Both Samuel & I have been interested in Japanese fashion since our early teens, making it roughly a decade of Japan-influenced sartorial choices (now I feel old, ha!). In all that time, I don’t think we’ve really examined why we’ve been so taken with Japanese fashion over the out-put of any other country, and why it has continued to gain a much larger Western audience to this day.
I think we need to start out by discussing Japanese fashion itself. Traditional Japanese dress is kimono, tabi, geta… so how did clothes jump from kimono to t-shirts? We can ultimately trace this sudden shift back to the Meiji era and the so-called ‘enlightening’ of Japan following the advent of its contact with the West. European style was seen as the height of chic (and still is, by many people), but what followed was the aping of these trends – we could say that Japanese fashion became mimetic, almost a parody of Western style, available only to the rich. However, if we link fashion to the economy, we can draw parallels between increased consumer activity and the pace at which fashion changes – in the post-war era, we see the real birth of Japanese fashion, still highly influenced by the West, but creating a style and trends of its own. (For more this subject, take a peek at ‘Japanese Fashion & Cultural History‘ by Toby Slade – a fantastic read, but not a light one!)
So we know what Japanese fashion is, but why is it popular?
Samuel & I were both pretty non-conformist in our teens (wahey!), so I think that might have had something to do with our interest in dressing in Japanese fashion: I don’t fit in in my own society, but I’m actually part of a group elsewhere. In this way, and in most part due to the internet, fashion provides both a means of communication and differentiating oneself (in the West) from the crowd – goth & other fashion subcultures might be more acceptable than ten years ago, but what about lolita fashion? We could say even go so far as to say that in the West, adherence to Japanese fashion trends is conforming to non-conformity!
For many people, not necessarily those who directly follow Japanese fashion and dress in the styles themselves, the mental image of Japan is one of high-end technology and fast-paced salaryman-esque uniform lifestyles. The phrase that always gets trotted out is the perennial favourite ‘the nail that stands out is hammered down‘: the notion that societal harmony is the only way of being. I think for the majority of those that take this somewhat out-dated view of Japan, the sight of Japanese fashion sub-cultures and street trends is totally at odds with that presented in the proverb. This is where what Samuel & I like to call the ‘wacky Japanese‘ phenomenon comes from – the idea of Japan as a totally crazy nation – harking back to the Orient vs Occident, us vs them mentality that characterises the West’s relations with the East.
In my own opinion, it’s just a different aesthetic, a different way of looking at the same items of clothing. Getting ready to leave Telephone Towers, I might remember a street snap of a girl who tied her scarf in an interesting way and do the same myself. She might have got the idea from a friend, who in turn got it from a magazine article on French fashion… I love the fluidity of fashion influences, and how one person has the potential to create a trend on a global scale. Japanese fashion has gone from the mimetic to the influential for a variety of reasons. It provides both a way to be safe in non-conformity and different point of view on a standard item – I’ll always remember the girls in Zipper magazine wearing their cardigans back-to-front like halternecks, it opened my eyes to another way of wearing a tired cardi.
The popularity of Japanese fashion is due in no small part to the internet – we can now learn about the tiniest of sub-cultures and get our hands on the actual items far more easily than ever before. Just look at me & Samuel: we’ve gone from being fans and consumers to making a living writing about Japanese fashion!
What are your thoughts on this subject? How did you first become interested in Japanese fashion?