When I do presentations, people often ask me about what they should be looking for when they are looking into buying their first kimono. Now after doing the last reflective post, I'd like to offer my advice on purchasing your first kimono. Please note that this is only my opinion on these matters, and there are many schools of thought here. Whatever you decide to do, my biggest piece of advice is to do your research on everything possible before you buy. Most experienced kimono enthusiasts will tell you that they have an early purchase that they regret! Hopefully, this advice will help you feel more comfortable in making your first purchase.
1. What type should I buy?
I know that people are often drawn to kimono because of the bright, bold patterns they see, but what I find most frequently is that they are looking at furisode (the long-sleeved young woman's kimono). Furisode are easily one of the most complicated kimono to tie, and I strongly recommend that you do not make it your first purchase. There also seems to be a pattern of people wanting kurotomesode (ceremonial black kimono with pattern below hem only) for a first kimono (I actually wanted one for my first as well!). This type of kimono is ultra-formal for married women. While lovely, it's hard to tie and also difficult to find appropriate occasions for. I strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with the types of kimono out there before you buy.
Truly, I think the best kimono to start with is the yukata. It's one layer, usually cotton, and often washable. They also won't break the bank (usually) and come in a variety of patterns that will suit almost anyone's taste. The obi types used with the yukata are more simple to tie than those that will be used with other types of kimono. It is also needs fewer accessories (see question #4).
2. Ok, but I don't want a yukata...
Fine, let's say that you insist on buying a "regular" kimono. What should you look for then? First, you need to decide on the weight of the kimono. By the Japanese kimono calendar, you would wear an awase kimono (lined) from mid-October through mid-May, hitoe (unlined) from mid-May to mid-June and mid-September to mid-October, and usumono (summer weight) from mid-June to mid-September. You may need to take your own area's climate into account though. You may live in the tropics, for example, making usumono season a lot longer.
The second thing to look at is the occasion. Will you be wearing it only at home? To conventions? Out to dinner? For a special event? Knowing the type of kimono that you are buying will help with your decision. For most occasions, a komon (repeated pattern) or iromuji (plain color) is sufficient. It can be dressed up or down, depending on the accessories. If you choose a kimono with a pattern, picking something geometric is a good place to start since you won't have to worry about seasonality.
I would strongly caution anyone just starting from buying furisode, kurotomesode, irotomesode, houmongi, tsukesage, mofuku, hikizuri/susohiki, kakeshita, shiromoku, and uchikake. If you plan on wearing these, the occasions to wear these are few, and the dressing can get quite complex.
3. What size do I need?
No matter what type you buy, you need to consider is sizing, as kimono are often custom made and those that are ready to wear do not correspond to Western sizing. Please see sizing info here. Note that this sizing information does not pertain to any kind of trailing kimono (hikizuri/susohiki, uchikake, kakeshita, shiromoku, etc.).
4. Can I make it?
While technically the answer is yes, without a good understanding of kimono construction, you will likely end up with something that's not authentic. Even if you are a master seamstress, kimono construction is different from Western clothing. There are very few good resources in English, but if your Japanese is decent, you can buy patterns in Japanese.
5. What accessories do I need?
Depending on the type of kimono that you buy, you will need different accessories. Click here for a page I have made that shows images and short descriptions of each accessory (komono), if you need a visual.
If you buy a yukata, you will need at minimum, two koshihimo (waist ties), an obi-ita (stiff board for keeping obi smooth), and an obi (hanhaba or heko). I would also recommend a date-jime (wide tie) and a korin (belt with clips for keeping collars closed).
If you buy another type of kimono, the minimum accessories are nagajuban (under kimono), haneri (removable collar for nagajuban), erishin (insert to stiffen collar), three or four koshihimo, obi-ita, obi makura ("pillow" for certain kinds of obi knots), obiage (cloth for covering obi makura), obijime (cord to hold obi in place), and obi. The kind of obi you choose gets more specific to the occasion and type of kimono you are wearing. See my kimono/obi compatibility chart here. As with yukata, I would recommend using a datejime and korin.
6. What about undergarments?
For all kimono types, it is a good idea to wear undergarments that protect the kimono. This can be quite simple, like a camisole and slip, or it can be a slip specifically made for kimono use. The nagajuban is essential for most kimono, so if you choose to buy anything other than yukata, please invest in one to protect your kimono and give the proper appearance. While there are gadgets that will give the same effect as a nagajuban (eri sugata, for example) it is best to learn the traditional way first.
7. What if I want a pre-tied obi (tsukuri/tsuke)?
I am not wholly against pre-tied obi (I own a few myself), but unless you have back or shoulder problems that preclude you from being able to tie an obi, I'd recommend not buying pre-tied at first until you learn the basics. If you do decide to buy a pre-tied obi, make sure you are getting the right kind of knot (musubi) for the kimono you have. It is also good to note that most pre-tied obi intended for yukata are in a bow shape and are very clearly recognized as pre-tied obi. The ones tied in otaiko (drum knot) are for komon on up in formality and still need the obi-ita, makura, obiage, and obijime in order to give the desired effect. Other pre-tied obi in complex musubi may be intended for dance and will look out of place with a regular kimono.
Are there any questions you have that didn't get covered? Please ask in the comments!