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About the Author
Alison Douglas is the owner of a Gothic clothing marketplace called The Velvet Garden. She is a world traveler and bargain-hunter.
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Photo | Alison Douglas


Trends in Japanese Fashion
Alison Douglas
In my travels, I’ve noticed that in say, the US, or Korea, or France, you can’t really say that “everyone is wearing X” without it being a fairly big exaggeration – this is not the case in Japan. When a fashion trend hits Japan, it spreads fast and becomes fairly universal, literally, almost everyone will be wearing it. In the US, you might see designers trying to push a certain style for this or that season, and you might see a lot of examples of it in the stores, but if you go sit in a café and do some people-watching, you probably won’t see it on everyone who walks by. In Japan, when a fashion trend hits, you see it on everyone.
Three years ago I went to Japan, took note of all the fashion trends; I’ve just returned from a second trip to Japan, and these are my observations of what’s changed in fashion.
Japanese Gothic Fashion
I think that the Gothic Lolita phenomenon was just beginning when I went to Japan three years ago. This look has been going strong in Japan since then, and is still continuing. It is also pretty common to find Gothic Lolita clothing in the Goth stores. Most of the Gothic Lolitas carried pretty black parasols.
Many of those who were not sporting the frilly, girly Gothic Lolita style had a pretty androgynous look – lots of white shirts with big pointy collars worn with a black Gothy necktie. Quite a few Goths were wearing black ties with writing down the front (such as a website URL, written regularly across in English, then flipped vertically to go down the front of the tie, you'd have to tilt your head to the right side to read it). There were also many Goth/Punk variations upon the schoolgirl look.
Goths are the only ones who still wear platform shoes in Japan. (Last time I was here, everyone was wearing platforms.) Lots of stripey tights and socks, and lots of Gothic Lolita socks – knee-high with ruffles and bows at the top.
Panda hand puppets (not Tare Panda) are bizarrely popular in the Goth crowd. (This appears to be a new and probably short-lived trend).
Certain mainstays of Western Gothic apparel are utterly absent here: No corsets (I think I saw only one waist-cincher the whole time), almost no piercings besides ears and an occasional lip piercing, no tattoos. Black hair is even pretty rare! The most common hair color besides natural dark brown/black, or bleached-to-orange-hair seems to be cotton-candy pink, there are a few other unnatural colors, but mostly light pink or natural shades. Colored hair is pretty uncommon though. And there was almost no fake hair except for small, straight clip-in streaks (mostly in white). I saw one girl with tubing extensions, and one girl with colinette-type wool dreads tied on to her head as an accessory, but that was it. I did see a few places selling fake hair, or offering to do extensions, but they mainly did natural colors, mostly browns – the only unnatural colors in the stores were those single-color, small clip-in straight streaks.
The Punk look in Japan is pretty classic – black, plaid, safety pins, spikes, bondage pants, and occasionally British flags. A trend I noticed among the alternative teenage boy crowd was safety pin earrings, either in metal or colored plastic.
General Japanese Fashion Trends
Leg warmers are so trendy right now! Everyone is wearing them. The most common look is knit leg warmers worn with high-heeled mules or sandals. There seemed to be 3 main kinds of leg warmers: 1. Tight, knit 80’s style ones, 2. Ones that resemble loose-socks, knit, but much looser than the first style, 3. The ones that you see in the US these days, tight just below the knee and flared out below that, these are not very common in Japan compared to the other two styles.
Platform shoes are being replaced with knee-high boots with pointy, pointy toes and heels. The heels tend to be about 3" tall. Mostly brown leather boots. Often the boots are decorated with little metal charm-bracelet-type chains, around the ankle. They also wear these charm-bracelet-type chains as regular belts.
Most of those not wearing the knee-high pointy boots are wearing legwarmers with heeled mules, or brightly-colored 80’s style patent-leather flats (bright magenta, turquoise, yellow, etc.) with little patent bows on them. They often wear these flats with tiny little half-socks that don’t even reach their ankles, usually sheer with lace edging, in pastel colors.
A fair number women wearing Camper’s-style sneakers or plain, fairly boring sneakers. I don’t think there were nearly so many wearing comfortable shoes last time I was here – I wonder if it is some kind of reaction against the previous platform shoe trend, and the current pointy high heels.
The predominant trends at the moment seem to be a sort of hippie, peasant-style or a very retro 80’s style. For the peasant-style, the predominant colors are shades of browns and creams, sometimes with a bit of pink thrown in.
I saw so many outfits that I haven’t seen since 1982! There were lots of off-shoulder 80’s-style tops (worn with clear or decorative bra straps). Lots of shapeless, baggy shirts. Plenty of knit-cotton and diagonal stripes. I saw many strange halter necklines, where there is a scoop-neck shirt that also has halter ties in front. There were many flouncy, full, cotton short skirts. There are also a lot of low-slung hip belts. Plenty of long, dangly, 80’s style chain earrings with metal stars or something at the ends.
I saw dozens of girls in these 2 exact outfits: 1. Straight-cut, black & white plaid short skirt, possibly made of wool or something similar, worn with a black fitted sweater (long or short sleeved), and black pointy-toe, pointy-heel, knee-high boots. 2. Pleated Burberry’s plaid short skirt, brownish fitted sweater (long or short sleeved), brown pointy-toe, pointy-heel, knee-high boots. There was so much Burberry’s plaid: purses, short skirts, scarves, pants, everywhere.
Louis Vuitton, Burberry’s and Coach are the current predominant labels (especially on purses and handbags) in this very label-oriented society. Fendi is fairly popular as well, but not as much as those top 3. Coach has become much more popular over the last 3 years; they've definitely gained some ground on the previously unassailable cults of Vuitton and Burberry’s.
All women and girls wear short skirts or pants. I don’t think I saw more than 10 long skirts while I was there. They are still often wearing short skirts with black (usually) knee-socks and heels. The girls wearing pants are often wearing: cargo capri pants with scrunched lacing on the sides, or fairly impractical satin cargo pants. It’s not incredibly common, but I saw a fair number of girls wearing pants with a short skirt over them.
Everyone still has the same shag haircuts and bleached-out-to-orange hair color. I noticed a lot of girls with a ponytail on the side of their head, 80’s style. They are still wearing plain bobby pins as hair accessories. I also saw lots of women and girls with pigtails worn low at the back of the head. Lots of rabbit fur accessories, hair elastics, earrings, etc. Usually in brown, black or pink. For some reason, it’s still trendy to wear clumpy black mascara. A fair number of people, girls and boys, wear basic knit winter hats as a fashion accessory. There are also a lot of fuzzy angora Kangol bucket hats.
Normal women still wear fishnets with knee-length skirts and otherwise office-y-looking outfits, and everyone still carries clear plastic, long-handled umbrellas (these are the cheapest umbrellas in Japan).
Everyone still carries cell phones, but they’re now so much bigger than they used to be. That was a surprise! Now they are clamshell, fairly thick, and even bigger than the ones we have in the US.
School Girl Fashions
The loose sock trend among schools is dying out in Tokyo (although it’s still pretty popular in the suburbs and smaller towns). You can still see some girls wearing them, and they still sell them in every sock store (although they are drastically marked down in price, compared to 3 years ago), but it’s not nearly as common as it was when I was here before. Mostly schoolgirls are wearing short, tight socks in navy or white, with a logo on the side. A new trend amongst high school girls is to wear their shoes as if they were slippers, by stepping on the back part of their shoes’ heels. They break the back heel of their loafers and wear it under the heel of their foot. This might be more comfortable, but it looks awful. Some shoe designs even come with pre-crushed heels like this.
Subcultures
All the Goths and Punks still hang out in Harajuku. The Gothic Lolita trend is still going strong in the Goth scene.
Maybe I was’t in the right areas, but I only saw a handful of Raver kids the whole time I was there.
The Gunguro/Kogal trend is dying out. You can still find a bunch of them in Shibuya, but it is so much less common than it was 3 years ago. It feels like most of the Kogals grew up, and turned into the women now wearing the pointy-toe knee-high boots or leg warmers, with brown and pink peasant-style shirts and short skirts.
There’s also a fairly big Hip-Hop scene in Shibuya, and you can find Japanese versions of Hip-Hop style in many of the trendy stores in Shibuya. Almost all the stores there, whether they sell Hip-Hop style clothing or not, will play Hip-Hop music. But then, Hip Hop is actually huge all over Japan, not just Shibuya. This is also nothing new; it’s been that way for probably a decade now.
Where to Shop in Tokyo
For Goth and Punk clothes go to Takeshita Dori street, near Harajuku subway station. Omotesando (near Harjuku) is a slightly more grown-up, more expensive, less-trendy version of Harajuku. For general super-trendy teenage-girl clothing, Kogal fashions, or anything Hip-Hop, go to the 109 Building in Shibuya (or the 109 Junior Building for smaller sizes, made for junior-high-school girls). Ginza is where all the very expensive department stores are located. Roppongi Hills is a fairly newly-developed area with more designer stores and department stores. Shinjuku, especially Kabuki-cho is where you find the fetish and sex shops.
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