Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Japanese fashion Dynamic

Japanese Street Fashion

Amanda McCuaig

If you think of kimonos or school uniforms when you think of Japanese fashion, you're missing out on the best and most flamboyant outfits that Japan has to offer the world.

Japan's outlandish street fashion trends are mostly concentrated in the large southern cities of Tokyo and Osaka, and particularly in a district of Tokyo called Harajuku, the shopping and entertainment district. It's considered to be Tokyo's teenager town, where dressing up is somewhat of a scheduled event. On Sundays, droves of street fashion kids dress up and head to Harajuku to loiter. If all goes well, they are photographed by magazines and scouted by model and talent agencies looking for future stars.

Japanese street fashion comes in a variety of forms and is reminiscent of London's punk street fashion, though it uses brighter colours and less plaid. Like bohemian fashion trends in North America, Japanese street fashion at first appears to be based on uncoordinated colours and patterns. But unlike the bohemian-hippie-thrift-store trends of North America, Japanese street fashion is far more elaborate. The emphasis is on uniqueness, which leads many street fashion kids to create their own outfits. Hand sewn garments are combined with a mix of items from trendy city stores. Some outfits integrate elaborate social statements with elements of escapism. Western fashions (think jeans and tank tops), are mixed with an emphatic reclamation of traditional garments, such as kimonos and geta sandals (those cute little wooden sandals with the planks on the bottom).

The most well known book on the street fashions of Japan's major cities is a small, 6.7' by 9' photobook called FRUiTS. Photographer Shoichi Aoki triggered an explosion with the publication of FRUiTS in 2001, inspiring a new creative outlet for brand name rebels all over Japan. FRUiTS can be found in several Vancouver bookstores, but if you can't find it, there are also many popular Japanese magazines that feature a variety of street fashion-inspired styles.

Like many youth subcultures, Japanese street fashion is a rebellion against the conventions of a consumer-based culture; but like modern capitalist culture, their rebellion is being recycled back into the system. The Harajuku kids' radical fashion has become the inspiration for designers such as T. Kunitomo and Yuji Hasegawa. If you happened to watch last season's cycle of America's Next Top Model (cycle 3), you'll remember that the girls' trip to Japan put them in the office space of Milk and Milk boy clothing designers Shingo and Hitomi Ohkawa. They were given the "challenge" of putting together an outfit like that of the Harajuku kids - an outfit that would inspire the designer (they all failed miserably in their attempts, because they were trying too hard to make their clothes match).

Ironically, the designs by Hitomi Ohkawa are dramatically more simple than the elaborate designs found on the street of Harajuku, as opposed to French Haute Couture, which is significantly more dramatic on the runway than how it appears on the street.

There are a few very distinct styles that can be found in Harajuku on any given Sunday, ranging from absolutely ridiculous to not-so-out-of-the-ordinary. The trends can be roughly broken down into four groups: fandom, cute, gothic/lolita, and various cultural influences.

The genres, however, include a variety of subgenres, such as cyberpunk, punk, funk, dramatised Western style, goth, lolita, and warmono. For many, their choice of style is more than just a fashion statement, it's also a way of life.

The popularity of anime and celebrity in Japan has brought out its own subset of street fashion. Some kids are inclined to dress up like their favourite celebrities - the elaborate blue-haired rocker, Mana, from the band Malice Mizer being a very popular choice, even at anime conventions in the United States. Others go with their own variation of anime characters, less like a direct imitation and more like an integration of anime styles into their own wardrobes. It is a chance for them to embrace the hyper-celebrity culture of Japan and integrate it top-down into their own lives. This is where a lot of the crazy hair and goggles are brought into play. Other popular accessories include sleeves, huge boots, and dramatic make-up.

Cute (or kawaii in Japanese), as one may suspect, is especially popular with young women who adorn themselves in ribbons and lace, wearing animal ears and sporting clothes made for children. Accessories that feature popular childhood cartoons are a common addition to any cute outfit. Hello Kitty lunch box? Hell(o) yeah! It's a bit like the short-lived '80s nostalgia fad that hit North America recently, when girls were sporting My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake t-shirts.

These kids don't just dress the part; they act the part, too. Hunched shoulders and pigeon toes - their body language is distinctly and purposefully childish. Like much of the street fashion culture, it's a form of escapism - a way for kids to spend time away from the high-pressure Japanese society. The style aids in making the social lives of these kids more light-hearted and sweet, and it gives them a chance to express themselves creatively.

Lolita and gothic lolita fashions are very similar; the key difference being that the gothic lolita dresses in black, while the lolita tends to use pinks and peach colours. The fashion, like cute, is similar to children's clothes. Styles include a nostalgic Victorian children's look - dresses that hide the shape, large bows, ribbons, lace, and bonnets. But unlike cute, it's more of a church-going look than a playing-in-the-yard-on-a-Tuesday look. The outfit designs are both sophisticated and elegant.

Some may be inclined to relate the lolita trend with Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, a novel written in 1955 about a man trying to create the perfect love affair with a 12-year-old. The term "lolita" has come to mean "a sexually precocious young girl," but Harajuku's lolitas don't consider themselves necessarily sexual, as their emphasis is on the delicate innocence of the Victorian style and the elegance of Victorian nostalgia. Their choice of fashion serves to transport them back to an earlier time when culture was slower and people took time to be polite, kind, and graceful. It gives them the opportunity to appreciate innocence and beauty while sharing it with others.

Unlike the North American goth, the gothic lolita gets its name not from the dark and scary aspect of the gothic, but from the detailed and distinct style of dark elegance and gothic style (think of the amazing detail of a flying buttress). Gothic lolita shares the lolita's quest for innocence and elegance. It is said that the lolita and gothic lolita cultures of Harajuku enjoy a tight-knit community that is a nurturing place for otherwise-misfit kids to enjoy. It is a place where nostalgia for a simpler time is embraced and played upon.

Cultural Influences
Cultural influences include their own slough of styles, but specifically noticeable are replicas of British punk, military influences, cowboys, warmono, ganguro, hip-hop, and reggae. The details of these styles may seem obvious but are elaborated here for your entertainment.

British punk: Plaid, bondage pants/skirts, spiked belts, and t-shirts that feature the names and logos of bands are all elements of British punk fashion. Chances are you've encountered this fashion trend here in North America. If you're hip, you probably even own a pair of bondage pants (with at least 12 zippers, all of which open to nowhere).

Military influences: Some street fashion kids draw inspiration from the military styles of a variety of cultures in order to cultivate their own distinct style - camouflage, badges, and giant Russian hats, worn almost as well as Graham Fox wears them.

Cowboys: It's like Alberta but more fashionable and a bit more ridiculous. Though much less colourful than other street fashion trends, like cute or punk, cowboys bring the Wild West's chaps and spikes on boots back into "everyday" wear. Whereas the real cowboys of the West stick to jeans and plaid shirts, these cowboys of the East don as many elements of the Wild West as they can combine into one outfit.

Warmono: A trend in which youth reclaim the traditional (and often considered staunch) dress of their culture, such as kimonos and geta sandals. Often, these fashion items are implemented alongside Western clothing and accessories; picture a purple kimono matched with a set of bright green high-top sneakers. I must admit, this is my favourite style.

Ganguro: An attempt to replicate the exaggerated American Californian looks - think Malibu Barbie. The girls tan their skin dark, bleach their hair, and wear fashionable summer dresses. Some argue that they are succumbing to peer pressure the way young North Americans do when they attempt to replicate such tanned and blonde celebrities as Britney Spears. Others argue that it's an expression of the complete opposite of the Japanese ideal woman. Unlike the quiet, subservient, pale women they may be expected to be, these girls break out of their shell, tan, and don the loud, assertive attitudes of Western women.

Hip-Hop and Reggae: Hairstyles, like dreadlocks and afros, are combined with the brightly coloured fashions typically found in African and Jamaican clothing. Hip-Hop styles like those of North America can also be seen; accessories, like fuzzy armbands and "bling," are matched with baggy pants and jerseys.

For more images and information about Japanese street fashion, check out these website:
_Street Fashion:
_High fashion:


At 3:22 AM, Blogger Amanda said...

Interesting where your articles pop up, ne? This article was originally published in The Peak ( I'm glad to see it's properly credited.

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