the year, each category used approximately according to the season. Some color combinations can be used all year round. Irome were often named in connection with seasonal features such as flora including kobai (rose plums), cherry blossoms, japanese rose, fallen leaves and pines. Other seasonal features that irome were named after include insects such as jewel beetle, terrestrial phenomena such as ice and the first snow of the year, in addition to colors such as shiragasane (white layers) and akairo (red color) as well as landscapes such as kareno (withered fields).

In most cases, 2 or 3 colors are combined. Combinations of 2 different colors of the outer and lining materials were often used. Additionally, when the same color combination was used, depending on which side those 2 colors were used, i.e. outer or lining, it was regarded as 2 different color combinations being identified by different names. For example, the outer material was white and the lining was moegiiro (light green color) for yanagigasane (the willow color combination) for the springtime, whereas, if the outer material was light green and the lining was white, it was called tokusagasane (the scouring rush color combination) which was used year round. Additionally, the same color combinations were sometimes called differently depending on the season. For example, the outer material was white and the lining was light green for both the yanagigasane for the spring and the unohanagasane (deutzia flower color combination) for the summer.

Keeping the names and the actual color combinations accurately corresponding with one another was part of Yusoku kojitsu (the court and samurai rules of ceremony and etiquette) and they were organized until the Edo Period. Some color combinations slightly vary depending on the Yusoku kojitsu expert.

Those color combinations often serve as a useful reference for dressing today.

Examples of Kasane no irome (color combinations for female court attire)