The Asian American Small Business Shopping Guide

Check It Out

Japanese Fashion Through the Years

There’s a lot more to Japanese fashion than you can imagine. Let’s take a look at some major points of fashion in Japan.

In addition to this article, I partnered with Craig Ishii to build an infographic depicting some of the standout trends that have appeared over the decades. Be sure to check it out here!

What do you think of when you hear Japanese fashion? Maybe a kimono? Or sailor uniforms? Those are definitely some staple items, but there’s a lot more to Japanese fashion than you can imagine. Let’s take a look at some major points of fashion in Japan.

Edo (1600s to mid-1800s)

Kimonos were the main staple wear around this time, and what you wore depended on the class you were in. You may know kimonos nowadays as bright and colorful formal wear, but back then they were an everyday wear and kimonos were often recycled (thrifted), patched, and put to good use. In the later part of Edo period, the government didn’t allow people to wear showy kimonos, so most folks wore kimonos with plain patterns like stripes and checkered type patterns.

Kimonos were an everyday clothing, and civilians would often wear plain colors and patterns.

Meiji/Taisho (mid-1800s to 1920s)

During the Meiji era, Western culture came in and changed a lot in Japan, including fashion. Folks still wore kimonos but started to wear Western clothes, often for fancier events. Some even wore a mix, like a button-up under a kimono. It was common to see people using Western handbags or umbrellas with their kimono, too.

The end of Meiji/beginning of Taisho was also when girls started wearing "hakama." Hakamas are usually what men wear for traditional, formal wear (or if you see people doing kendo/aikido, this is what they wear), but these are kimonos with a skirt-like garment worn over the kimono. Hakamas are nowadays popular as college girls’ graduation wear. Hakamas are traditionally worn with kimono-style sandals, but there seemed to be a trend for girls to wear it with Western shoes, like pumps and boots (nowadays girls wear it with boots or kimono sandals). Since the Taisho era was so short (Emperor Yoshihito only reigned for 14 years) there really wasn't a large difference in between the two eras, especially since the Meiji era brought such a big change to Japan.

Western culture was a big influence starting in the Meiji era. Formal wear started becoming Westernized, and people would often incorporate Western accessories with their Japanese clothes.
Girls wearing hakamas. Notice they're wearing Western-style shoes.

Miyuki-zoku/Preppy/Ivy (1960s to 1970s)

We jump to the 60s when Ivy league style becomes big in Japan amongst young folks. Blazers and cotton pants for men, long skirts with ribbons in the back and head scarves for women. Both men and women also carried around large paper bags. The term miyuki-zoku comes from the fact that these young people would hang around Miyuki-dori in Ginza dressed like this. Many of the adults back then still had more reserved, conservative thoughts and beliefs, but these younger folks were the ones that were starting to have more independent thoughts and opinions compared to a more traditional Japan. In the 70s, the name Preppy/Ivy comes into play for this fashion style.

Paper bags were a fashion item during the Ivy trend. Who would have thought?

Nyutora/Hamatora (1970s)

Short for New Traditional and Yokohama Traditional respectively.  High fashion type stuff was really in. Think gold buckles, pleated skirts, blouses, silk scarves, and brand name items. What’s the difference? Hamatora was based on brands bought in Yokohama (and was a fashion mainly in Yokohama), whereas Nyutora was Japan overall.

Takenoko-zoku (1980s)

Takenoko means bamboo shoot, but these group of teens definitely didn’t resemble the plain, brown shoot. These were a group of teenagers that would gather on weekends at the pedestrian only zone in Harajuku and dance to disco music. They would dress in Harlem suit type baggy clothes, "China gown" long jackets, and wear shoes that were either school slippers (uwabaki) or "Kung Fu shoes." They were the opposite of brown and plain, shiny, sparkly, and colorful attire was a must.

Loose Socks (late 1980s to early 2000s)

While not a full fashion style, this was a big thing within high school girls. As the name suggests, these are baggy socks girls would wear with their school uniforms. Originally, they would just buy bigger socks, but as it became a fashion trend, stores started selling socks that were designed to be worn loose purposefully. It started as a rebellion of strict school uniform rules, but often the schools would ban them so girls would just bring loose socks to wear after school to change into them.

Gyaru (Gals) (1990s to early 2000s)

Gyaru, or gals, were not the majority of how girls back then dressed, but they definitely left a big mark in Japanese fashion. If you walked the streets back in the 90s or early 2000s, you couldn’t miss the girls walking around with deep tans, bleached hair, miniskirts, and make-up that would accentuate the eyes. Gyaru fashion wasn’t just about fashion either. These girls talked and acted in a particular way, and gyaru culture is still prominent today (minus these tans).

Gyaru girls may not be as tanned, but they still carry on the culture.

Amuraa+ (1990s to early 2000s)

Ever heard of the singer Namie Amuro? She was (and is still) a very popular Japanese pop singer. While her songs were also popular, she herself was an icon and a fashion statement (like the “The Rachel” haircut with Jennifer Aniston). Her fans became known as Amuura, and girls would often wear thick soled boots, tight pencil skirts, and tight-fitting tops with long, straight hair.

Namie Amuro in the 90s, a true fashion icon for girls at the time.

Present Day

With the internet being a thing, strictly Japanese fashion has become blurred. On the streets today, you’ll see a lot of clean cuts, high waisted bottoms, long coats, and flowy, casual styles. There are lots of fashion styles, but to name a few, there’s Amekaji (short of American Casual; fashion focused on what Americans would wear), Yamagirl (Yama = mountain; a women’s fashion focused on wearing outdoor gear brands), and Normcore (short for Normal Hardcore; a fashion style focused on minimalistic style).

Amekaji or American Casual, is a popular fashion style in Japan.

Article featured in this issue:
May 2022
No items found.

Video Shorts from this Issue

No items found.

More Articles this Issue

3 to 1: Fashion

Can fashion define a generation or is it transgenerational? We ask, they answer, you decide.


Sake Crafting | An Interview with James Jin from Nova Brewing

Discover the creative process of crafting new sake and beer flavors from James Jin, the cofounder of Nova Brewing, and peek into life as a small business owner.


The World is ON Fire and My Clothes ARE Fire: Considerations for a Sustainable Closet

Creating a sustainable wardrobe doesn’t mean throwing out all of your fast fashion pieces. Keep what you already have and adjust how you care for them.


Japanese Fashion Through the Years (Infographic)

The full infographic to accompany the "Japanese Fashion Through the Years" article.


Did Tom Cruise Teach Us How to Be “Japanese?”

There are three movies/TV shows I watch annually: The Last Samurai, Lost In Translation, and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown (specifically season 8, episode 6 entitled “Japan with Masa”).


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.


Japantown Style | An Interview with Darin Maki of CRFT by Maki

Meet Darin Maki: founder of CRFT by Maki, a culture brand based in Little Tokyo.


Blending Aesthetics: AKASHI-KAMA's Noragi Jacket Style Guide

Style guide for AKASHI-KAMA's signature piece, the Noragi Jacket.


Japangeles: Story of Community

Continuing our two-part article series, this second article focuses on the unique community, design, and impact of Japangeles beyond just the business aspects.


Personal Color Analysis Changed My Relationship with Clothes

Personal color consultation will tell you what colors look best on you. For a mom of two, it meant the beginning of a chromatastic adventure.


Japanese Fashion Through the Years

There’s a lot more to Japanese fashion than you can imagine. Let’s take a look at some major points of fashion in Japan.


Just Another Wednesday

What could gentrification taste like? How might erasure alter sight and sound? This story was originally written for the 2021 Little Tokyo Historical Society's annual short story contest.

No items found.

Missed an Issue?

All in the (Video) Game
What I Did This Summer
Summer Break, July 2022
Fashion, June 2022