I just returned from a trip in Kyoto. Before I left, I tried to do some homework on kimono dress-up and found very few reviews/ information in English. Now that I am back with more complete information and the real experience, I'd like share it.
First, General Background info: there are two different types of dress-up: a) Geisha/ Maiko dress-up and b) regular kimono dress-up. Each type comes with different pricing plans, such as:
1) the cheapest: dress up/ hair do + strolling (you wear the clothes and strolling in the neighborhood/ on the street) you take your own photos--> usually only works with regular kimono rental @3000~5000 Yen
2) dress up/ make up, indoor studio shots, @6500 Yen
3) dress up/ make up, indoor studio shots, strolling
4) the most expensive: dress up/ make up, indoor studio shots and outdoor photographer shots, strolling--> usually the Geisha/ Maiko combo @16000Yen and above
Regular kimono strolling is usually 1 full day, while Geisha/ Maiko strolling is usually within 1 hour.
Regular kimono dress-up often comes with a modern hair-do but not the white face make-up. Geisha/ Maiko dress up is more a makeover with complete white powder make-up and a big traditional wig. Both should come with all accessories, such as sandals, socks, hand bag...etc.
Common mistake: Tourists often think the Geisha/ Maiko them met around shrines/ temples are real Geishas and girls in kimono are fakes.
As a matter of fact, Geisha/ Maiko they met are very likely fake because real Geisha/ Maiko often don't need to go to shrines in these outfits at 2 pm and there are many Geisha/ Maiko dress-up studios around shrines/ temples. It has become an interesting sightseeing experience for Japanese or people who are interested in Japanese culture as well.
As for the girls in kimono, they are not trying to be a Geisha/ Maiko, i.e. not fake. They are just wearing a traditional women's formal dress, either their own or rental, to visit the shrine/ temple. It is considered nostalgia and romantic to wear a kimono while appreciating the historical sites in Kyoto. There are men renting traditional clothes for a stroll, too. So it's much more like renting an evening gown or tuxedo on a trip.
Second, the real experience: After comparing all the shops/ plans, I found online, I decided to do the cheapest one-- 1 full day, regular kimono rental with Rental Kimono Okamoto.
Its location is very convenient and popular, right outside of the Kiyomizu Temple, a UNESCO heritage site, and Jishu Shrine, a shrine for good marriage/ relationship. Nearby steep and busy lanes in the Higashiyama area is great for strolling. I decided not to go too far away from the studio, just in case any wardrobe malfunction.
I arrived at the main shop at 9:30 am (open @ 9 am). I chose their most expensive plan @5250 Yen and there were hundreds and hundreds of kimonos to choose from. First I was given a big bag with my name on to put all my belongings in. Then I had to choose the kimono, an Obi belt to go with it and a pretty string to decorate the belt. The woman on the first floor speaks some English and is pretty good at color/ pattern matching. I chose a pink peony kimono so she found a two-side, two-tone maroon color Obi belt with matching pattern, plus a pearl string for me. They do offer kimonos in different sizes, such as L, Tall...etc. I wore a size L.
Then off to the second floor where an old lady undressed and dressed me. She doesn't speak English and I speak zero Japanese, but we somehow were able to communicate well. Everything had to be off and into the big bag, except underwear. then, one base layer of white robe, one middle layer of fancy collar robe; At last, the kimono I picked (i.e. you can see different but matching collars). In between, she tied towels, even a plastic board, to keep me in good posture. With a good posture, she could finally make a butterfly-like knot with the Obi belt on my back. This store does more younger-look, fancy knots, rather then the married women pillow knots. Anyway, think Scarlet Ohara and breathe when she does this.
Then I was sent to the next room for hairdo. The hairdressers speak some English. They had curling iron, rollers and everything. They offered 3 types up-dos, from mature to younger looks, and I can add decorative hair accessories at 500 Yen each. One furry white hair accessory and 20 hair pins later. I came out great!
Then I went downstair again to choose a pair of socks that I can take with me, and a handbag to swap out my modern backpack. My feet are large so I didn't get to choose the socks with lace trim. : ( Then I went to the next room to choose a coat and a scarf because it is chilling in December. I got a teak rose coat that matches my pink kimono/ maroon obi belt, and a white furry scarf to match my hair accessory. Remember to choose a bigger handbag for digital camera, wallet, passport...etc stuffs. They keep your belongings and clothes until you return. I think there was an extra charge for sending your clothes back to your hotel. I didn't use it.
Finally, one hour later, around 10: 45 am, I slipped into the sandals and started my day as an ancient person in Kyoto.
Because it's maple viewing season, the shop doesn't close until 7:30 pm to accommodate customers going to night visits at shrines. I walked to Kiyumizu Temple, Jishu Shrine and Kodaiji Temple, took lots, lots of photos and had Yutofu in a traditional restaurant for lunch. Overall, I would say it is a great experience and worth every penny of it. I would definitely recommend Rental Kimono Okamoto.