Japan began to emulate Western fashion during the middle of the 19th century. By the beginning of the 21st century it had altered into what is known today as ‘street fashion’, a term used to describe fashion in which the wearer customizes outfits by adopting a mixture of current and traditional trends. Such clothes are generally home-made with the use of material purchased at stores.
At present there are many styles of dress in Japan, created from a mix of both local and foreign labels. Some of these styles are extreme and avant-garde, similar to the haute couture seen on European catwalks. The rise and fall of many of these trends has been chronicled by Shoichi Aoki since 1997 in the fashion magazine FRUiTS, which is a notable magazine for the promotion of street fashion in Japan.
The fashion community in Japan in the 1950’s, wiped away a dark atmosphere of war. Japan’s fashion sense by global fashions which began in Paris, fashion in the 1950s was upbeat, colorful and stylish. Moreover a specific fashion style came into being when movies such as «The Holiday in Rome» captured Audrey Hepburns fashion statement and became extremely popular. While high economic growth progress, attention to the fashion industry also grew. The music world also came to life in the 1960s with the rock’n’roll age. The Beatles visited Japan in 1966. The MOZZU emerged after the Beatles came to Japan and the combination of music and men’s fashion shocked the Japanese culture.
The fashion which symbolizes soul nature called for freedom and dissidence (by wearing bellbottom jeans and hippy shirts) and continue from the 60s into the first half of the 70s. Then, the view on the fashion of the young man began to change as the trend of the times changed a lot. The student movement wore jeans from the second half of the 60s and this hippy fashion statement spread around the world.
The Jeans symbolized freedom, resistance, and were a dissident symbol of fashion for a young-man. This was especially true in Japan. Jeans became a part of the workingman’s culture during the first half of the 70s. Young men began to wear jeans as outdoor sport fashions on an everyday basis in the mid-70s. The fashion of the 1980s from which the buff bubble economy began is the time when fashion brands, such as a designer/character brand, and brand-name goods attracted attention. Then in the late 80s, bubble business would gather in popularity. As you can see, Japanese fashion has been always influenced by western cultures and history. However, In the early to mid 90’s things were beginning to change in Japan. Young people started to seek more originality and unique style.
Aoki Shoichi is a well known photographer of Tokyo street fashion for his magazine «FRUITS». Aoki’s magazine «FRUITS» has sold more than 100.000 copies worldwide. He has been taking pictures and documenting young street fashion around Harajuku town in Tokyo which is well known as the shopping district since 2009. Since he started documenting the Harajuku trends Aoki has seen quite a few changes. «They are much freer in expressing themselves and can think for themselves. They even decide their own hairstyles now. In the mid 90’s it was truly revolutionary when people started to dye their hair and choose their own color. You eventually saw all kinds of colors: green, red, anything» («Street», par50.).
Q: So why are young Japanese so serious about fashion?
A: In Japan today we still have the authoritarian, socialistic style, working man mentality and the guiding principle of this seems to be «The nail that sticks out will be hammered down.» People who display too much individuality or assert themselves too forcefully are disliked. In other words, we have a society that considers it best to fall in line with the average. This feeling remains strong, so even though many people may not find that way of doing things interesting, most Japanese end up conforming to these expectations anyhow. Consequently, there are now many Japanese youngsters who think themselves that when they become adults they will have nothing more to look forward to than the uninteresting, boring life of a salaried employee. They abhor this kind of society and want to enjoy themselves to the fullest while they are young. They look to fashion as a way to express their obsession for self-expression and individuality. I believe that is why they are so ardent about fashion.
Perhaps my way of explaining things is a bit too cynical. But it is against the backdrop of these conditions that when magazines or other mass media outlets introduce DJs, designers, stylists, graphic designers, beauticians, and other professionals as people who are engaged in creative jobs, enjoying a life of freedom doing what they want to do, and making good money; these people are transformed into fashion leaders. They are said to have «charisma,» and young people want to emulate their styles, what they recommend, and so on. That is very evident in the «street scene.» These individuals who exude «charisma» have been under the influence of various cultural and fashion trends abroad. The «street fashion youngsters» in turn really go for the T-shirts or whatever that such fashion leaders create or recommend. As evidence, the Japanese young fashion magazine «SEDA» shows what those with «charisma» wear as fashion. Now we have reached an age in which these charismatic fashion leaders are not only introducing trends from abroad but also beginning to diffuse Tokyo-generated fashion worldwide.
Aoki also accentuated the meaning of clothes for young Japanese. Unlike in the West, clothes are not a social statement in Japan according to Aoki, «instead of expressing yourself, it is a way of communicating with the members of your group. A message without words. You show your feeling, your awareness of fashion. It has no social context whatsoever. They don’t care at all about how other people in society or how other groups see them» As a consequence, there are many types of fashion style groups in Japan such as Hrajuku girls (the name of town in which young people hang out.) and Shibuya girls (also the name of town in which young people hang out.). Aoki said «Harajuku girls would never become friends with Shibuya girls. It is a different universe.» («Street» par58.).
In Japan I was fascinated by fashion because everyone was also crazy about fashion. I always looked for clothes that everyone others did have it so I cold feel different. Tokyo is a city where everyone seems particularly good at catching news about the latest fashion trends, and young people in particular are ardent in their desire to be in the know. So it quickly becomes known what is hot and what is not. There is always something new come up. Last year, «there were over 1,000 new drinks launched by distributors and marketers on this tiny island. There are more magazines titles per capita in Japan then anywhere in the world» (Jay 58).
A lot of young people know that they have to change their fashion when they start to work in the real world. So that’s why they are so ardent about fashion. I believe that if you go to Japan, you will care more about fashion because everyone will care about your fashion.