What is Japanese Fashion? You may have clean, simple, and minimalistic clothes in mind when you think of Japanese style of Fashion. Or you may have cute (kawaii), girly and sometimes lacy dresses that you expect girls in Harajuku to wear.
Both images are correct. We have several different styles of Fashion in Japan!
I’m now based in London, but I still admire Japanese fashion as a proud Japanese. The main reason is its high quality. Clothes from Japanese fashion brands usually have higher standard of finish and lasts much longer even after repeated wash compared to products of Western brands.
In this article, I will try and explain the fashion styles adopted in modern Japan, then explore Japanese fashion brands that you should be aware of. You have probably heard of some of them because you see their flagship shops on major high streets in Europe.
I also included some Japanese Fashion brands not so known to the Westerners, but very popular among fashion conscious boys and girls in Japan.
Japanese Fashion Styles
Let’s start with types of Japanese Fashion styles. There are several different categories of Japanese fashion styles. It can strongly form a part of the identify of its wearers.
Gal fashion is a representation of exaggerated American teen culture. Gal obviously came from the English slung of girl, and the girls who love this style tend to dye their hair blond or brunette and put on heavy make up so that they can look like Caucasian girls.
The followers of Gal Fashion typically wear a short skirt, colourful showy top and and heels. Hair extension, false eye rushes, and nail chips are also in the realm of Gal Fashion. There are boys who adapt Gal Fashion as well. You can spot these guys with brighter longer hair with fake tan. Well, Gal Fashion is similar to what you can observe in Essex!
The word ‘Lolita’ comes from the book written in 1955 by a Russian-American novelist, Vladimir Nabokov. In Japan, there is some kind of fetish related to the preference to childlikeness of girls going on, and Lolita Fashion certainly has play a crucial role in this quirky tendency of Japanese mentality.
In more practical sense, Lolita Fashion has a huge influence from the style of Rococo period with a focus on cuteness. Extensive use of laces and ribbons is one of the feature of Lolita Fashion. Slightly subordinate attitude of its wearers makes it distinctive as culture rather than just a school of fashion.
Most of the major Japanese fashion brands accepted in the international community usually belong to this category – Mode Style. The word, mode, apparently originates from the French word meaning fashion, so this naming might sound a little strange, but this style is usually represented by simpler, monotonous, and modern outfits.
Mode style usually refers to something novel, original and different. This style is generally considered as most fashionable as it is usually the front runner of the trend. However, when an item once granted as a part of Mode Style is adapted by majority, it’s no longer the Mode Style, that’s an irony.
Conservative Fashion, ‘Con-Saba’ in Japanese, refers to formal and slightly posh fashion style with a hint of glamor. When I was living in Japan in naughties, I used to love this style and considered myself as a part of this movement because my home town Kobe was the Mecca of conservative fashion back then.
Typical items of Conservative Fashion are pencil skirt, silky scarf and shoulder-padded jacket. Popular fashion magazines such as JJ, CanCam, and Vivi often feature this style. The Conservative Fashion can be completed with a subtle designer item such as a handbag. The fashion of the Royal Family, for example, Duchess of Cambridge, would be categorised in Con-Saba fashion.
While this is not an official category of fashion, you should be aware of style commonly shared in business context. Most of Japanese people strictly follow corporate look of black or dark blue suits wherever they go and whatever business activities they participate in.
When I worked with a Japanese media sales person in Doha, he never took his jacket off in our entire stay of two weeks as far as I know. It was 40 degree every day and I was enjoying summer dresses taking as an advantage of an anglicised Japanese feeling sorry for this sweaty gentleman.
Japanese Fashion Brands
How many Japanese Fashion brands can you name?
I’m sure you have heard of big names of Japanese Fashion such as Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, and KENZO. But I have personally never owned any item designed by our master designers. It’s a little costly in reality.
However, I do appreciate Japanese Fashion even after more than 10 years have passed since I left Japan. So I would like to recommend some affordable Japanese fashion brands who provide quality items in reasonable prices!
You can find Uniqlo shop on every major high street or shopping malls in the UK nowadays. While this brand is a low cost range, the quality is pretty good and its simple design is suitable for any occasion.
My two favourite items from Uniqlo are Ultra light down jacket and cashmere jumper. Ultra light down jacket is perfect for travelling. It can be packed small and hardly take any space in your suitcase. But it keeps you warm when unexpected cold weather hits. Cashmere jumpers, they are inexpensive and very good quality incomparable to any other brands!
You may know Muji as a furniture or stationary brand. On King’s Road in London, however, Muji is a perfect place to buy Japanese clothes! Their range is simple, clean and minimalistic as the name of the brand – Muji suggests meaning ‘no branding.’
Just like other Japanese products, Muji’s clothing range has high quality finish and versatile design, which is in fact very practical. Clean and simple design is timeless and it’s always easy to style with other items. So Muji is another one of my go-to Japanese fashion brand in the UK.
Comme des Garçons
From the name, you might think it is a French fashion brand, but don’t be deceived! In fact, it’s Japanese! Saying that, they do have a flagship shop in Paris as well.
Their style is one of the example of Mode Fashion as I mentioned above. It’s almost an ideal fusion of Japan and the West. Some of their products are expensive, but you could get some stuff from a hundred pounds. Especially when you try and shop in Japan, it works out much cheaper as well!
Japanese Fashion Brands in Japan
Here are some more Japanese Fashion brands. Unfortunately you might not be able to find shops of these brands, but when you visit Japan, I would definitely recommend you to visit their shops as they have high quality clean and simple design clothing range that you would absolutely love!