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Oct 15, 2010

WHAT is up with Japanese fashion????

Friends, you know I don't follow fashion.  I couldn't tell a Don Loper from a Vogue sloper.

I am but a style cipher -- a blank screen onto which my readers project their ideas -- some might say fantasies -- of how a short, middle-aged man should dress.   True, I have a passing interest in Lana Turner's Jean Louis wardrobes from Fifties-era Ross Hunter movies but that is it. 

BUT I do know when something is wrong.  And friends, what is going on in Japan today is very, very wrong.

Please don't misunderstand: I have nothing -- nothing -- against the Japanese; to the contrary, it is a culture I admire greatly.  And Lord knows I am open minded to a fault.

But WHAT kind of crazy-ass looks are they putting together over there these days?!!

When I think "cute" I think Miley Cyrus.  When the Japanese think cute ("kawaii") it looks like this:

The following look is called "Gothic Lolita."

Now I've read Lolita and we all love Gothic, but Gothic Lolita?  Why not Etruscan Jane Eyre?   It's weird, readers, weird.

BTW, you can put together your own Gothic Lolita look by shopping here.

And then there's THIS:  This look is called "Ganguru," and it takes its inspiration from Southern California surfer girls.  I get it.

But it still gives me nightmares.

I have now been to the new FIT exhibit, "Japan Fashion Now" twice, and I must say, it is an eye-opener -- fantastic, in the literal sense of the word.  I loved it.

Am I contradicting myself? 

"Japan Fashion Now" is one of the most exciting -- and freaky -- costume exhibits I've ever seen.  You'll see a ton of looks like those above, but in addition to wild street fashion, there are classic Eighties styles by Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons, Matsuda, and others (the so-called "first wave").  Gorgeous and inspiring.

"Japan Fashion Now" runs through January 8th, and it is FREE.  Check the FIT museum website for hours.

In closing, friends around the globe, I ask you seriously: where does this wacky Japanese style thing come from in your opinion?  Too much isolation?  Too much anime and manga?

Do you think these fashion violations warrant an international intervention?  Can outsiders successfully impose a Jean Louis aesthetic upon others or must it emerge organically from within?

If so, I fear all is lost.

What should we do? 

Wait -- maybe you like these looks.  Do you?  Anything here you might wear?  Thoughts, please!


  1. Just a bunch of kids having fun, and I think they are fun to look at. They can worry about looking chic when they grow up.

    1. I agree to this much and alittle to add...what's wrong with thinking literally outside the box with fashion? In fact its not even fashion its people expressing themselves as if living in dreams and I couldn't agree more either todays day and age is bleak and grey or grim. The earth weather is crazy who knows what could happen regarding natural disasters. Economics are shit, fashion its self is blatantly boring in general. The norm is boring people are boring. These individuals make life interesting and expresses who they are on the inside and what they like, great way to start a convo if you ask me instead of "nice Hollister shirt my sister owns the same one" and besides most fashion is about looking whorish and sexy same old grey color AGAIN "give me a damn individual that is creative and sexy that also shows self expression" kudos and cheers to that maybe just my opinion but seems more interesting then boring.

  2. OK, so I wasn't that outre when I was a teenager, but I shocked my elders and betters pretty badly with the goth thing I was so fond of. Yes, we think it's mental, but we're a lot older and in a totally different culture so I think we're kind of supposed to.

    Hell, it's like Halloween all year round - how can that not be fun?

  3. Kids! They may look back in 30 years and be embarassed...or they may not. Their children will be mortified :-).

  4. i'm with sara, they are just playing with fashion, pushing things to the extreme, seeing what happens. it's this kind of play with clothing that pushes fashion forward, in a general sense. nothing wrong with a little dress-up, right? :)

    something to remember, a lot of these pictures are older, from the late 1990s/early 2000s (i'm a big fan of japanese street fashion and it's history)...the kids in harajuku aren't necessarily still dressing in this exact manner. maybe some, sure, but not as a rule. if you look at more recent issues of "fruits" (head over to the kinokunyia bookstore right near bryant park for a peek, if you're curious)...i just picked up a copy; the current rage is generally darker looks overall.

  5. I agree with the first three posters's all kids, all shock value, all exploratory surgery, in a way.

    I see stuff like this at anime conventions all the time. I haven't been asked to make anything quite this extreme for my own daughter to wear at one of these conventions yet, but I suspect the day is not too far off from that.

    And when that day comes, yes, the sewing lessons begin.

  6. I love it. If that's where they're putting their time and energy more power to them. Crap I sound exactly like my mom. That's what she told my dad when I had a mohawk, mime makeup and endlessly listened to the Subhumans.
    Hence making it out of a Texas high school without getting knocked up or falling drunk off an oil pump. Truly a feat in Texas.

  7. You guys are SO reasonable; give me a break! ;)

    Tricia, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am awaiting the arrival of "Fruits" Japanese fashion book any day now (purchased on Amazon). I couldn't resist.

    I am obsessed.

  8. hahah, peter, i should have suspected as much from you. :)

  9. Ummm, is it just me or are those outfits completely wonderful? I think I might never shop anywhere but the Fanplusfrien Garden website ever again. I love those outfits. Of course if it actually involves a corset it's all off.

  10. I don't think the Lolita reference has anything to do with Nabakov, by the way. It's not meant to be sexual, I think it refers to neo-Edwardian looks.
    I love everything about Japanese street style and I wish I had the gall do it.
    I also want to make Japanese dresses. This book is all over the blogosphere:
    Since I am built like a Japanese woman, but taller (I'm a well fed Korean-American- longer torso, smaller bust), I am of the opinion that I will look awesome in all these outfits. But that could just be wishful thinking.

  11. This isn't about fashion at all, but in a very homogeneous very structured society, one where teens are under great pressure to perform, this is a form of self expression and rebellion. My dd teaches English in Korea and while a different culture, like the Japanese teens there lives are very structured. School doesn't stop when the school day ends. They are enrolled in English school, in Tae Kwondo or many of a myriad of activities. Then at 10 at night they start their homework. Japan is similar. Culturally they have much less freedom than teens here. A lot of this is also about Anime and Manga which is very popular.

  12. Even Plato complained about what young people were up to!

  13. yeah, that "Gothic Lolita" look is really something else, isn't it?
    they sure have a totally different culture to us english speaking folk.
    (I even found a Gothic Lolita pattern book on that Ebay site I told you about the other day, so I guess that look is still going strong)
    I'd love to go visit Japan as apparently its a real eye opener walking down the street there, somthing you've got to see to believe.
    I find the "Ganguru" look a bit scary though, in a Barbie Doll kinda way. weird.
    but hey, if this is where the inspiration for the japanese designers comes from, it obviously works, cos they have some seriously fabulous designs - so I guess it works for me!

  14. I have never been compared to Plato. I'm honored!

  15. I love it all! Especially the goth lolita look, and have to confess to more than one exhaustive google searche using goth lolita to find the perfect pair of wedding shoes. Is it too much to want a pair of mary janes with a bit of tulle trim and some heels with an interesting shape, I ask you? Ah well, I still have my slutty pilgrim shoes to source...

    Seriously folks, if only I were in high school now. Steampunk? Goth Lolita?? All we had were esprit sweatshirts! (oh! and madonna! silly me...)

    Thanks for posting the pictures!

    And Stella! Go Texas! Did you see the it gets better video from the Ft. Worth council member?

  16. I have a friend living and working in Japan (as a punk musician, so he sees a fair bit of fringe culture), and he says that it's not like every teen you see everywhere is dressed like this. If you go to certain neighbourhoods at certain times, you can pull together a lot of photos of 'odd' looks - but take a look in the background of a lot of those shots. There's usually some amused/befuddled looking people in 'normal' clothes in the background, probably wondering what's up with those kooky kids.
    I think you could get the same effect by carefully chossing when and where to take pictures in any city in the world. If I went to Queen Street in Toronto on a weekend, I could put together a photo montage that would make you think that all Canadians dress like utter nutcases. It wouldn't be true - but if you have no other point of reference, how would you know?

  17. I'm with NellJean. Clean and covered. And not a permanent change like piercings and tattoos. Not something I'd wear, but fun nonetheless. I

  18. I think I prefer the kimono.

    It's definitely weird, and bright, BUT... I have to agree that clean and covered is a definite plus, and they don't have to hold their clothes up while they walk, another plus. I can't say that I'd be attracted to a guy with a teddy bear head purse but it's certainly a happy look.

  19. Now, I have never been to Japan or experienced Japanese culture first hand; but here's my impression as a rather curious observer. It seems to me that traditional Japanese culture was fairly repressed, a la Britain---very polite, maintaining appearances, striving for excellence, fitting in, etc. This still exists, of course. But I think that when Japanese people, especially young people, break outside this box---well, they just GO. As far, as crazy, as bizarre, as their imaginations can take them. Maybe because there's no prior alternative culture to join, or maybe because the pressures they're escaping were so intense. The results, I would argue, include everything from the clothes up above all the way through hentai. (And if you don't know what hentai is, don't google it at work.) It's like the 60s free-love movement times a thousand.

    Or at least, that's my completely baseless outsider's take. I'd love to hear Big In Japan's views on this, but I think she's AWOL at the moment.

    I won't say I love all the crazy Japanese fashion, but I love that they're playing with it and having fun. Most of those outfits put my old clubbing gear to shame (and I remember spending all month planning outfits for the monthly Goth night)

  20. Totally successful looks - designed to make middle-aged men come out with epithets such as 'crazy assed' 'weird' and 'nightmare'. Bingo!

    That said, you're old enough to remember the excitement that ran though the whole world when their elders came out in black, ripped, huge blankets. I still love that stuff. So give the young ones a break, at least they're being totally, wildly inventive, and I always thought that was the entire point of fashion (as opposed to just getting dressed in the morning).

    Besides, I'm sure if we showed those kids pictures of cowboy boots with striped cabana shorts.. well, you get my meaning I'm sure.

  21. Peter,
    I was lucky to get to go to Japan last summer (2009) - these fashions are trendy in a discrete, but rather large and well-known, shopping area of Japan called Harajuku - it's right next to a park where a ton of people dress up as Elvis! I'm serious they are into costumes and characters - and I totally loved it. I believe Cathy would love it.

    Sadly I was there during a religious Holiday weekend and the fabric district was closed:)

  22. I adore them! The outfits these kids put together are fun, happy, colourful and inventive. And, come with rules, apparently. Sooo much friendlier looking than punk/goth, not slutty like the Madonna look and more fashion forward than the usual tshirts and jeans. You're too young to remember the British invasion, but I do. We horrified our elders with Mary Quant, all things colourful and short, but still fashionable. Ahhh, yellow eyeshadow and tights to match.

    BTW have you seen what comes down the runway at Japanese fashion shows? It's so very different from anything western as to be almost incomprehensible.
    Heather (the Hello Kitty fan)

  23. I live in Japan. There are plenty of wacky fashions and trends to be seen, but the photos posted here are not exactly run of the mill. That said, there is plenty of eyecandy and even having lived here for several years, I'm still entertained on a regular basis by people watching.

    Women in general tend to dress much more girly and feminine than what Americans are accustomed too. Some of the men too, honestly. Rod Stewart hair, lots of gold chain belts and brand name manpurses.

    In Nagoya, where I live, you can see a lot of very well-dressed, put together, polite ladylike fashions, understated and classy. And there are plenty of drones in black suits, everywhere, and the young drones in-the-making in school uniforms. Short skirts and what many westerners categorize as "stripper shoes" are very common. In the States it seem to be more about displaying cleavage. I'm afraid I could just continue rambling....

    The over the top obsessives that are featured in this post are usually into their look big time. It is probably their one and only hobby, they study, they plan and they organize every outfit. The other component that is prevalent in everything in Japan is CUTE. Cute rules Japan.

  24. i rather like the short skirt/stripey sock/fun 't' look, if i were younger i'd give it ago! i'd dress my 5 year old in some of it! well, with leggings!

  25. Wonderful. As 2 ladies have previously remarked, clean and covered, very creative too.
    Much better than trousers showing underpants, a fashion I believe started in jails, and tattoos. Also preferable to camel feet and too much cleavage, both fairly prevalent here in Spain. Thanks for uploading the photos, Peter.

    Gaviota in Alicante

  26. Their country's motto is "the nail that sticks out gets hammered down." Can you really wonder that much why those that aren't afraid to stick out, push it to the extreme? I don't love all looks in the Japanese fashion world, but I definitely used to find inspiration there and plenty still do.

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. I don't know that much about Japanese fashion, but I am a huge fan of the Lolita Style.

    It's a big misconception in the west that the whole style is called gothic Lolita. Gothic is just a sub genre. there is also sweet lolita, clasic lolita, ero lolita, etc.

    for more info this is a great site

    also Fan plus friend is not the best place to use as an example. they sell brand replicas. so you might wanna check out Baby the Star Shine bright, or Angelic Pretty.

  29. I live in Japan as well. I am about an hour from Tokyo so I generally don't see an Lolitas unless I go to the mall or travel to Harajuku. I agree with Big in Japan in that everything is CUTE here.
    I love seeing the Lolitas and the guys sporting teased out mullets ala 1987. But what really cracks me up is the normal every day fashion. The short shorts with furry boots in the middle of summer and wearing socks with shoes that are meant to be worn without (in my opinion), crack me up!
    There are some beautiful fashions here as well in the higher end stores. They usually don't come in my size and are out of my price range- but I enjoy looking at them all the same...

  30. Fun, creative, innovative, bold and truly different. I love it!!!

  31. I love everything the color - the creativity...The "ganguru" look is the exception. Was in a salon once when a ganguru girl (dark tanning bed tan) was having her waist length hair permed into a full on Cleopatra Jones.
    The staff and customers had to clear out for 15 minutes when the chemicals were applied. That's some hardcore dedication and probably several years off....pretty sure this look is long gone. (God I hope so!)

  32. I am from Tokyo, though I currently live in seriously-elegant Milano, Italy. I recently ran into a group of Italian girls dressed as Gothic Lolitas. You should have seen the looks they garnered, from curious to surprised to shocked! The girls were really sweet, proud of the authentic Japanese outfits they had purchased online.

    By the way it is "ganguro", not "ganguru". Ganguro means "black face". Please see here:

    Great article, Peter! And I am happy to see that many of the commenters are so open-minded. Many of these young Japanese kids are just having a bit of fun, before joining the working-world.

  33. Agreeing with one of the comments above, there are other types of Lolita. Generally the dresses are longer than the ones in the second picture, too. Here's a shop with 'Classic' Lolita :

  34. Hey's cosplay...the japs love the all dressed up, individualistic, garish, eye popping, head turning, attention seeking, rebelious, approach to being trendy (their idea of being fashionable)....meaning they want to set the trend, trying not to copy normal trends. Have you seen their 'sushi bra'? It's not just the culture, but also their way to freedom of expression. If you were to dress 'weird' there, you are being 'normal'. Great insight you have here. :)

  35. Just thought I'd mention that the girl at 1:00 in the YT vid has the Chanel purse featured in your "Taste" post on October 19th :P

  36. I love Japanese Fashion, it's crazy and artsy but at the same time, as someone mentioned, a lot of the pictures are from Harajuku where it's popular for kids to go there on Sunday in these outlandish outfits. Also that second picture, of the three kids, they're dressed as members of a Japanese Band called An Cafe. They're dressed as Bou, Miku and Teruki from the band.

  37. Each person has their own style, some of them like to differentiate themselves in costumes (boring and monotonous than usual), others want to impose, others prefer to equal the common style. Or rather earthy. We all have our way of expressing ourselves. Up to you. And that must be respected in each. Respect.

    I know you could keep the respect. But it is not necessary that the item be put on trial as well. Respecting their opinion.

    No need to envy those who have one of the most special gifts in their lives. Originality.


  38. I love fashion. Love out of the typical. And Do not care what others think about the outfit.

    Just live your life right and not waste it.

    For all you with affection.

    Take care.

  39. lol, it looks that you talk about japan tribes and sub-cultures as if you know a shit of it. Please read more about fashion in japan before speaking. Lolita is not about fashion (yes, not all the lolitas are gothic), neither other fashion ways such as visual, ganguro, hime gyaru, decora and more... please get more informed next time.

  40. oh and by the way, the last pic of your "gothic lolitas" are not even lolitas and less gothic, they are MAIDS and maids just dress like that because of her jobs in a MAID cafe, they are wearing their job uniform. . . and the first "gothic lolita" is a SHIRO lolita and not all the lolitas dress up like that, check up classic lolitas.

  41. Yeah actually this kind of wearing, it's amazing, in the way, how can someone dress like this ? I don't mind about the normal fashion that some people often use some yellow pants and great t shirt, normal you know, but this is just ridiculous.

  42. i think they just love experimenting, for centuries they couldn't wear anything other than kimonos, and since 60s they finally get some western fashion coming over there - i love the style (some of them more some less) but pretty much they set up the trends right now ;)

  43. I think it's wonderful. Full of color and life. I wear this kind of fashion and I'm really into it. It's a lot of fun and wearing it gives me a lot more confidence. It's creative. Yes it's different and unusual, but thats what makes it awesome. Wearing makes your day just a little bit better. It's like a whole lifestyle.

  44. Are Confident Young Girls Be the Savior of Japanese Society?

    Japan has long been looked at through a Western lens as a society that values homogeneity and ideals of the society over the individual. The 20 year plus recession they've been in is often explained that while Japan is super hardworking, it lacks creativity and individual risk taking.

    Could young Japanese girls then be the savior of Japan. Creative in their self expression, and confident enough to rock it in public?

  45. Leave Us Alone, We're Still Girls!

    "Under" sexualization of little girls, we all know it's a big problem, right? Sarcasm. Obviously not. Most people feel girls [and women] are over sexualized in our society and that a very negative ideal is often marketed to girls. I would venture to say that Japanese society is also guilty of over sexualizing and indeed objectifying girls.

    So who wears costumes anyway? We usually think of kids as doing the dressing up.

    So could some of these elaborate costumes, including the one's that outwardly seem exual themselves like the maid costumes, actually be Japanese girls way of saying: "Leave Us Alone, We're Still Little Girls Just Playing Dress Up"?

  46. Oh my gosh people! IT'S A DIFFERENT CULTURE. Just because you wouldn't go outside dressing like that, or because you think you'd be embarrassed to look like that later, doesn't mean that any of THEM think that.

    They are just expressing themselves. Being able to dress up in whatever they want without being judged is an amazing feeling. Since it's socially acceptable in Harajuku, people can show up looking however they truly feel on the inside.

    Oh and by the way, regarding your comment about it being "too much anime and manga". Similar to the media you're familiar with, it reflects society, slightly altering it, and in turn society reflects the media, altering that. So everything changes blah blah blah, and just because a country has a different type of media doesn't mean that we're any different in the grand scheme of things.

    So instead of judging another culture which you probably know nothing about, and wanting to force your ideas of what "good style" is down their throats, how about you step back and just live with your own life instead of complaining about another's? Who knows, they might look at what you think "looks good" and have nightmares too. It's all an opinion, and everyone is entitled to theirs. The minute you start forcing it on others is when you become a total jerk.

  47. at first, the Lolita japanese is an stile based on the victorians dolls no the Lolita of the book. the lolitas of your photos are: pink lolita, victorian lolita and maid lolitas. And the ganguru born like a protest of the like of white skin, because the black skin(ganguru mean face black) was ugly for them, they just make the resistant.

    All this street fashion is a protest or just girls having fun whith their clothes without think in the others and only for this are amazing!!, they really expres their self. But if we think also in the creativity, time and abilities of their make up and their ability to comb them self.

    And the most important thing, they just see the beauty of the ugly, this is part of their mind since always and they still doing, they include: past on new always, and don't think on any stereotype or the trend of few, don't wait to anybody tell them wath to wear and if they make a fool they will do it for them self no because someone tell them and they should be very proud of this.

    And wen they finish school adopt the style of big sister this is very sweet.
    please don talk bad of something if you don't know it well.

  48. this is big sister style

  49. the occidental fashion on runways, literally, most of the time are very ridiculous. The other day I saw a girl dressed like a jellyfish.
    Or this:

  50. You make an excellent point, Anonymous! :)

  51. I do not like the Japanese fashion going on with the youngest overthere. I used to work for a Japanese bank when I was younger and my opinion back then was that Japanese were too serious people. Today I went to Target and saw the most horrible children clothes collection ever released in America. Sad to say that the clothes are Harajuku Target collection is made by an American designer.

  52. Funny thing: Most fashion is inspired by Japanes designs. And the harajuku/decora fashion is not main fashion in Japan.

    Japanese fashion is very creative and goes in all directions. They also have very minimalistic, futuristic or classic styles. But the fashion styles shown above in the pictures are a way for the young ones to escape the hard realistic life that awaits them.

  53. You're only looking at specific fashion styles in Japan and as a former resident in Japan for 4 years, they don't all dress like this. The expression of such styles are only common in certain parts of Japan and not only that, harajuku isn't even an original japanese style. What you see in fashion shows is always ridiculously creative and.. Well, ridiculous but that's what fashion is about, no? Creativity at an individual's finest. And honestly, most Japanese people dress like a normal American would with jeans, tennis shoes and a shirt except I find MUCH more modesty in their way of dressing compared to Americans.

  54. Lolita fashion has nothing to do with Lolita book, except the unfortune colision of name. It is based on French historical fashion and it mixed with gothic style then, so that is why it is called "gothic lolita". Nowadays are most common influences of colorful and sweet things, so sweet lolita is highly popular.

    Do not misunderstand it - lolita fashion is mostly worn by ADULTS. It is for its playfull and feminine side. Lolita community is trying hard to deny any connection to Lolita book ideas. Ideal of lolita fashion is very influenced by victorian standards in clothing, so lolita should even not show "too much of her skin" = no shoulders, skirt no shorter than hand above knee lenght and mostly covered legs.

    Also, despite of massive attack of sweet influence, most of lolitas wear more grown-up looks like classic lolita - dress with flowers or plain, colorscheme is beige, burgundy, emerald, brown, powder pink, antique green and so on, or gothic lolita - black, burgundy, purple, blue, bit of white.

    For its origin - Japan is very strict about uniforms and uniformity in behaviour and you have only one day of free time on weekend, because work week have traditionally six days. From such strong whole-life pressure for being good part of crowd came massive movement of rebeling fashion which differ into many fashion substyles.

    Most of them accepted nothing from "kawaii" subculture, that is not right presumption, most of wild color combinations has its root in tradition - in kimonos pattern color scheme. There is great thousand years old tradition of mixing dark colors with painfully bright ones in Japan, with result too crazy for eye of European or even American people.

    Japanese who were searching for some way how to differ from have-to looking like everyone else came into artistic part of Tokio town called Harajuku and they started to meet there every weekend. The place and movement became slowly well-known and many others joined in. NOT joung people in the first steps, because such cannot act at their own will because of parents. Many first "fashion freaks" were businessmen and businesswomen around 30 years old. Today, the fashion is much more cheap and have many brands, but back then, they must create most of their clothes and accessories themselves - sewing and so on.

    Today, many substyles from past survived on the enge of interest, while many came. Usually it is mix of Japan traditions and worldwide inspiration. Like Japan mix of punk, gothic and rock called visual kei, or many styles honoring London fashion from all periods of time. Many wearers today wear it through their whole life from young people or adult people to their dead, changing their unique or "common" style depends on their age and life conditions.

    Hope you find this interesting, it is long article, yet very short description. :)

    Feel free to response at mail address (

    Have a nice day. :)

    1. Thanks. I'm learning a lot I didn't know from all the comments!

  55. I think the most recent poster nails it best – dressing Lolita (whether Sweet or Gothic or Punk or Elegant Gothic Aristocrat) is a great example of how Japanese culture absorbs foreign influences and changes them into something uniquely Japanese. You can really see a Victorian x kimono x Bo Peep x Lestat x English punk x gothic mashup in the spectrum of Lolita styles, just like Japan takes foreign foods like pizza and transforms them for Japanese taste. (Yes, that one really is topped with shrimp, squid, broccoli and tuna mayo!) I live in Tokyo and write a series of mystery novels that have recurring Lolita characters, and what I discovered when I really delved into the culture was that it was a way to express individuality while still belonging to a group with shared interests and tastes. It's easy to identify which type someone belongs to, but every individual makes that look his or her own, by making endless clothing combos and wearing one-of-a-kind accessories. And like wearing kimono, dressing Lolita makes every girl feel beautiful.

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