On a brisk weekend morning in Japan (most likely Harajuku, Tokyo’s busiest district), a young woman is getting ready to head out. She places a “decora” style powder pink clip across her bangs. The clip is adorned with a plastic ribbon, and is one of at least 10-15 other accessories in her hair. She pulls up her multi-coloured stockings, fluffs out her polka dotted skirt and adjusts her pigtails before walking out the door. Just down the street, a rockabilly couple gears up in thick leather jackets and generously gelled hair. Street style is in full force. In this post, we’re chronicling 10 of Japan’s most fascinating subcultures and the fashions they use to express themselves.
Ganguro – It’s important to note the constant evolution of Japanese street style subcultures. At their peak, certain styles might have been everywhere. Over time they fade away and are replaced with new trends. Such is the case with the ganguro style. While ganguro can still be found on the streets of Japan, it is very rare to see it in its once iconic form. Ganguro style is characterised by a heavy artificial tan, bleach-blonde locks, and dramatic use of white eyeshadow. Ganguro style for women is often compared to the “guidette” style of the United States. In Japan, many citizens are moving away from the kitsch of ganguro, although the style can still be found on hostesses at specialty cafés.
Gyaruo – If we’re going to mention ganguro, we have to mention gyaruo! Gyaruo is ganguro’s male counterpart. The “Guido” of Japan, these guys are famous for their teased hair, spiky bangs, and tight jeans.
Sweet Lolita – The Lolita style of dress is one of the most notable and iconic fashion subcultures in Japan. “Lolita” in Japan refers to promiscuous pre-teens, and the innocence and playfulness of this idea heavily play into the Lolita style of dress. Lolita dress is intricate, layered, and delicate. And it can get expensive too! These Victorian inspired getups can cost hundreds of pounds. For now, it doesn’t look like Lolita style is going anywhere. However, there is not just one kind of Lolita! While the Sweet Lolita is usually worn in white or pastel shades, another kind of Lolita is just as popular.
Punk/Goth Lolita – This style is almost the same as the traditional Lolita, but with a twist. The combination of a moody, gothic edge and the traditional frill of Lolita dress marks this subculture uniquely. Punk and Goth Lolitas edit the traditional style to fit their personality and interests, collecting from several brands to compose a full look. Goth Lolitas can often be found strolling the streets of Harajuku with black umbrellas in hand.
Wa Lolita – Another Lolita is the Wa Lolita style. The Wa Lolita subculture is interesting in the sense that it is unique and true to Japan. Traditional Japanese clothing and accessories are combined with Lolita wear to portray a classic look with the famous silhouette one can only get with Lolita dress. This is done by layering kimonos over petticoats and often incorporating symbols like the kanzashi flower into the outfits.
Fairy Kei – The Fairy Kei subculture praises all things pastel. Especially if it comes from the 80s. Fairy Kei clothes are the cutest blasts from the past. You can find characters like My Little Ponies, Strawberry Shortcake, and Care Bears plastered on baby pink sweaters. Wigs and dyes are often used to add a pastel flair to one’s hair.
Visual Kei – One of Japan’s edgiest and most rebellious subcultures is that of visual kei. This style began when Japanese metal bands were on the rise in the mid-80s, taking inspiration from the bands’ outfits and lyrics. The term “visual kei” actually comes from famous metal band X Japan’s “visual shock” slogan, and began to catch on in the early 90s. Visual Kei is still widely popular today, especially with the resurgence of underground music in the early 2000s. Spiky hair, studded leather, and stark contrasts of colour are just a few of visual kei’s most remarkable features.
Kireime Kei – Kireime Kei is very much the opposite of most of the subcultures we’ve discussed today! Kireime Kei praises simplicity and minimalism. This style is mostly worn by men and is composed of preppy and conservative looks. While kireime kei isn’t about standing out, it isn’t drab in the slightest. These guys are tailored to a T and approachable as can be.
Rockabilly – Rockabilly dress is a unique and exciting subculture in Japan. Taking inspiration straight from 1950’s American rebels, Rockabilly dressers aspire to depict the perfect image of a greaser. Every Sunday, these leather-clad cosplayers gather at locations like Yoyogi Park and dance, ride motorcycles, and even reenact scenes from Grease!
Decora – Rounding out our list is one of Japan’s sweetest and most kawaii subcultures: decora. The name of the style says it all: decoration. Fans of decora style relentlessly shop for the cutest clips, pins, hats, and bows because that’s what it’s all about! Decora style has a simple and colourful base, normally a fluffy skirt and a ruffled blouse or even a pastel t-shirt. Then, accessories are piled on so vigorously they compose most of the outfit!