Fashion is one topic which spans all the countries of the world, with each county bringing their own styles to the table. These designs often become vastly popular and become “the latest fashion/trend”. New York, Los Angeles, London, and Milan are notoriously known for their outlandish clothing, and celebrity trends. However I’d like to throw Japan into the equation, specifically Harajuku, Shinjuku and Shibuya, in Tokyo.
The reason for this, is because during a recent visit to Japan, I’d never seen such an incredible effort made (by almost everyone) to look fashionable. The slightest hints of street fashion are embellished, turning the streets into a humongous catwalk, as young Japanese men and women show off their latest styles. At this point I’d like to point out, that even though I’m a photographer, I make no claim to be a fashion guru by any means, therefore this post is based purely on my research and what I’ve encountered myself.
I would often see seemingly “normal” culture references displayed to new degrees of presentation. What do I mean by this? For example, in England, it’s not uncommon to see someone wearing a studded leather jacket with perhaps a small Union Jack flag patch (or something similar) as a small nod to “Punk fashion” from the late 70’s. However in Japan, they would take that small reference to punk culture and amplify it; perhaps with trousers sporting the Union Jack, or even a Union Jack flag hanging out of their back pocket (I saw this myself), combined with a thousand accessories and attachments to complete the look.
This isn’t to say we don’t see “punk fashion” like this in the West, we do, obviously. However it feels more natural, rather than a fashion statement. Most of the people I know who dress like this, do so for their own benefit, they don’t care if other people notice what they’re wearing. However in Harajuku this isn’t the case, you’re dressing this way to be noticed, and why not? Some of these people spend hours putting their outfits together, or making their hair look so extravagant. They’re doing it so people notice.
Japanese fashion doesn’t just take heavy influence from Western trends though, they bring more than their fair share of styles to the table, so let’s take a quick look…
Shironuri (白塗り) translates as “Painted white” or “Whitewashed”. The main fashion element here is that the people who dress in this style, wear white make-up, however the style of clothing can vary. This is often combined with other fashion genres such as “gothic” to create a dramatic effect. One famous shironuri artist is Minori, she has been featured on Tokyofashion.com
Gothic Lolita (or Gothloli, ゴスロリ) is a combination of gothic and lolita fashion. For those unfamiliar with lolita, it’s a very popular style based on Victorian fashion, with petticoats, stockings, cupcake shaped skirts, and frills. However because the lolita style is so vast, it is often broken down into sub-genres. Gothic lolita is one of these.
Maintaining the Victorian style, other elements are brought in to give it a darker quality such as red lipstick, and dark eye make-up, (black eyeliner) however the focus is still on natural beauty rather than the “white powdered face” gothic style make-up seen in the West.
Brands which exemplify the Gothic lolita style include Atelier-Pierrot, Atelier Boz, and Black Peace Now.
My friend Ren sporting a style similar to Visual Kei
Visual Kei (ヴィジュアル系) translates to “Visual style/system” is popular amongst Japanese musicians, however similar to the lolita style, there are many sub-genres and varying degrees of extremes. The main focus is on elaborate hair styles and loud outfits. It is similar to punk fashion, however there seems to be a degree of flamboyancy, with elements of “glam rock” thrown into the mix. There are notable musicians who sport this style, including DISACODE, Golden Bomber, X Japan and many more.
Kogal (コギャル kogyaru) is a style based on the Japanese school girl uniform, with subtle differences to make them more fashionable. These differences often include shortened skirts, large socks, and dyed hair colours. This style was huge during the 1990’s, however it has recently started to die off as some people see the style as materialistic and shallow. On the flip side, some people see them as kindhearted young women of today. People associated with this style of fashion tend to have their own slang words, sometimes combined with English words, which I find intriguing.
Eon from Osaka Shunkashuto shows “Today’s CODE”
While this isn’t a fashion style, it is something that is very popular among Japanese girls, and it’s called “CODE”. This comes from “coordinates” and is essentially a way for girls to show off their outfit for the day. You’ll often seen Tweets, Instagram photos, or blog posts featuring photographs of the details of the outfit for the day. In the example above, Eon was wearing a white skirt, black belt, chequered red shirt, and very cute cherry ear rings. During a webcast from a radio station she showed her outfit or “Today’s CODE”.
With all of these unique fashion styles, people might be concerned that the traditional Japanese dress of Kimono is all but gone. This is far from the case, the Kimono is very much alive more so on “coming of age day” (成人の日 Seijin no Hi) when Japanese people celebrate turning 20 years old. It is a celebration of their expanded rights and new responsibilities as adults. During my visit to Japan in April I was able to witness the “entrance ceremony” for new students, where during which, they also wore traditional kimono. While the males usually opt for a suit, it is not uncommon to see them also wearing traditional attire.
As I said previously, I am no fashion expert, and these are just some of the hundreds of fashion styles you’ll see around Japan. If you’re interested then please head over to Tokyo Fashion’s website. They kindly allowed me to use their photos for this blog and they work very hard to share the fashions of Harajuku, Shinjuku and Shibuya with the rest of the world. You can also follow them on Twitter here: Tokyo Fashion on Twitter
If you have any photos or stories to do with Japanese fashion, please share them in the comments below.