Your Whistle-Stop Guide to Japanese Fashion

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Your Whistle-Stop Guide to Japanese Fashion

October 8, 2010 | Blog | 1 Comment

And now for a humorous guide to Japanese fashion by someone who knows absolutely zilch about the latest rage, but a great deal about people-watching!  I have comprised a list of the top trends for both guys and girls, with some words of encouragement (or more often caution) for the wannabe copycat ALT.

The Japanese Man

The Strap
Surely the most important accessory in the life of every Japanese person, be it on bags, coats, mobile phones, or any other potential hang-space.  The plethora of dangling bits and bobs leaves you wondering why phones are on silent in Japanese trains while you can hear the jingle-jangle of the bells ringing up and down the carriage. Phone straps are a fashion item that may appear at best effeminate, at worst childish and stupid to the average Westerner, but whatever your opinion they are clearly here to stay.

Advice for the male Gaijin-Copycat: I confess to have caved to this fashion craze once or twice, but have limited myself to only adorning my mobile phone.  If you cannot resist the cuteness of the mobile strap, be sure you do a double check before hopping on a home-bound plane unless you want a beating in the airport for resembling a geeky teenage girl.

The Bright Check:

A buttercup shade of yellow, a fuchsia shade of mauve, or a plain poofta shade of pink — the more feminine colour the better! I challenge you to find a Japanese man under 40 who is not adorning a check-pattern on him somewhere.  Seriously… just try!

Advice for the male Gaijin-Copycat: Give it a go!  Checks are an inoffensive pattern and easy enough to find in local stores. If you are looking for an easy transition item that is not too vibrant, red check shirts seem to be the top pick (there is so much choice at Uniqlo you will think that you have walked into checkoslovakia (bad joke!)).  Warning: black and white checks apparently do not rouse the same level of fashion cool. I picked up a black and white shirt in Uniqlo recently to my Japanese friend’s absolute DISGUST.

The Hanger:
Two T-shirts in one (for the price of 3), where one sits under the other and the outer layer sort of hangs somewhere around chest level.

Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: I have given this style a go, and have had nothing but disappointing results, but do not let my bad experience get you down.  By all means, get out there and seek out the perfect hanging top and let me know how it goes!  And just a friendly warning: this top is especially to be avoided on hot summer Gunma days as there is enough hidden material to clothe an entire Sumo tournament!

The ¾ Length Pants:
Come rain, shine or snow, the ¾ length pant allows the Japanese man to flaunt a peek of his muscly chicken legs and send the girls in to a screaming frenzy. These pants can be found in almost every store, in nearly every style, pattern, and colour.

Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: The ¾ length pant is also in-fashion in Europe, so it is not too far reached to snag a pair for yourself, after all, they have to be better than an above-the-knee short, don’t you think?  However, as winter draws near, be careful when sporting this fashion trend if you want to avoid catching a sniffle and having to wear the dreaded paper mask at school!

The Crazy sock:
Incorporate some crazy check or a bright stripe into your sock wardrobe. Perhaps pairing the crazy sock with the ¾ length pant can cure the paper mask blues, but you will likely look like a fool.

Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: Embrace the crazy sock! I have been known to sport a crazy sock or two and in my experience it will get you kudos at your visit school when your poofta-pink check is clashing with your turquoise slippers.
More crazy socks here and here.

The Man-bag:
All colours, shapes and varieties, often accompanied by the aforementioned strap, and even a cheeky bit of check for good measure – the man-bag is a staple of Japanese men’s fashion.  Again, it seems the more effeminate the better, so go big, or go home!

Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: The man-bag is far too useful to resist! Be sure to ignore that episode of Friends…who wants to take fashion advice from Matthew Perry anyway? Embrace your feminine side and grab one for yourself!

The Baggy Turn-ups:
Be they cords, jeans or chinos, baggies are in – especially when rocking the ever-so-fashionable turn up!  If you are so lucky, the turn up may even reveal a check pattern to cleverly clash with the checks you are sporting on the top half!



Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: The turn up proves to be slightly more masculine than the going Japanese fashion, so trying out this trend is possibly the easiest and safest bet in your attempts to dress more Japanese.  The turn up may be a popular trend with old men the world over, but news of this has yet to reach Japan. This may be your only chance to get away with it! Turn up your regular old pant bottoms just once and have them sit by your shoe. Turn them up some more to transform them into the aforementioned ¾ length, or turn them down to go for the super loose look… it is like three pairs of trousers in one!

The Big Hair:
Whether it is Bart-Simpson-Spiky or a Jon-Bon-Jovi-Tapered-Mullet, Japanese men’s hair is loud and proud, sculptured precisely into gravity-defying shapes that just won’t budge.

Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: It is a hard-fastened rule that ALTs of Asian descent must copy this trend. In fact, it should be illegal not to do so.  You may have to wake up an extra hour earlier to style it all in place, or simply ditch your morning routine of eating and washing in the name of good hair. For the rest of us, we may as well quit while we are ahead. Even if at best you manage to create some spiky sculptured creation before you leave the house, 10 minutes down the road on your mamachari and you will be sporting a floppy hairball. Not to mention what would happen if it is hot or windy or snowy or rainy (in other words you might have half a hope in hell for about two weeks in May!).  This however does not stop my hairdresser from poking my hair for an awkward half-an-hour on each visit, with a look of disbelief every time it falls flat against my head once again like the shameless Caucasian I am.

The Japanese Girl

The Strap:
Same as the man-strap, of course, but not nearly as offensive on a woman.  Perhaps it is because these dangly bits and bobs are as feminine as it gets to begin with.  Any size, shape, design, and character goes, and the more you can cram on every hangable bit, the better!

Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: Go for it! Unlike the man-strap, they could even be safe back in your home country (or maybe I have been in Japan for too long). Having said that, perhaps steer clear of the gigantic Big Mac or Chicken McSandwich straps, as they do not have quite the same cute-factor as Mickey Mouse or Stitch!  Quality over quantity, ladies!

Leggings under Shorts:
So I admit, the leggings-under-shorts look is a bit of a twist to what we are doing back home, and leggings have been the craze for a while in the UK, so why not take it a step further?  After all, leggings under shorts are far better than the recent UK trend of wearing just leggings.  It seems that most girls go for simple black leggings with a splash of colour in the shorts, but it is not a hard venture to find lace, stripped, checked, or zebra print leggings in your local mall.


Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: Perhaps this fashion trend is worth a try.  I know you are likely thinking, ‘no way’ but it is far better that what is to come…

The Net Curtain:
By this I mean the flouncy things hanging off of any item of clothing or accessory that seem to drape a few metres behind the wearer, whacking the innocent passer-by in the face.  Sometimes these bits are so flimsy and bitty that you are not sure if they really are a piece of flowy clothing or if the poor girl has just left a tissue in the wash.

Advice for the Gaijin Copy-Cat: I would advise that the net curtain is a risky look. If you find yourself brave enough to try it out, please be cautious not to catch yourself in train doors or escalators. The net curtain should be sold with an attached health and safety warning!

The Dungaree:
No explanation required.

Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: Don’t!

The Floral Onesey:
If you have walked the streets of Tokyo lately you were sure to see hoards of cute girls decked out head-to-toe in delicate small flowery patterned one-piece outfits. From time-to-time these garden-esk prints can look quite cute, but often they are absolute overkill, particularly when used in combination with one (or even both) of the two previous fashion items.


Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: I would say that the strangely popular pink-and-browny-pattern (I am looking at you, H+M) is very risky, especially for the blondes out there, but that aside, a bit of feminine floral never went amiss, I suppose… emphasis on the little.

The Off-Ginger:

As if a normal ginger is not bad enough (joke!) this salmony shade of pinky-auburn is clearly the fad with the Japanese ladies.

Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: I have the utmost respect for anyone who is not of Asian descent and still chances colouring their hair in Japan.  To be honest, the off-ginger is an odd colour, but you may as well risk-it-for-a-biscuit whilst you stick out like a sore thumb anyway!

The Baggy Trouser: (Turn up optional)
If my people watching skills are proving correct, the very very large baggy trouser seems to be in fashion on the streets of Japan. Often times the baggy-trouser-shoe-combination can be a bit questionable, but at least it steers clear of the overly used ‘cutesy’ look. The baggy trouser is almost the opposite in a very masculine way – a contradiction if ever there was one.

Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: Until you can find a pair of baggy trousers that do not make you look like a fat-middle-aged-unemployed-KFC-loving-man, take all caution when attempting to rock this fashion trend. If you do give it a try, please post your photos to this website so that we can all criticize (I really mean laugh) your fashion success!

The Clump:
The ever-so-slightly inappropriate high heel that is 2½ sizes too big and consequently makes walking an impossible feat, while resulting in a very loud clump on the pavement.

Advice for the Gaijin-Copycat: These sorts of shoes are certainly not to be worn if you are in a rush for absolutely anything, or if your destination does not require you to remove your shoes. However, they may be worth considering if you have to participate in a teacher’s race at an upcoming sports day that you are hoping to get out of due to injury.  The big clumpy shoes are a very impractical item but I suggest treating youself some day to a pretty pair of clumps, just as a treat. Perhaps you could even sport your usual flats and bring along a pair of clumps in a tote, and at the perfect moment change shoes and strike a pose until the pain becomes unbearable. Ganbatte!

This is by no means the be-all-end-all of Japanese fashion but I hope I was able to give you a small insight into what is hot on the streets of Tokyo.  Japanese fashion is a funny thing, but with a little effort, any gaijin-copycat can successfully pull of the legginged-hanger-top-underneath-the-floral-print-with-lace-slouchy-full-length-onesie-with-apple-red-size-32-clumps.  Or, on second thought, maybe not…

Photos courtesy of Fashion in Japan, Japanese Streets, and Cool Trans.

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1 Comment
  1. Helen

    Excellent observations, Mr. Daniels… You should do something about vocal reactions as well – the whole squeeling 'Kawaiiiiiii!' thing drives me nuts.

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