Designer Diaries – Junihitoe to Robe Décolleté to Robe Montante

Again, we thank Prisma for providing the source material and guidance for this post. Her invaluable help is greatly appreciated. Follow her on Twitter!

The women of the Japanese Imperial Family dress in a structured fashion for events on the royal calendar, particularly those that are held in the Imperial Palace. Previously we discussed kimonos, and this week we will delve deeper into the highly formal practice of wearing junihitoe. Beyond the junihitoe, there are two other classifications of formal clothing for the Imperial women, each worn depending on the event: Robe Décolleté and Robe Montante.


The junihitoe is a kimono worn for highly ceremonial occasions such as weddings and enthronements. The junihitoe is a layered kimono-style garment, with the number of layers depending on the person wearing it and the event. The outer layer is color-coordinated according to rank and role and event. It has remained relatively unchanged since its development during the Genji period in the early 11th century.

Why the serious expressions while wearing junihitoe? Not only are these solemn ceremonies, but walking and moving in the complex garment requires skill and concentration.

Below are Crown Princess Akihito and Michiko Shoda in their wedding robes. Michiko is wearing junihitoe.

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Empress Masako is shown in her junihitoe during the 2019 enthronement ceremonies. As Empress, she wore 12 layers and an outer layer of white.

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Princess Kiko and her daughters are also shown in junihitoe during the enthronement ceremonies. As the new Crown Princess, Princess Kiko had a new junihitoe. Both she and her daughters, Princesses Mako and Kako, wore a dark shade of purple. The wives of other imperial family members wore a special shade of scarlet.

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Robe Décolleté

This classification of dress is worn with a tiara, and for the appearances at the New Year’s reception and Choken-no-Gi (First Audience). The men wear formal suits with white ties and tails, and often the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum. The women wear the most formal ceremonial dress, the robe decollete.

The dresses are long, with short sleeves. At times, a jacket will be worn over the dress. “Décolleté means that they are low-cut, but that is a relative term because the necklines are open enough to display necklaces but still modest. The dresses are white or in soft pastel tones (although Princess Hisako, for one, has worn bolder colors), and are accessorized with long white gloves, with bracelets displayed over them. Sashes and orders are often part of the ensemble.

Robe Montante

The robe montante classification of dress is worn for ippan sanga (general public greetings), utakai hajime (New Year’s lectures and poetry), and greetings for birthdays of Emperor and Empress. The Emperor and other Imperial men would be attired in a formal morning coat. The robe montante is a long-sleeved dress in lighter tones with a high round neckline, and often accessorized with pearls. For day ceremonies, the women wear hats that coordinate with the gowns.

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There you have it, a very structured clothing system for public appearances. Hope it helps when these events roll around on the calendar – certainly, it must help the participants know what to pull out of their closet for any given event.