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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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).