Though I’m no fashion victim, I strive to sport a fairly consistent style. This is especially relevant at my home university, where there is an unspoken policy of “class dress”: not always business wear (for presentations and exams this is the norm), but never sweat pants. My wardrobe is very middle of the road at Sewanee, a mix of current trends and thrift store finds, though it strays a little as a consequence of my northern origins in that I have an excess of black clothing and an intolerance for the hideous footwear that’s as common as grass on campus. (I’m talking Chacos, Birkenstocks, and any shoe meant to seamlessly transition from dock side to boat. Just bad all around.)
Before arriving in Tokyo, I knew blending in was not within the realm of possibility. Even if I weren’t a bottle blonde and 5’5, the U.S. average for women which allows me to see cleanly over the heads of most Japanese women (and some men) in the vicinity, my clothing surely would give me away. And it has but not for the reasons I thought it would.
Japanese style previously fell into two categories in my mind, for young adults at the very least. The first, which can be summarized as “bubblegum gaudy,” as appropriated by Gwen Stefani and also embodied in generically popular anime, was all bright colors (for hair and make up as well as clothes) and shiny materials, while the second, with no official moniker, was very much inspired by the techno-orientalism of films like Blade Runner and red carpet pictures of J-pop idols, mainly black with lots of sleek outerwear. The former category contained the Lolita subculture and could be captioned with kawaiidesu, while the latter could contain the gothic Lolita sub-subculture, and was meant to be worn in sterile government buildings and semi-scary bars.
If this was your first thought of ‘Japanese fashion,’ you’re about a century behind
Both of these semi-imagined styles can be found in some iteration or even merged together in Tokyo, usually hanging around the busier intersections of Harajuku. But for the most part, current daily fashion is very different and much more classic. Crisp colors and classic cuts are the norm, with longer hems and higher heels than I’m used to.
Uniforms are prevalent among high schoolers and college-aged Tokyoites dress in a more adult manner than you would see in the U.S. Seeing someone clad in all black is rare and bright accessories will be used to balance darker looks. Hats are also popular and necessary with the winds that whip around the city’s skyscrapers and send what little litter there is flying as well as loose hair.
How everyone keeps their sneakers spotless while walking everywhere I don’t know.
My favorite Tokyo trends thus far include the sleek backpacks ubiquitous among travelers of all ages and, most importantly, high waisted, wide-legged pants!
Sadly, all patterned pants were sold out in gaijin size.
What would go for $70 or more in the U.S., if you could even find it, can be found in just about every women’s store for half the price! UNIQLO is a favorite among Japanese and foreigners alike, due to their well-made products and inclusive sizing. I was even more shocked when these pants fit than I was when the fitting room attendant pulled the shirt guard over my head without warning.
The above is by far my most inconspicuous outfit, a mix of old pieces and recent acquisitions, though the boots (and, again, the blonde) still make me stand out. I’m sure by the time I head home I’ll be struggling to pack a slew of new items but for now it’s a matter of just taking notes.