The hakama is a pleated, two-part lower garment usually referred to as either full-cut trousers or a divided skirt. It began as a long trailing garment in ancient times and in more recent times has been worn as a standard part of male ceremonial attire and by martial artists.
Originally, the hakama was worn as an outer garment to protect the samurai warriors' legs as they rode their horses, like a cowboy's leather leggings called chaps. As the samurai used horses less, they continued the practice of wearing hakama as a kind of identifying uniform.
The hakama has seven pleats, five in the front and two in the back. The pleats each have a name and a symbolic meaning: the first pleat, Yuki, symbolizes courage, valor, and bravery; Jin stands for humanity, charity, benevolence; Gi stands for justice, righteousness, and integrity; Rei stands for etiquette, courtesy, and civility; Makoto symbolizes sincerity, honesty, and reality; Chugi stands for loyalty, fidelity, and devotion; and the last pleat, Meiyo, symbolizes honor, dignity, and prestige.
The hakama tie over the top of the kimono and are most often made in solid colors, depending on the occasion, or in very fine patterns in men's formal wear. Some women wear hakama, especially since the late nineteenth century, and generally it is to demonstrate scholarship or mastery. For example, hakama are often worn when a women graduates from college or when she performs traditional music.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Minnich, Helen Benton. Japanese Costume and the Makers of Its Elegant Tradition. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1963.
[See also Volume 2, Early Asian Cultures: Kataginu ; Volume 2, Early Asian Cultures: Kimono ]