The entire purpose of a maiko’s outfit is to attract attention to herself. It’s said that this is done because she is not well versed in the arts, so her outfit will speak for her. From her head to her toes her outfit is curated specifically to catch the eye with opulent ornaments. On her head she wears bright and colourful hair ornaments known as Kanzashi (かんざし) that change on a monthly basis to match the various flowers and plants that are in season at the time. The most junior maiko will wear a spray of small flowers with special petal falls called Shidare (しだれ) that sway and catch the eye on onlookers. As she becomes more senior she will trade the small flowers in for large ones, often in groups of 1 or 3 to show her growing maturity. Young geisha will often wear just a single, small kanzashi made from precious jewels in her hair for a few years before forgoing any ornamentation altogether.
The maiko’s kimono collar, known as Eri (衿), is red and delicately embroidered with rich colours that will eventually turn white as she becomes more mature. In contrast, a geisha’s collar is solid white with no embroidery or decoration whatsoever.
The most striking feature of a maiko’s outfit is her long waist sash known as a Darari Obi (だらりの帯). It is 6 meters/22 feet long and worn with two tails in the back that contain the crest of her lodging house. Geisha, on the other hand, will wear a much shorter obi that’s tied in the back in a flat knot. This knot is said to resemble a hand drum, and thus has the name of Taiko Musubi (太鼓結び), which literally means “Drum Knot.”
The obi is held on with a special colourful and wide cord known as an Obijime (帯締め), and to make a maiko’s outfit even more splendid a special type of ornament known as a Pocchiri (ぽっちり) is worn over the obijime. These pocchiri are made from expensive metals and precious stones and are the most expensive part of her entire outfit. During the Edo Period pocchiri functioned like belt buckles and held the obijime together. Today they are simply slipped on and are purely for show. A geisha’s obijime by comparison is only half as wide and will be a single, solid colour.
Another holdover from the Edo Period are the maiko’s iconic footwear. Known as Okobo (おこぼ), they are wooden sandals, known as Geta (下駄), that stand a whopping 15 centimetres/6 inches tall and do take some practice to walk in. During the first year of her apprenticeship a maiko will wear small bells inside of her okobo that are meant to bring attention to her. After that year they are removed, but she will continue to wear okobo throughout her apprenticeship. On days where it’s raining maiko will wear Zori (草履), which are patent leather sandals that are admittedly much more comfortable to walk in compared to okobo. Senior maiko often get to choose whether they want to wear okobo or zori to work everyday. Geisha footwear includes Senryō Geta (千両下駄), which is a low wooden sandal, and the same zori as maiko.
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