How to Look Like a Geisha

Four Methods:Applying the White FoundationFinishing the MakeupStyling Your HairDressing and Accessorizing

Looking like a geisha can take hours of preparation, but the end result is worth it! A traditional geisha look first involves applying the distinctive white face makeup, penciling in eyebrows and applying eyeliner and lipstick. After the makeup, you will arrange your hair in a traditional Shimada updo hairstyle, or you can wear a wig that imitates this style. Finally, you will dress in the traditional kimono and sandals. With all these elements, your look will be complete!

Method 1
Applying the White Foundation

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    Put up your hair. Before applying your makeup, you want to get all of your hair up and out of the way. Since you will be applying makeup to your neck, including the back of your neck, it's best to put your hair up in a bun.
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    Apply wax to your face, neck and chest. Apply wax with a brush to everywhere you will be applying the white makeup. This should be your whole face, your neck, the nape of your neck, and the chest area around your collarbones. This substance will act as base so that the white makeup you will use will stick in an opaque layer.[1]
    • Bintsuke-abura is the soy-based wax that many geishas use as their base. However, if you can’t get your hands on this, just buy a wax that will be safe to use cosmetically.[2]
    • This wax not only enables makeup to be applied smoothly and opaquely, it also helps to keep makeup out of the pores so that your skin won’t get clogged.
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    Mix white powder with water. Take a pot of white face powder, and mix in several drops of water. Mix the water into the powder with a small brush. Keep adding water while stirring until you achieve a paste. This is the paste that you will apply over your oil or wax base layer.[3]
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    Apply the white foundation paste to your face. Apply the paste to your face using a foundation applicator or a foundation brush. Leave about half an inch of space where your skin shows around your hairline. For the rest of your face, try to apply the white foundation in an equally-thick layer.
    • The strip of skin around your hairline gives the illusion of wearing a white mask.
    • Don’t forget to also paint your eyelids, lips and eyebrows with the white foundation.
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    Apply the white makeup to your neck and upper chest. Take the white foundation and apply the makeup to the front of your neck. In the back at the nape of your neck, leave a W-shaped area of skin clear of makeup that leads up to the hairline. Then apply the makeup to the upper part of your chest under your collarbones.
    • In Japanese culture, the back of the neck is considered a very alluring area.
    • You may need to use several layers, as your face, chest and neck must be completely white.
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    Go over your face with a large sponge. Use a large sponge and dab over all areas that have applied the paste to. This will pick up any excess moisture and leave you with a matte finish.[4]
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    Apply white powder. White powder will help set the white foundation and make it less likely to come off. Use a pure white powder and a large, fluffy cosmetic brush to apply the powder. The traditional powder used by geishas is called kona oshiroi, but you can use any white powder.

Method 2
Finishing the Makeup

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    Redraw your eyebrows. Geishas cover up their eyebrows, and then redraw them. Since you have already covered your eyebrows, it’s time to draw them in. Using a steady hand, draw in the eyebrows with a black or dark brown eyebrow pencil.[5]
    • Make sure that the eyebrows you draw in are not too thick, and that they have a gentle arch as opposed to being straight across.
    • Some geishas incorporate a little red into the beginnings of their eyebrows. Do what you wish according to your preferences.
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    Apply a red eyes shadow to the outer corner of each eye. Many geishas use red makeup for the outer corners of their eyes. Geisha apprentices, called maiko, usually use the most amount of red, and as they go through training they wear less and less. You have some liberty about what amount of red eye shadow you want to use.[6]
    • Some geishas draw red eye makeup in a small dot at the corner of their eye, while others draw diamond shapes, or simply layer a light layer of red without forming a specific shape.
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    Apply black eyeliner. Use a gel liner or liquid eyeliner and apply a line of black against your top lash line. A gel or liquid eyeliner will give you the crisp, precise look that you want for your top lash line. If you wish, you can also apply eyeliner to the bottom lash line using a pencil. [7]
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    Line your lips. Use a red lip liner to create a lower and upper lip line about a centimeter in from your actual lip line. For the upper lip, draw the line slightly lower than your actual lip line. For the lower lip, draw the line a little higher than your natural line.[8]
    • In traditional Japanese culture, a small, pouty mouth is considered beautiful. This is why geishas draw their mouths smaller than they actually are.
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    Fill in your lips with red lipstick. Use a red lipstick to fill in the lips that you outlined with pencil. Traditional geisha lipstick is made from beni, extract from Japanese safflower. This extract is mixed with water and applied using a brush. However, you can use any bright-red lipstick that has a lustrous finish.[9]

Method 3
Styling Your Hair

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    Section off your hair into four sections. Take the hair on the very top of your head, and clip it or tie it with a hair tie. Do the same thing for the same for the hair at the back of your head. This will leave the hair on each side of your head hanging down. Use your preferred hair product to give the hair in each section a shiny and lustrous appearance.[10]
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    Create hair loops on the side of your head. Take one of the sections of hair on the side of your head and create a loop, securing it with a hair band. Do the same for the other side section.[11]
    • The loops should look like a circular rings of hair. There should be space inside the loop, unlike a bun. Don't worry if the rings are droopy or if you can see through them; you will correct this later.
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    Split the top hair into two sections. Take down the section of top hair that you pinned up. Make two sections out of this hair: a top and a bottom section. Back comb through your bottom section by holding it up and softly with a comb coming from the tips of the hair toward the roots. This will give your hair more volume.
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    Put a small hair sponge between the layers in the top hair. After back-combing, place a small hair sponge or donut between the two top layers of hair. Clip the sponge in place. Then make sure the sponge is fully covered by the top hair. Then tie the top hair using a hair elastic.[12]
    • The hair sponge or donut should give you a bump in you hair, which gives it more volume.
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    Create loops with the top and back sections of hair. Take the top section of hair you were just working on and make a loop out of the hair that’s hanging out of the elastic. Do the same for the back section of hair.[13]
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    Use hair donuts or other equipment to add volume to the loops. You should now have four loops on your head: two on the sides and one on the top and bottom. Use hair donuts or whatever equipment you prefer. Place these supports inside the loops to give them more of a defined shape and bottom. Pin the equipment in place with bobby pins so that the buns don’t budge.[14]
    • The Shimada hairstyle depends on the definition and volume of the buns. If you don’t use hair donuts, your hair will look droopy and asymmetrical, which is not the look you want to go for.
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    Ornament your hair. Many times geishas, and especially maiko, will wear ornaments in their hair. These include flowers, ribbons and ornamental pins and combs. Although ornaments are not necessary, you may wish to buy or create ornaments. If you already know what color your kimono will be, try to match the ornament in some way to the color of the kimono.[15]
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    Buy a wig. Many geishas use wigs as opposed to their real hair, since styling your hair can be a very labor-intensive process. If you don’t have long hair, you will have to use a wig, as the elaborate geisha hairstyles require long hair. Wigs vary in price, and also in quality. If you buy a wig, you can also add flowers, accessories or any other embellishments you want.[16]

Method 4
Dressing and Accessorizing

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    Choose a kimono. The kimono is an essential part of a geisha’s outfit. A kimono is a traditional robe cut straight and long, and fairly stiff so that it keeps its shape. Kimonos come in many styles, so pick one that fits your personal style and preferences.[17]
    • In general, geishas wear simple and elegant kimonos, and stay away from loud and lavishly decorated ones.
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    Put on the kimono. Take the kimono put it on as you would put on a robe, slipping your hands through the sleeves.[18]
    • The kimono may be too long for you. If it is, pull up the right and left sides of the kimono until the bottom is grazing the floor.
    • Then, tie a cord around your waist over the extra fabric. This will keep the kimono elevated off the ground. The cord will be covered, so don’t worry if it doesn’t go with your kimono.
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    Wear an obi. An obi, or sash, is a wide, stiff cloth that is used as a belt for the kimono. After putting on your kimono, put on the obi, making sure to tie it in the back. Obi can be heavily patterned, so make sure to wear one that doesn’t clash with the kimono.
    • Geishas tie their obi in the back, as opposed to courtesans, who tie it in the front.
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    Pick out sandals. For shoes, geishas wear sandals. Maiko, the apprentice geishas, wear heavy platformed sandals usually made of wood called okobo. These can be difficult to walk in, so you may prefer the flat sandals worn by geishas.[19]
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    Carry fans. Though not a strictly necessary part of the geisha outfit, you may choose to carry fans. Hand fans are used not only as cooling fans by geisha, but they also are used as props in traditional dances that are part of a geisha’s performance. Common colors used in Japanese fans are red and gold, and they often have some ornamentation like flowers or subtle geometric designs.[20]
    • Geishas typically use two fans in their dances.


  • Geishas are known for their poise, talent and elegance. Remember to embody these qualities.
  • Don’t go over the top with embellishing your look. If you are already wearing a busy kimono, don’t overdo it with hair ornaments or accessories.
  • If you have never practiced geisha makeup, it may take a little while for you to be able to fully master it. Also be sure to give yourself a few hours if you are planning to go to a special event.


Keep in mind that if you don’t come from a Japanese background, dressing up as a geisha could be viewed as culturally insensitive. If you are using a Geisha outfit as a costume for example, at the very least make sure that you are knowledgeable about geisha.

Things You'll Need

  • Cosmetic wax or oil
  • White face powder
  • Foundation brush
  • Sponge
  • Black eyebrow pencil
  • Red eyebrow pencil
  • Red eye shadow
  • Black liquid or gel eyeliner
  • Eyeshadow brush
  • Red lip liner
  • Red lipstick
  • Kimono
  • Obi
  • Bobby pins
  • Hair sponges or donuts
  • Hair gel

Article Info

Categories: Japanese Fashion