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Tabi are worn by both men and women, with traditional formal footwear such as zōri, and sometimes the less-formal geta. Tabi are typically worn with clothing such as kimono. Tabi are sewn with a divided toe, in order to be worn with thonged footwear.
Historically, most people in Japan wore tabi, as most Japanese footwear was thonged; however, some, such as upper-class courtesans and the geisha of Fukagawa did not wear them, as the bare foot was considered to be erotic in Japanese culture. Others, such as lower-working class members of society who could not afford tabi, either did not wear them or wore boots such as jika-tabi instead.
The most common color of tabi is white. White tabi are worn in formal situations such as tea ceremonies. Men sometimes will wear blue or black tabi for traveling. Colored tabi are also available, and are sometimes used in kabuki theatre as part of a character's costume, or are worn with more casual outfits as fashion.
Traditionally, tabi are sewn from cloth cut to form. They are open at the back to be slipped on and have fasteners along the opening so they can be closed. Tabi sewn from stretch material without fasteners are also available.
One distinctive style of tabi are jika-tabi (地下足袋, lit., "tabi that contact the ground"). Made of heavier, tougher material and often having rubber soles, jika-tabi resemble boots and are outer footwear rather than socks. Like other tabi, jika-tabi are toe-divided.
Contemporary tabi socks—socks with a separation between the big toe and the rest of the toes—are also available. This reflects the number of people who still prefer to wear zōri and geta, especially during Japan's hot, humid summers.
Modern tabi occasionally have elastic openings instead of fasteners.
A related item are toe socks, which have five separate compartments; these are known as gohon-yubi no kutsushita (５本指の靴下, five-toe socks) in Japanese.
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