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Casual with a Purpose: My Experiences with Fashion in Japan

The color palettes, articles of clothing, and silhouettes that I've tried out here are trends that I would never have been willing to try out in America.

Eight months ago I changed the trajectory of my life and moved to the countryside of Japan. As I took time to adjust to the differences between here and the U.S., one aspect of day to day life in Japan that really caught my eye was fashion. 

The best way I could describe fashion in Japan–when business formal isn’t required–is casual with a purpose. Very rarely do I ever feel like someone threw on an outfit haphazardly, and I take note of that whenever I make the pilgrimage to the nearest city (a whole two hours away by car 🥲). It is because of this that I feel as though whenever I don’t conform to the trends of Japan, I am treated a tad differently. With that, I quickly noticed each visit to the city has slowly altered the considerations I take when choosing my own outfit. While in America I had coordinated my outfits to express who I was, here in Japan I often coordinate my outfits to not stick out.

While in America I had coordinated my outfits to express who I was. Here in Japan I often coordinate my outfits to not stick out.

Fashion outside of the Japanese workplace often sways between everyday streetwear and business casual. The ideology of casual with a purpose encapsulates the gray area between the two. On one side of this spectrum one popular trend in Japan is called “big silhouette” which is just baggy clothing. In America it’s a common trend to pair a baggy top/bottom with a more fitted article of clothing for contrast, in Japan baggy everything is sometimes the way to go.

I always used to feel like pairing baggy clothing with more baggy clothing looked messy. My opinion quickly changed as I saw more and more big silhouette outfits in Japan. That idea of casualness with a purpose comes into play here. Although one might think that too much baggy clothing could come off as messy, it feels intentional as the colors and pieces of the outfit flow into each other. 

In the photo below, I paired my Japangeles vintage coat with an XXL white shirt and a pair of black balloon pants. When I think back to how I dressed in America, I don’t think I would have ever put an outfit like this together. However, I receive compliments on this outfit whenever I run into Japanese national friends I’ve made around town after they take a moment to realize it’s me.

On the other hand, what we would consider to be business casual in America in my opinion is grouped into casual wear in Japan. Layering especially comes into play when it comes to this type of style. 

An example of this is the outfit pictured below that I wore while visiting Fukuoka. When I was in America, an outfit like this often garnered comments from friends about how overdressed I was for a get together. In Japan though, this outfit can be seen as quite standard when going out to do some errands in the city or while seeing friends. 

I think the biggest difference that I see when it comes to layering up in Japan is the type of weather that people are willing to layer up in. There have been countless times in which a sunny, warm day makes an appearance and I am one of the very few that decided to wear just a short sleeved shirt. I could almost feel myself having a heatstroke when I see others wear thick sweaters paired with collared shirts on days where the weather was well over 80 degrees. Whether it be due to wanting protection from the sun or perhaps a difference in opinion on what is considered to be a hot day, layering seems to be quite common for any occasion. Then again, summer has just begun and I’m sure that outlook will change.

Many of the trends that I have seen in Japan so far are slight variations of trends that are present in America. For example, the outfit that I showed when discussing layering is a style that I believe has been popularized within the Asian American community. However, I do feel like that type of style has become more prevalent due to entertainment coming from Japan and other Asian countries. Though there are also some American trends that have just not made their way to Japan, one of them being masks with patterns. 

The times in which I have chosen to wear a mask with a pop culture reference or some sort of design on it, I am almost always picked out to be a foreigner. I’ve noticed in those instances, strangers more often speak slower to me, use more gestures while talking, or quickly grab the english translation of whatever menu/pamphlet is in front of me. This is in high contrast to when I wear a solid colored mask like everyone else. When I have a mask with a solid color like black or white, I am treated as a local, up until I open my mouth of course. To expand upon color palettes for outfits, it is also good to mention that neutral, pastel, and subdued tones seem to be more popular than vibrant colors here.

Many of the trends that I have seen in Japan so far are slight variations of trends that are present in America.

The longer I live in Japan, the more I come to love the fashion trends that are popular amongst young adults here. Although at times I feel like I am sticking to fashion choices to avoid unwanted attention, I also find excitement in exploring new perspectives in Japan’s world of fashion. The color palettes, articles of clothing, and silhouettes that I have decided to try out here are almost always things that I was never willing to try out in America. This now leads me to wonder what my sense of style might be like when I return to the states.

As the young TikTokers say, “Drip is not a philosophy. It is a way of life.”
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May 2022
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