Geisha are instantly recognizable by their dress and makeup. The word geisha is Japanese for “person of the arts.” Geisha are women skilled in music, dance, singing, storytelling, and performing the ancient tea ceremony. Contrary to popular belief, geisha are not prostitutes. They are entertainers and hostesses who follow a strict code of conduct and hierarchy.
Geisha dress in a style that has been handed down for hundreds of years with little change or evolution. The look is an attempt to create the illusion of female perfection. They indulge men’s fantasy of the perfect woman and are successful because they project a certain kind of unattainable perfection. The dress and makeup is what identifies a geisha.
If you want to dress like a geisha, there are some guidelines that should be followed. Their style is very specific, starting with the primary article of clothing, the kimono. Kimonos are worn by all geisha. Find one that is very bright in color. It should be adjusted to fall at the ankle. The collars of the kimono are low in the back exposing the nape of the neck, which is believed to be the most important and seductive part of a geisha. Make sure the collar of your kimono falls below the nape of your neck.
Around the waist of the kimono you’ll wear an obi, or a sash. The obi is traditionally a comprised of several layered belts, but you can wear one wide sash when duplicating the geisha look. Your obi should be brighter than your kimono in color and should be very wide, covering much of the lower torso. It can be tied in several ways, but most commonly it is tied close to the body with what is called a butterfly tie in the back. You can get the look by tying a wide bow.
Aside from the kimono, the most prominent part of a geisha is her makeup. It is very important, but easy to do yourself. First and most important is the white makeup that should be applied to the full face, neck and chest. If you cannot find a white foundation you can use a pale color and apply a white powder over the top. Second, line your eyes and fill in your eyebrows with a black or charcoal liner. Finally, use a dark red lipstick, filling in your entire upper lip but applying just a stripe down the center or your bottom lip. This application is to suggest that the lips are in the shape of a flower.
Finally, the hair needs to be pulled up. The most common hairstyle of a geisha is a chignon. Although they can often be quite elaborate and difficult to do, a basic chignon will do the trick. When your hair is up, decorate it with elaborate combs and hair pins. You can even add some colorful Japanese flowers such as orchids to your hair to complete the look.
Geishas are known for their very specific and traditional look and style. With a few main pieces and some creativity with makeup and hair, you can pull together your own geisha look.