Japanese has been keen on intricately wrapping items: this also applies for “wrapping” humans. During the Heian Era (794-1192), matured noble ladies dressed in junihitoe as formal dress in their palace. Although this is not known to many Japanese, junihitoe is its common term; its official term is itsutsuginu-karaginumo or nyohbo-sohzoku.
Junihitoe is wrapping layers of same shaped dress, written as 十二単 “twelve dress” in Chinese character. Despite the number twelve in its name, junihitoe was a term used originally to indicate a set of dresses so it did not address a specific number of layers of dresses. It is only later that junihitoe became known as twelve layers of dresses as commonly known now: kosode, nagabakama, hitoe, itsutsuginu (five layers), uchiginu, uwagi, karaginu, mo. It is just coincidence that junihitoe was generally 12 layers. Although the common number of layers was twelve, there were cases where ladies wore up to twenty layers.
The average weight of junihitoe was at least 8 kg. If weighed in modern improved silk, it is said to have weighed 20kg. There were instances when ladies could not stand up due to its weight; for this reason, the layering of colors were limited to 5 by the end of the era. Why would ladies go through the trouble of dressing themselves in such weight? Because silk then was thin, beautiful color gradation was achieved by layering matching colors. Layers of colors also expressed the seasonal feel.
Using many beautiful colors had its setbacks; but then again, fashion never comes easy (in any country or era!) What a site it must have been for all noble ladies in the castle to be wrapped in various beautifully colored dresses.
**More articles on tsutsumu to follow!