Before it was called a kimono, which simply means "wearing thing," the Japanese garment was called kosode. As in other places around the world, it began as a very simple body covering that could be worn by everyone. How it changed from that point is what made it uniquely Japanese, just as clothing in other parts of the world were adapted for the cultures of their birthplaces. The Edo period (1603-1868) was when the kimono developed its most important cultural signifiers.
Like most societies, Edo period Japan was stratified. Since everybody wore kosode and the cut hardly changed during this period, messages were worked into the garment to announce its wearer. Style, motif, fabric, technique, and color explained who you were. They were also often subject to sumptuary regulations. This forged an intrinsic link between kosode and art and design.
Since the poorer classes wore their clothing to rags, almost none of their kosode remain intact. But the higher socio-economic levels of society were able to store and preserve theirs, and to commission new ones. And like other art forms—including painting, poetry, ceramics, and lacquerware — kosode adhered to aesthetic canons.
Those aesthetic canons were so rigid that they were documented in catalogs that dressmakers would consult to make sure the wearer was properly decorated. Read about the emergence of the kimono as a cultural icon at Jstor Daily. -via Digg