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What’s considered fashionable is often whittled down to the likes of France and Italy; Chanel and Gucci. After all, the global fashion capitals, dubbed the “Big Four,” include Paris, Milan, London and New York. Trends, however, extend a lot further than Europe and Eurocentric standards. Think Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo. These bustling cities are breeding grounds for fashion trends and subcultures. In fact, Tokyo is so rich in pop culture and style that Gwen Stefani named her backup dancers the “Harajuku Girls” (*cue “Rich Girls”*), and you can find hints of Harajuku fashion in the “weird girl aesthetic” made mainstream by the Hadid sisters.
You might not even realize the number of big names that hail from Japan and have made cosmic contributions to fashion around the globe. Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe, the two trailblazers behind Comme des Garçons, put forward beautifully unconventional designs that transformed models into walking sculptures gliding down the runway. Kansai Yamamoto designed several of David Bowie’s eccentric, eye-grabbing costumes, and went on to dress Lady Gaga and Elton John. All of the sneakerheads will recognize Nigo, the creator of A Bathing Ape (BAPE) and Kenzo’s new artistic director. And of course, Issey Miyake, the avant-garde designer whose garments transcended barriers and shook the fashion world to think outside of the box. Those are just a few of the big-ticket names, though there are countless others. All of them pushed the envelope in terms of innovation and defined fashion in ways you’d be pressed to find in other spaces.
These high-profile fashion designers have made indelible marks on the world of fashion, and while their work isn’t always the most accessible to the masses, you’ll still discover unparalleled and inspired fashion in the streets of Japan. Style is completely subjective, but what’s not up for debate is the city’s unique flair.
“Even in a small area such as Harajuku, the number of types of styles you encounter is truly endless. The most significant one and the one that I think most people overseas know Harajuku for is the Lolita fashion,” explains Erika Kifune, a Tokyo-based content creator who interviews pedestrians about their outfits. “Its Kawaii (meaning “cute” in Japanese) style dates all the way back to the 1980s and is best described as a mix of fairytale princess and the Victorian era in Europe. Nowadays, they also have a Gothic version of it, where the garments are black.”
For Misuru, a content creator who is known for dressing in Harajuku style, this aesthetic also relies heavily on hair. “I have a lot of wigs. I try to choose wigs according to the clothes I wear that day.” Throw on vibrant garments and accessories that make you look like a doll, as well as an eye-catching wig to match, and you’re ready to strut down the streets of Tokyo.
While Harajuku does play an important role in Japanese street style, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. A handful of brands are having a moment in Tokyo right now. Kifune says shoppers love Christian Dior so much that there are lines out the door in Ginza and Omotesando. “Dior’s popularity in Japan has to do with its aesthetic matching the Kawaii elegant style Japanese women aspire to,” she explains.
On the other end of the spectrum, Misuru says, “In Tokyo, everyone buys clothes at SHEIN because it’s cheap and easy to get trendy items.”
From Dior to SHEIN, there are various ways to create an outfit, but to start, go with what’s trending. “It really depends on the location,” says Kifune. “In the Harajuku and Shibuya areas, baggy pants and sheer tops are popular. On the other hand, if you walk around Ginza, you’d see that there are many women wearing long skirts with pastel colors, and men who wear suits.” In general, though, you’ll find black on black in the streets, according to Kifune. “It’s not only an easy color to style, but it also represents the Japanese mind. As a culture, we like to blend in and be as minimalistic as possible.”
Additionally, Misuru notes that Tokyo fashion is often inspired by K-pop, anime and Instagram. K-pop girl group Blackpink, in particular, has a great deal of influence over how young women dress, according to Misuru. A simple Google search will show you bedazzled garments and pop-punk finesse for their on-stage style, and baggy jeans, crop tops and luxurious purses for their street outfits.
That’s what is currently in vogue, but what about where Tokyo street style is headed? “Comfortable clothes such as baggy pants and shirts are here to stay,” says Kifune. She believes that because of the pandemic, “People seem to now opt for more comfort and functionality.” The content creator has also observed more deconstructed garments and thinks they’ll continue to crop up. In Misuru’s perspective, “The streets of Tokyo are now in fashion for the ’90s. I feel that the trend is coming back in a slightly different way.”
Now that you have a good idea of Tokyo street style and how to incorporate it into your wardrobe, it’s time to get shopping. Below, find 14 items that fall in line with the Japanese fashion trends that are influencing style around the world.
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