Japanese Fashion is known around the world for its originality and intrigue. It has been stereotyped as outrageous, bright, and downright ridiculous at times. It’s portrayed in movies, magazines, and late night television skits (SNL) as something that is found nowhere else, but is strictly “Japanese.”
Pop superstars Gwen Stefani and Avril Lavigne have even made the hit songs “Harajuku Girls” and “Hello Kitty” showcasing this unusual style. K-Pop’s fashion may even be similar at times, but nothing can come close to the what’s portrayed as fashion in Japan.
The problem, however, is exactly that. Japanese fashion is portrayed as exciting, fantastic, and filled with brilliant colors, when in reality, the women of Japan typically wear something totally different. When my sister arrived in Japan for a visit, she wanted so badly to fit in with the local fashion that she packed her entire suitcase with neon colors and tons of flashy accessories; none of which she usually wore.
After she got here, she was devastated to find out that what the Japanese women actually were wearing resembled her simplistic, neutral-colored closet back home. If you want to avoid my sister’s misconception and have a grasp on what’s really the common style in Japan, here’s a look at what women actually wear in Japan.
In some countries, autumn is known for its orange and black hues and Halloween decorations. In Harajuku, they like to carry on this tradition in their fashion. When walking down the infamous Takeshita Street, you’ll see plenty of fashionistas dressed for the season. While it’s always fun to watch and sometimes participate, most of Japan will follow the more practical approach. This time of year in mainland Japan calls for layers of clothing, as the stores will start to sell their dark tones and wool knits once again. With leggings and shirts layering each outfit, they’re ready for the cool autumn air.
If you’ve heard of fashion in Japan, chances are you’ve heard of Harajuku girls. They embody the stereotypical idea of fashion in the country. But take a look at the differences between what a Harajuku Girl and a typical Japanese woman might wear in wintertime.
In the Harajuku style, you see bright colors, tons of accessories, and kawaii (cute) characters all over her outfit. But when shopping for the “real” Japanese style in winter, it’s hard to find a color that doesn’t resemble a neutral. It seems to go along with the common mindset of blending in and becoming one as a nation, rather than standing out like most do in Harajuku. And you can’t forget the tan or brown colored pea coat; if you haven’t seen multiple girls wearing them yet; you haven’t been in (mainland) Japan long enough.
When its spring in Harajuku, some might break out their whites and get rid of the drab, darker colors; but the outfit of choice may look more like a china doll than anything. Puffy sleeves and oversized bows aren’t uncommon; as I’m sure you’ve seen in magazines and online. Surprisingly enough though, the fashion trends for the rest of Japan are more simple once again. Oversized shirts, short skirts and shorts are always showcased in the local shopping malls. They may start to wear brighter colors this time of year, but don’t expect solid neon T-shirts and tights to be the common theme throughout the country.
Ah, summer in Japan. In most of the country, this consists of warm, humid nights and the neon lights of the city. For Harajuku style, this summer city-life theme is showcased even in their clothing. “Kawaii Fashion” continues to be the rage all year long, or so Harajuku tells us. In reality, most Japanese women will go for a more subtle, clean look. While each person’s individual style may vary, you’ll far more often see pastels and loose, flowing material than layers of bright colors and cosplay references.
Of course, there are still those who dress in Harajuku style, and shops with these items are not unheard of around Japan. However, expecting it to be the majority will result in a massive letdown. When you’re in Japan, know that the stereotypes about fashion are only true for the minority. Be prepared for a whole new world of simplistic style that might give a new meaning to your definition of the term “Japanese Fashion.”