It’s hard to imagine a greater diversity in a country’s fashion trends that can be found in Japan. From the traditional kimono and yukata through to streetwear which wouldn’t be out of place in LA, London, or Paris.
If you’re looking to liven up your wardrobe for this season, then Japanese clothing might just provide the influence that you’ve been looking for.
This simple straight-seamed garment has long been associated with Japan though it didn’t get its name, which means ‘the thing to wear’ until the mid-19th century. The kimono was initially seen as something for commoners to wear, or if you were a member of the aristocracy, then you might wear it as an undergarment. But it slowly became the main item of clothing for both men and women of all social classes.
Worn with a sash called an obi, the kimono is worn wrapped left to right; the only time it’s worn right over left is by those who have passed away and who are being prepared for their funeral! For a culture where many activities are performed while sat on the floor, the kimono provides an elegant ease of movement.
If you think about western clothes, it’s usually their cut that lets you know the wearer’s social status. But it’s all about the pattern for the kimono, and that’s not just for decoration because the images and colors used also have a meaning. A kimono with a print of a crane, for example, is signifying longevity and good fortune, while black is associated with water, Winter and wisdom. A floral kimono is also a popular choice.
At first glance, with its T-shaped design, the yukata may look very similar to the kimono, but there are some subtle differences.
The kimono has a soft, full-width collar, while the yukata has a half-width collar which is much stiffer. A kimono also has at least two collars, while a yukata has just one.
The Yukata has sleeves that are no longer than 50cm, while the sleeves on a kimono vary according to who is wearing it and what the occasion is. Unmarried women, for example, wear kimonos whose sleeves are so long that they drape on the floor, all as a sign to the eligible bachelor to see who was available for marriage
The kimono is traditionally a grander and more expensive garment that is often made of silk. The yukata was originally designed to be worn after taking a bath or to cool down, so they are typically made from cotton or polyester.
You’ll usually hear someone wearing geta sandals before you see them, and that’s because these wooden sandals make a distinctive ‘click-clack’ as each step is taken. If you imagine a cross between flip-flops and clogs, then you won’t be far off. Usually designed with a board of solid wood on which to place your foot and two small pegs on the sole, there’s a fabric thong that sits between your big and second toe to keep it in place.
The geta was designed for its practicality, with the raised design meaning that the wearer is lifted above the dirt, water, and snow. But this style of footwear does a bit of getting used to. You’ll find that rather than expecting it to lift as you take a step, you’ll need to lift the front of the geta with your toes and the top half of your foot. Now, this does mean that one of the big advantages to wearing geta is that they strengthen your foot and leg muscles and improve your balance; just don’t expect to walk too far the first few times you wear them!
Right up until the 1940s, the kimono dominated Japanese fashion. With the lack of contact from the rest of the world, there were few influences to cause any changes to take place. It wasn’t until American soldiers began to arrive that Western style was introduced. By the 1970s and 80s, music from the hip hop and rock cultures had also reached Japan, and along with these came the rise of the subculture.
One big difference which differentiates Japanese streetwear from others is that it’s very much a lifestyle choice and not just wearing a particular type of clothes. When you take on a style or kei, it’s also about a commitment to the beliefs of its community.
If you think along the lines of eccentric and flamboyant costumes combined with over-the-top makeup and big hair, then you’re heading in the direction of Visual Kei or VK, as it’s commonly known. This is a style that emerged in the early 1980s from the underground Japanese music scene and soon developed its own subcultures.
Meaning fashionable or stylish, Oshare Kei is all about bright and cheerful colors, with hot pink and neon being popular choices. And if they clash? All the better! This is then combined with dramatic eyeliner and brightly colored contacts for a look that can’t help but attract attention.
Kote Kote Kei
Dark colors combined with roses, crosses, and blood pretty much sums up this subculture. In fact, the more decadent, the better! Corsets, vinyl, and leather are combined with high platform shoes and heavy makeup to complete what’s often considered the most traditional type of Kei.
Kawaii is all about the culture of cuteness. So, think of pastel shades combined with polka dots, stars, and fluff clouds. Add in feathers, frills, and ribbons, and you have kawaii. But don’t for one moment think this is all about cute and ‘girly’ because the style can also include small “non-cute” items, such as an ‘eyeball’ necklace to create a ‘nightmare within the dream!’
Think all things natural and earthy for this kei. That means browns, greens, and beiges with loose-fitting layers. Combined with natural hair and makeup, it’s the embodiment of the direct translation of mori, which is ‘forest.’
From the kimono to the excesses of visual kei, Japanese clothing has a diversity that leaves the rest of the world in awe!