In English we can use the verb “to wear” for pretty much anything. We wear shirts, we wear paints, we wear glasses and hats and we wear gloves, neckties, and makeup. Likewise we can “take off” our shoes, “take off” our makeup” and “take off” our glasses. However, it isn’t quite so simple in Japanese. Depending on what you’re wearing or taking off, the verb you have to use will be quite different.

Verbs For “To Wear”

1)着る

Our first verb is 着る(きる), a る・一段動 verb which is used for wearing things that go on your torso. Shirts (long or short sleeved), undershirts, jackets, dresses, etc all use 着る. 着る is also the verb from which we get the word 着物(きもの・kimono) , the famous traditional Japanese garment, whose name literally just means “thing to wear”. 

あの赤いTシャツを来ている女の子は誰ですか。(Who is that girl wearing a red T-shirt?)

出かけると上着を着るのを心がけてね。(Make sure to put on a jacket when you go out).

2)羽織る

羽織る(はおる)is similar to 着る in that it is used for articles of clothing that go on your upper body, but is used for things that you drape over your shoulders, for example, a shawl. Any kind of loose flowing garment that you can wrap around your upper body can use the word 羽織る.

Some items of clothing can use both 着る and 羽織る, but your choice of verb will change the nuance of how you’re wearing if. For example if you’re wearing a sweater normally, you would just say 着る , but if you drape the sweater over your shoulders (picture a WASPy person at a country club), you’d be better of using 羽織る instead.

 あの男性はカーディガンを羽織るのが好きです。(That guy likes to wear cardigans)

3)履く

Our next verb is 履く(はく)which is pretty straightforward; you use 履く for anything that you put on below your waste. This includes pants, shorts, skirts, underwear, socks, shoes, slippers, etc.  Since the kanji is a bit complicated, you’ll often see はく written just in hiragana.

At this point some of you may be thinking, “well what would happen if I just used 着る to refer to wearing pants, etc?” That’s a good question, and the answer is that it would give the listener the impression that you are trying to pull your pants over your head like a shirt. There certainly can be a time and place to say that, for instance if you’re trying to describe some wacky shenanigans that your friend was getting up to, but if that’s not the message you’re trying to convey, then stick to はく.

左右で違った靴を履いてしまいました。(I accidentally put on mismatching shoes.)

4)被る

Next we have, 被る(かぶる)which is used for things you wear on your head. This includes hats, caps, helmets, crowns, etc.

帽子をかぶるのが好きじゃない。(I don’t like wearing hats).

学校で帽子を被ってはいけません。(You’re not allowed to wear hats in school).

There also exists a useful saying 「猫を被る」which literally means “to wear a cat on your head” and figuratively refers to a person who pretends to be kind but isn’t.

5)かける

This is a verb that has many, many different usages, but when it comes to clothing, it can be used specifically for wearing glasses and contact lenses. For example:

私は子供の時メガネをかけていました。(When I was a child, I wore glasses).

メガネをかけるより、コンタクトをかけた方が好きです。(I prefer wearing contacts to glasses).

6)つける

This verb is useful for accessories, including gloves, seatbelts, rings, necklaces, collars (e.g. for dogs) .

車に乗るときは必ずシートベルトをつけてください。(Make sure to fasten your seatbelt when riding in a car).

7)締める

しめる, means “to fasten”, and can be used for things that need “fastening” like neckties and seatbelts. Notice that there is some overlap between this verb and つける above, for example with “wearing seatbelts”. When it comes to the smaller accessory items, some items can be “worn” with multiple different verbs, the choice of which can come down to the speaker’s preference.

現代はネクタイの締め方が分からない人がだんだん増えてきている。 (Nowadays the number of people who don’t know how to fasten a tie have been growing).

8)巻く

This verb, which literally means “to coil” or “to wrap” is useful for talking about wearing scarves, since they wrap around your neck!

マフラーを巻くだけで、風邪を引くリスクが下がるそうです。(I heard that you can reduce your risk of catching a cold just by wearing a scarf).

9)塗る

This verb, meaning “to paint” or “to plaster” can be used for wearing makeup. Makes sense, right? It can also be used for other things that you “wear” by rubbing them into or applying them to your skin, like creams, sunscreen, etc. 

日焼け止めを塗るのを忘れて日焼けしちゃった。(I forgot to put on sunscreen and got burned).

マスカラの塗り方が分からない。(I don’t know how to put on mascara).

10)する

する、the verb for “to do”, can also be used as a general verb for “to wear” for many of the small miscellaneous items that we previously covered with the verbs つける、まく、締める and 塗る. It is a general “catchall” for accessories that can come in handy if you forget any of the more specific words. So you can say  ピアスをつける or ピアスをする for “to wear earrings” and likewise you can say 化粧を塗る or 化粧をする for “to wear makeup”. However, するcan’t replace the verbs for “to wear” that refer to big items, hats or glasses. So you can’t replace 着る、羽織る、履く、かける、or 被る with する。

私はピアスしている。 (I’m wearing earrings.)

 仕事のために無理矢理に化粧させられている女性が多い (There are many women are forced to wear makeup for work).

Verbs For “To Take Off”

Now that we’ve covered numerous ways to say to wear something, you might be wondering how you’d talk about taking things off. Luckily, there are only 3 verbs here you need to memorize.

1) 脱ぐ

The first and most common verb for “to take off” is 脱ぐ(ぬぐ)which can be used for most clothing including shirts, pants, hats, shoes, jackets, etc. Basically 脱ぐ can be used with any article of clothing that you put on with the following verbs: 着る、履く、被る、and 羽織る。

日本では家に入る前に靴を脱ぐのはマナーですね (It’s good manners in Japan to take off your shoes before entering a home).

2) 外す

The second verb for “to take off” is 外す(はずす)which covers all of the little accessories like glasses, earrings, scarves, gloves, etc. 外す is therefore the counterpart for the verbs かける、つける、しめる、巻く、and する

そのメガネを外して、目を見せて (Take off those glasses and show me your eyes).

3) 落とす

落とす(おとす)which literally means “to drop” can be used as the verb for “removing” makeup and other creams. So you’d use it to say you’re removing sunscreen, or mascara, or lotions and is the counterpart to the verb 塗る in this context.

顔や体に残った日焼け止めをキレイに落とす方法は何ですか (What’s a good method of fully removing sunscreen that’s still left on your face and body?)

Wrapping Up

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! This is a lot of information to take in, and even then there are many more real world examples that I just couldn’t fit all into a single article. To really get a feel for all these verbs and how they’re used in a wide variety of contexts you’ll have to continue exposing yourself to as much native Japanese as possible. 頑張って!

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