|Kanji, Kana & Pronunciation|
|(n) split-toe socks|
Tabi (足袋) are traditional ankle-high split-toed socks (split is between the big toe and the second toe) worn by both men and women with Zori, Geta, and other thonged footwear. Tabi are an essential element of traditional outfits including Kimono and other Wafuku. They are also worn without other footwear in Tea ceremony and certain martial arts. There is no difference between men's and women's tabi.
Traditional tabi are cotton and have two, three, or four hooks called kohaze at the back. White tabi are worn in formal situations, at tea ceremonies, and for martial arts. Men sometimes wear blue or black tabi for travelling. Patterned and coloured tabi are also available and are worn most often by women, though they are gaining popularity among men as well.
Tabi started being worn by the general population in the 16th century. Dalby notes in her book, Kimono, that at the time: "any color but white... is rare, and highly informal". This has changed in the past decade, with coloured and patterned tabi becoming more common and popular, perhaps partly due to a revival of antique kimono fashion.
Tabi sizing is done by measuring your bare foot in centimeters from heel to toe and buying the corresponding tabi size. You can measure your foot by standing on a measuring tape, having someone measure your foot for you with measuring tape, or by having someone trace your foot and then measuring the tracing from heel to the tip of the big toe. Tabi are available in full centimeters and half centimeters (for example, 23cm and 23.5cm, and 24cm, etc.).
Tabi fit is supposed to be tight and smooth. If they are too large, the seam at the heel slides under the foot and can cause very deep blisters. Some people buy tabi a size smaller than their foot size in centimeters to get the very smooth look; i.e. they'd buy a 24.5cm sized tabi for a foot measuring 25cm, and others find that they are more comfortable with a size a half-centimeter bigger. If someone cannot fit the size smaller comfortably, others choose to wear tabi socks, or stretch tabi, underneath.
In addition to being hand-washable, cotton and polyester tabi can be washed in a washing machine. Be aware that unless you are purposefully trying to shrink your cotton tabi, using a dryer may shrink them, so it may be best to dry them flat. The soles are generally a thicker fabric and can be scrubbed with brushes or other cleaning implements. If the tabi are all-white, being cotton, they can be bleached and washed with other safe-for-fabic cleaners, such as Shout or OxyClean.
Types of tabi
Jika-tabi (地下足袋, tabi that contact the ground) are worn by labourers, workmen, farmers and rickshaw pullers. They resemble boots with rubber or leather soles.
Himo tabi (紐足袋) are tabi that are not open in the back near the heel, but slit in the front and closed with ties. May also be called Ebisu tabi. Himo means tie or cord. This style of tabi was used before the use of kohaze.
Tabi often come in white spandex/nylon mix that lacks kohaze. These tabi have similar construction to non-stretch tabi, but not the structure strength. They can be worn on their own, under non-stretch tabi, or sometimes over non-stretch tabi when traveling to a formal event to help keep them clean. Stretch tabi can sometimes be slippery on smooth zouri
Tabi now come in a variety of different materials and designs, including but not limited to:
- printed cottons (either all the same pattern, or each side of the tabi a different pattern)
- lace tabi
- stretch tabi (no kohaze)
- solid color (or a combination of two colors)
- a design embroidered on the outer toe portion
- velveteen, silk, calico, and wool are alternate materials, in addition to velvet, leather, or suede (Tabi made of alternate materials may be lined in cotton.)
Tabi socks are knit socks with split toes, not to be confused with toe socks, which have individual compartments for each toe, like gloves do for fingers. Tabi socks are not worn with formal kimono, but are sometimes worn by younger women with casual kimono outfits. To give them a more proper shape, some women like to wear old tabi underneath.
Formality & TPO
White tabi with kohaze are the most formal for both men and women, and a must if wearing mofuku. Stretch tabi are not as formal, but sometimes cannot be helped if the wearer has no access to custom made or very large-size tabi. Lace tabi are informal, and can be worn when dressing up a yukata or with casual kimono and geta.
Directions can also be found in John Marshall's "Make Your Own Japanese Clothes: Patterns and Ideas for Modern Wear", ISBN: 087011865X.
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