All About Japanese Fashion and Clothing

April 30, 2021  - by 
A Japanese woman wearing traditional Japanese fashion.

From the traditional kimono to Tokyo street style, Japanese fashion has a long history of unique and beautiful clothing. How has fashion changed in Japan? And what do Japanese people typically wear?

Traditional Japanese Clothing—Wafuku

Traditional Japanese clothing, or wafuku, often consists of intricate robes called kimonos worn with a sash called an obi and sandals, either zōri or geta. Can you picture elegant kimonos? Try using Picture My Heritage to see how you would look in traditional Japanese styles. 

There’s more to traditional Japanese fashion. Variations serve different needs, but most traditional clothing is based around kimonos.

a woman in a japanese kimono walks down a street.

Kimono

A kimono is a multi-layered dress that fold across the front of the body like robes. It is typically floor- or ankle-length and has wide sleeves. Different styles vary in layers, materials, accessories, and more.

The kimono is the most famous and widespread traditional clothing in Japan. It rose to prominence in the Heian period (AD 794–1193) and has survived as the main dress for both men and women ever since—a whopping 1,000 years. Kimono were so accepted as the main form of fashion that the name, kimono, literally means “thing to wear.”

a young boy in traditional japanese fashion.

With its elegance and versatility, it’s no wonder the kimono has survived so long. Today, the kimono is still known as the national dress of Japan. They can reflect symbolism that indicates social class, history, and heritage.

What Is the Difference between Kimono and Yukata?

A yukata is a casual version of the traditional kimono. Where the kimono is often made with silks and satins, the yukata is made with lightweight cotton or polyester and fewer layers. It’s easier to wear in warm weather, and it often incorporates brighter colors. Plus, it’s significantly cheaper than a kimono.

What Is a Hakama?

Where the yukata is considered casual attire in Japan, the hakama is a formal option. It’s a type of full-length skirt worn over kimonos by both men and women. The skirt is usually wide and pleated.

What Is an Obi?

An obi is a type of belt or sash worn with most traditional Japanese clothing, but particularly kimonos. It’s wrapped around the waist and tied in the back. Most modern obi are too ornate and thick to function as belts. Instead, kimonos have internal ties.

an obi on a kimono.

There are many different styles of Obi, differing in width, length, material, pattern, and style of knot. Tying an obi is such an art form that the practice was traditionally passed down by mothers and today is taught in classes.

What Are Zōri?

Zōri are a type of sandal or thong similar to the modern flip-flop. They’re typically made with cloth straps and a base of straw, wood, or leather. Tabi, toed socks, are traditionally worn with zōri. They’re now worn with both kimonos and the more popular Western clothing.

tabi socks and zori shoes

What Are Geta?

Geta are traditional Japanese sandals often made with a wooden platform and cloth straps. They differ from the similar zōri in that geta are raised on two wooden slats. Originally, geta made it easier to walk on dirt roads without tripping or getting dirty. Today, they’re often worn as an accessory for yukata.

When Do Japanese People Wear Traditional Clothing?

Over time, traditional Japanese styles became less practical, losing their appeal to the more relaxed and accessible Western fashions. Today, Japanese people don’t typically wear traditional clothing in daily life. Instead, kimono or yukata are often reserved for ceremonies or special events.

Western Clothing in Japan—Yōfuku

Western styles, called yōfuku, started creeping into Japanese fashion in the 1850s. At first, only men wore Western clothing for business. As time went on, Western clothing became more and more common in other settings. After World War II, Western fashion spread as the main attire throughout Japan.

Since then, Japan has developed a style all its own, particularly starting in the ’80s and ’90s, when a style known as “Japanese street style” popped up. 

youths in japanese street style.

Japanese Street Style

Japanese street style is known for being bold and cutting edge. While there’s no single definition of Japanese street style, there are some defining trends. Loose, overfitted clothing in muted colors is fairly typical.

Generally, it’s all about silhouettes and mixing things up—layers, vintage, designer, and more. Some common accessories include stylish sneakers and belt bags (similar to fanny packs in function, but not in appearance). 

Alternative Japanese Fashions

While mainstream fashion in Japan is fairly conservative, other, more striking styles are famous as well. These are some of the more common alternative trends:

  • Harajuku: Harajuku, named after the Harajuku district of Shibuya in Tokyo where the style originated, mixes Western clothing and traditional Japanese clothing with uniquely bright and colorful styles. It first developed as a form of rebellion against strict social norms. Bright colors, bold designs, and multiple layers are common.
  • Lolita: Childlike or doll-like features characterize Lolita fashion. The trend fits into the larger kawaii (meaning ‘cute’) culture, which is a culture centered around cuteness.
  • Kogal: Japanese school uniforms serve as the inspiration for kogal. The term is a contraction of “kōkōsei,” which means “high school student”, and “gyaru”, or “Gal”. Short skirts, jackets, loose socks, scarves, and boots make up the typical look.
a young girl in lolita japanese fashion posing next to a cat

Japanese Culture: Discover and Share

Do you have Japanese heritage? Do you have memories or experiences with these fashion trends? Try using FamilySearch Memories to discover and share memories of your heritage and connect on a personal level with your ancestry.

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Comments

  1. Interesting article. I have noticed Japan producing good fashionable dress making patterns