I remember spending hours searching on the web about Japan before I first came here. What to do, where to go, and what to wear. It seems silly looking back on that thought because the simple answer here is that Japanese people wear clothes. Just simple everyday fashion that you can find at all the basic stores around town.
It’s true that Japanese people are much more conservative than westerners but not to the extent that you’ll feel like you need to buy a whole new wardrobe just to visit the country. There are very few places where you’ll be scolded for the type of clothing you wear outside of a professional setting. Even at temples and shrines, because they’re treated more as tourist attractions rather than sacred areas you’ll find people wearing anything from simple jeans and t-shirts all the way to actual clubwear while they’re praying to the Gods.
I don’t want to spend an entire post giving rigid rules on how to dress while visiting or living in Japan but I think it’ll be fun to break down the idea of fashion and Japan and how people tend to dress over here.
The History of Japanese Fashion
Most people are familiar with the eccentric styles of Japanese fashion. The Lolita styles or visual kei models have intrigued thousands of people worldwide but how did Japan get to that point and why aren’t those styles around today? Although Japan has always taken fashion and culture influence from the west, clothing prior to the 1980s mostly leaned on the side of tradition and practicality. As the country experienced an economic boom throughout the 1950s, styles and trends began to reflect the wealth society was experiencing. Around the 80’s fashion, media, and art became increasingly intertwined giving birth to a new wave of Japanese youth who were raised in a homogenous society but were greatly influenced by the west.
Although many people claim Harajuku is dead, I’d say the styles have changed along with the people and times. There were numerous economic tragedies that have affected the income of previous generations that are still felt today. The internationalization of Japan has attracted international conglomerates which have replaced the tiny Japanese brands. I wouldn’t say Harajuku style is dead, walk down Omotesando on any given day and I’m sure you’ll see some fashion students and models sporting their own signature style. Instead, Japanese fashion and Harajuku style is less sensationalized.
Japanese Fashion Today
Personally, I think Japanese fashion places a heavy emphasis on practicality and approachability. Clothing is more functional and is created to last for a long time rather than to be trendy. Stores like GU and Uniqlo are popular because they produce a lot of pieces that appear more timeless. Uniqlo clothes from five years ago can still look fresh and trendy today, and they can take you from the office to a night out with your friends. It gives off very much boy/girl next door vibes. Colors are muted and there are minimal designs so you can mix and match pieces with multiple outfits.
Unlike western clothes, for women, clothing doesn’t emphasize the curves of women. The silhouettes are baggy and oversized. Women often layer their clothes even in the summer, you’ll hardly see flip-flops and short shorts even on the hottest days. Men’s fashion is focused on being practical and smart. There’s still lots of layering like women and emphasis is again taken off of your physical body. Muscle tees are definitely something you won’t see here.
What to Wear in Japan
Honestly, you should wear whatever you want here in Japan. If you’re an employee you won’t have much say in the appropriate office attire but if you have the freedom to be here without any sort of expectations don’t spend even a second worrying about how to fit into Japanese society because it won’t end well. Japanese clothes weren’t made for a western audience, they’re cut differently and have different sizes. You’ll go crazy trying to adhere to a Japanese standard of fashion.
If you want to try and break more into Japanese street fashion I’d recommend stores like Uniqlo, GU, HARE, and Muji to find some basic pieces to experiment with. At the end of the day Japan does have its own sense of style but don’t let the conservative styles keep you from being your true self.