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Although a tendency toward basics dominates today's hair trends, that doesn't mean a girl can't punch up her style with a more difficult 'do every now and then. Whether you're into tricking out your everyday outfits or just need a little extra look for a costume, traditional Japanese hairstyles like the shimada mage can be chic. This complex folded top knot style comes from Japan's fashionably complex Edo period, but today it is worn mainly by beautifully outfitted brides and geisha.
All types of nihongami, or traditional hairstyles, can take a toll on a girl's hair. These styles create tension at the scalp, which can lead to breakage and balding if worn too often. As such, geisha typically opt for wigs, and wear their own hair only on special occasions. Geisha shimada mage styles, whether wig or real hair, are differentiated by the height of the top knot. These include taka, the fancy version, and tsubushi, the most common style. Brides wear the most formal style, bunkin, which features a very high top knot.
All shimada mage styles start with the same basic shape. The common tsubushi style, which is what geisha often choose to wear, is divided into five individual sections of equal size. One section forms a ponytail at the crown, another a roll at the nape, one folds on each side of the head, and finally, a last section makes a pompadour at the front. The crown ponytail forms an anchor to which all other sections are eventually attached, then folded into a tied knot.
Styling your own tsubushi shimada mage isn't as simple as just throwing your hair up into a ponytail. A girl going for this look needs long hair that's at least shoulder-length, no bangs, and a whole lot of product. Damp, heavily gelled or waxed hair helps hold this coif, along with plenty of elastic bands and open hair ties. Some of the shimada mage's volume isn't even a girl's own hair. Instead, typically a hair rat fills out the space in the rolled section at the back of the head.
No shimada mage style is entirely complete without adornment. For a casual look, cover your hair with a simple bow in the back or flowers stuck into the sides and top of the knot. More elaborate styles include kanzashi ornaments, such as decorative metal hairpins, long flower chains, dangling bells and combs. A younger girl might also add pretty folded fans with attached streamers for the "princess style" look, while anyone can don an array of complex folded silk flowers.