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Ultimate Guide to Fashion in Japan

By Lauren Woody & Hei Kin Wong | January 31st, 2022 

Fashion in Japan has changed tremendously in the past several years, and continues to evolve. Whether you’ve been living in Japan for many years, or just a few years, it can be difficult to keep up with and follow trends, unwritten rules, and fashion expectations in Japan — especially because they can be quite different From what you grew up with or are used to. This ultimate guide will help you look and feel stylish as you walk the streets of Tokyo and Japan, all while knowing the expectations of fashion in Japan -- but you don’t always need to follow them!

This article is a part of our extensive series on living in Japan and  Online Japanese Lessons at Japan Switch.

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    Types of Fashion in Japan

    Office/Work Fashion in Japan

    What should you wear to an interview? 

    Interviews are always extremely nerve-racking. If you’re finding a job in a new country, this interview stage may be even more nerve wracking because of the uncertainty of the expectations and flow. Interviews in Japan may be frightening, but here are a few tips so that you look perfect for your interview.

    It’s expected that you wear professional attire to your interview. Of course, if you are interviewing at an office, you should wear your best suit. But, if you’re interviewing somewhere more casual, should you also wear a suit? It’s hard to overdress for an interview in Japan, but if you think that a suit would be too formal for your intended workplace, make sure to put on a nice shirt and khakis at the least. Making a good first impression could be the difference in receiving a job offer! 

    What should you wear to the office?

    What you should wear to the office will likely be expressed to you by your employer. However, here are some basic office and work attire expectations in Japan. 

    For Women

    Women are expected to wear black, charcoal grey, or navy suits. Pant suits or skirt suits are acceptable, while skirts are recommended to be around knee length. Blouses should be pale colors as bright clothing pieces are not work appropriate in Japan. In regards to shoes, opt for closed toe shoes as sandals or open toed shoes are too casual. 

    Although a good suit will cost around 20,000yen (190USD) to 40,000yen (380USD), you will be able to find an office acceptable blazer and matching pants or skirt at UNIQLO for around 12,000yen (100USD). 

    Remember that, despite what you may have seen on TV, extravagant accessories and bright clothing pieces are not work appropriate in Japan. Keep things simple and clean!

    For Men

    Men are expected to wear black and dark blue suits to the office, but other dark colors or patterns are acceptable as well. The quality and fit of your suit is just as important as the color, so make sure to invest in a few good suits — at least to make a good first impression. White or blue button down’s are definitely the most common for the office, and ties should be worn. Try to avoid wearing black ties with a black suit to the office as this is what one would wear to a funeral. Opt for colored and patterned neckties! 

    A good quality suit will cost you at least 30,000 yen (275USD). However, you will be able to find an acceptable matching blazer and pants set at UNIQLO for around 10,000 yen (90USD). The most important thing is to make sure that the suit fits well and is clean. 

    You can also find affordable stores that are specific to office attire. Yofuku no Aoyama (洋服の青山)and Suits no Aoki (スーツの青木) are some of the most popular office attire shops. You will be able to find a matching blazer and bottoms set from around 30,000 yen (275USD), as well as great blouses or polo shirts that are also office friendly.

    Fashion Designers in Japan

    What should you wear to work (Cafes, Convenience Stores, etc.)?

    If you work at a restaurant, cafe, or convenience store, you will either receive a full uniform. Alternatively, you will be given a specific list of work appropriate clothing and an apron to wear on top. 

    These lists will usually tell workers to wear white button downs or neutral colored shirts, with plain, long, neutral colored pants. You should avoid wearing bright colors and patterns. This will be expressed to you before you start your new job. 

    Another thing you should keep in mind is how you do your hair and makeup. Jobs in the food industry will definitely require your hair to be out of your face and tied back if your hair falls below your shoulders. Makeup should also be kept simple and calm. One thing to keep in mind is that brightly dyed hair colors and elaborate makeup looks are not very common in Japan and are not desired by employers. Although the stigma around tattoos has started to decrease in recent years in Japan, it still exists. Therefore, you're likely to be asked to cover them while you're working. 

    All in all, make sure to follow the expectations your workplace expresses to you. And if you ever get confused, just take a look at what your co-workers are wearing to get a better idea!

    What is Cool Biz Fashion?

    Summers in Japan get extremely hot and humid, and going to the office in a suit and tie is not very appealing. Hopping on to a train and walking to your office will unfortunately have you dripping in sweat by the time you get to work. The cool-biz initiative was an idea the Japanese government had to decrease electricity usage during these hot summers, where families and offices would blast air-conditioning to keep cool. 

    So, how does this play into office fashion? The cool-biz dress code is followed by the majority of Japanese companies and workers during the hot summers. Instead of a heavy suit, men can opt for short-sleeve dress shirts and chinos. For women, the change might be less noticeable, but switching to a short-sleeve dress shirt and leaving your business jacket at home will definitely help you battle the summer heat. 

    If your company is very relaxed when it comes to business attire during the summer, they may even allow polo shirts or Hawaiian aloha shirts in the office. 

    What should you do if your company is not a cool-biz supporter? You may have to find other ways to combat the summer heat when going to work. A great option for this is opting for an air-ism undershirt from UNIQLO, which is something many workers in Japan wear under their suits to help cool them down, while also minimizing those dreaded sweat-stains. The flip side of this, would be wearing UNIQLO heat-tech under suits, or heat-tech sweaters over, to keep you warm during the colder season!

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    Youth Fashion in Japan

    School Fashion in Japan

    When you think of school fashion in Japan, you will probably think of school uniforms! For the most part, this is true. The majority of Japanese schools, from Elementary to High School require students to wear strict uniforms. However, what might be surprising is that some schools do not have uniforms, but a strict dress code instead. For this reason, even in schools without uniforms, students tend to pick out an outfit (resembling a “uniform”) that they wear to school every day. 

    Not only is attire strictly monitored, but a lot of the time, there are also restrictions to hair colors, hair length, and makeup looks. 

    Winter Fashion in Japan

    For International Schools in Japan

    You will find a larger mix in school attire. While some do have uniforms, rules surrounding the length of skirts, socks, and outerwear are usually more relaxed. Furthermore, things like hair color and makeup are rarely restricted, allowing students to have more freedom in expressing themselves. 

    In university, Japanese students tend to finally have the opportunity to dress how they want, finally free from uniforms and dress-codes. You’ll see students spending money on new outfits and putting effort into their daily outfits. This might be quite different to what you normally see on an American college campus with students in sweatpants and hoodies!

    Youth Fashion in Japan

    People tend to associate youth fashion in Japan with “kawaii” fashion. Bright colors, short skirts, and loud, extravagant looks. While it is true that some young Japanese people wear outfits like these, the majority of Japanese youth do not. Walking around youth hot spots in Tokyo like Harajuku and Shibuya, you will come by a few people wearing loud outfits, while the rest will be dressed quite conservatively.

    Street Style Fashion in Japan 

    Street fashion in Japan has been around for quite some time now; especially in Tokyo. Although introduced to Tokyo in the 1970’s, street fashion has evolved since then, but continues to be popular among the youth in Tokyo. Taking inspiration from styles and brands overseas, and combining those ideas with local fashion brands, popular styles, and individual preferences, street fashion in Japan doesn’t fit into one clear explanation. Of course, the looser fitting, baggy pieces of clothing is very popular in street fashion all over the world; and Japan is no different. You’ll see sagging jeans, big oversized hoodies, bright colors, and big, graphic designs. But you’ll also see more structured oversized pieces as well, like button downs and blazers.

    Women designing fashion in Japan

    A popular street style brand in Japan is “A Bathing Ape” (also known as BAPE), which is now popular all over the world in street fashion. You’ll be able to visit BAPE stores in Shibuya, Harajuku, Ginza, and other street style hot spots in Tokyo. Street style brands like BAPE can be very expensive though — but street style is all about individualism and not focusing directly on fashion trends, so finding pieces that fit your own “street style” is the way to go if you’re looking to dress affordably.

    Cosplay Fashion in Japan 

    Japanese cosplay culture is all about dressing in costumes. A combination of “costume” and “play”, where people perform as a character. Especially with the great popularity of animated characters, this is definitely the driving force of cosplay culture. Embodying a fictional character lets cosplayers escape to their favorite character’s world! 

    While you won’t see cosplay fashion on all streets in Tokyo, if you visit the streets of Shibuya or Harajuku, you’ll probably see one or two cosplayers, especially at night. There are also several cosplay events and conventions where cosplayers come together to show off their costumes and participate in some contests. 

    If you’re interested in getting involved with cosplay fashion in Japan, the first step would be to create a costume that you love. Once you have your outfit, the streets of Tokyo is your runway. If you want to take it a step further and attend some events or meet other cosplayers, the World Cosplay Summit, AnimeJapan, Comiket, or Super Comic City are great events you might be able to partake in. Of course, Halloween in places like Shibuya will no doubt be a blast if you show up in your cosplay outfit.

    If you are going into cosplay fashion in Japan, it best to do it with a few friends, especially Japanese ones. See our Guide to Japanese Friends to see our tips to make some great friends in Japan.

    Traditional Fashion in Japan 

    When thinking about traditional fashion in Japan, there is no doubt you will think of kimonos. While you will not see people wearing kimonos and yukatas on a daily basis, there are still occasions where Japanese people will wear a traditional outfit. 

    Special occasions often call for a traditional kimono or yukata to be worn. Japanese wedding ceremonies will often have brides in shiromuku (a white, silk kimono) and grooms in a black kimono, although white wedding dresses and suits are just as common today. Funerals will sometimes have family members wearing mofuku, which is an all black kimono with five family crest prints on it. The celebration, shichi-go-san, of the growth of young children ages 7, 5, and 3, also has children of these ages dress up in a special kimono for girls, and a haori jacket with hakama trousers for boys. The coming of age ceremony, seijinshiki, when one turns 20, also has youth dress in kimonos for women, and a hakama and haori or suit for men. 

    Other than for celebrations, you will rarely see Japanese people dress in kimonos as they are often expensive and require a professional to put on. The yukata is very simple to wear, and is as easy as wrapping it around your body. With it being very affordable, starting as low as 3000 yen (30USD), these are more common to see, and almost every Japanese person probably has at least one in their closet. You’ll see yukata mostly worn during the summer season, especially during Japanese festivals (matsuri) and firework festivals (hanabi-taikai) where many groups of friends, or couples, will be dressed in yukata.

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    What Does the Typical Japanese Person Wear?

    Despite the types of fashion in Japan, the typical Japanese person outside of work or school will not opt for street style, cosplay fashion, or traditional outfits. On a day to day basis, Japanese people tend to dress comfortably and modestly.

    Men tend to wear t-shirts and jeans on a daily basis, with not much variety. Maybe a patterned button down and khakis or shorts enter the mix once in a while, but the typical Japanese man will wear very simple and basic pieces. 

    Women tend to wear simple outfits as well. Whether t-shirts and jeans, or a nicer top and pants, it’s uncommon to see women wearing tank-tops and shorts or mini skirts. If anything, tank-tops are paired with a shirt underneath, and shorts and mini skirts are paired with tights. Midi and maxi skirts are definitely more common, and tank-tops with thick straps or tops with sleeves are definitely the go-to’s for most Japanese women. 

    What Japanese Do Not Wear

    You will rarely see the typical Japanese person wearing bright, flashy clothing pieces, and most people tend to dress simple. Of course you will always have exceptions to this, and there are many people who dress in the other types of fashion in Japan as mentioned above, but on a day to day basis, the typical Japanese person will dress as explained above.

    What might be interesting is that despite dressing conservatively, Japanese people do lack English skills, but will wear shirts with English written on them as they find Western culture to be cool and often want to fit in. Try not to giggle when you see an awkward phrase or an unusual word on someone’s shirt.

    To learn more about Japanese culture and their clothes, check out our Guide to Japanese Customs and Guide to Japanese Yukata vs Kimono so you won't embarrass yourself when dressing up for your next festivals!

    Fashion Rules in Japan

    Some basic rules for fashion in Japan might be interesting to keep in mind, but on a daily basis, it’s definitely not too important to follow, but might be the reason you’re getting some looks. Just make sure to take these “rules” into consideration when going to important events, like meeting your Japanese partner’s parents or going out with your Japanese boss and co-workers for the first time. Japan is quite a traditional and conservative country, and in the city centers like Shibuya and Shinjuku, you’ll find more people who do not care about these unwritten rules. 

    Bright hair colors, visible tattoos, and lots of piercings are still very taboo in Japan. Although tattoos are becoming more and more common in Japan, some places like pools and onsens may still have restrictions on allowing people with tattoos to enter (sometimes they just have to be covered) as tattoos have been associated with the Japanese mafia (yakuza). Bright hair and piercings are just out of the ordinary, and because of the group mentality in Japan where people tend to fit the “mold” and try not to stick out, amongst Japanese people, these features are often avoided and are surprising to see. 

    Something You Want to Avoid in Japan

    Exposing shoulders are also avoided in Japan. Japanese women will rarely wear tank-tops without a shirt underneath, or at the very least, a cardigan or shawl to cover up. While a rule for fashion in Japan, it is definitely becoming more and more common to see tank-tops, especially amongst the youth during the hot summer. However, as showing shoulders is already surprising to see, you can imagine the looks one would get for wearing a cropped tank-top. While you will see many internationals and foreign youth wearing smaller tops, you will rarely see Japanese people do so. Although, the eyes and dirty looks shouldn’t stop you from wearing what you want! 

    Lastly, what you will almost never see is sportswear being worn outside of the gym. It is a kind of rule to avoid wearing sportswear outside, which might be very different to what you are used to. You will never see a Japanese person wearing leggings, sweatpants, or sports tank-tops/sports bras outside, unless they are on a jog, exercising outdoors, or maybe stopping by the convenience store for some breakfast. 

    Unfortunately, some Japanese people are not used to seeing people breaking these rules, but that does not mean that you have to change what you wear and how you dress to fit these expectations.

    Fashion Districts in Japan

    Tokyo is the epicenter of fashion in Japan, but within Tokyo, there are several fashion “districts” with distinct fashion trends. Let’s break some of these down! 

    Shibuya 

    Shibuya is often known as the epicenter of fashion in Tokyo. It’s a mixing pot of all kinds of trends and fashion statements from not only Japan but all over the world. You’ll not only notice office fashion, youth fashion, street style, and cosplay fashion, but also your typical person wearing jeans and a t-shirt. With all kinds of people and fashion in Shibuya, you’ll find a combination of all types of brands and shops, from higher end stores and street brands, to more affordable stores like UNIQLO. There’s something in Shibuya for everyone. 

    Harajuku 

    Harajuku is often thought of to be the start of street fashion and youth trends in Japan, but is now known for its kawaii (cute) fashion. Expect frills, pink, and big skirts. Takeshita street is the most famous street in Harajuku, with a crowded 400 meters of clothing stores, cafes, and games to play. Known for being kawaii, the shops on this street sell cute clothing, as well as cute food to match the atmosphere. It’s a bright and lively area for anyone looking for some fun.

    Omotesando

    Walk one train stop from Harajuku station, and you’ll be in Omotesando which has a completely different fashion atmosphere. While Harajuku is full of color and is very lively, Omotesando is more sophisticated with more expensive brands and many workers and adults in suits or dressed nicely. With how close it is to Harajuku, you’ll definitely see a lot of crossover between people walking to and from Harajuku and Omotesando, yet, the atmosphere between the two places, and the fashion trends are very different. Despite that, a shopping trip to Harajuku and Omotesando is definitely a fun time with there being options for both kawaii and sophisticated fashion.

    Street Fashion in Tokyo

    Shimokitazawa

    Shimokitazawa has become more popular in the past few years. Filled with thrift shops at every corner, this area is very hipster and you’ll see many young Japanese people walking around in thrifted, oversized, and patterned clothing. You’ll find a combination of large thrift shops with cheap second hand options, and smaller thrift shops with hand-picked, high quality, vintage pieces that can be quite expensive. Regardless, Shimokitazawa is a fun place to go shopping, with endless stores and clothing pieces to browse through.

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    Ginza 

    If you’re looking for luxury shopping, Ginza is the place to go. Ginza streets are filled with brand stores like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, but you will also find affordable shops like UNIQLO and GU. You won’t see many children or Japanese youth in this area, as it is a very sophisticated area aimed for adults. You will likely see many office workers in suits, and the general person shopping in Ginza will look very put together in nice outfits as well.

    Shinjuku 

    Shinjuku is another hotspot for fashion lovers, and is similar to Shibuya in the sense that there are shops for any fashion style preference and budget. There is something for everyone — especially with their larger department stores, as well as shops lining the streets. Compared to Ginza, while there are luxury options, there is definitely more variety in the types of stores and fashion worn among the youth and adults. 

    Fashion in Japan on a Budget

    Fashion in Japan can be expensive! If you’re looking for fashion basics, or fashionable but wallet friendly pieces to add to your wardrobe, it’s good to know where to shop and when to expect sales.

    5 Budget-Friendly Brands in Japan

     

    1. UNIQLO

    Uniqlo is popular around the world and you may already have their pieces in your closet. Their items are affordable, good quality, and are great basics to have, making them last for at least several years in your wardrobe. Their air-ism collection in the summer seasons will help you combat the summer heat, while their heat-tech pieces will keep you warm during the colder seasons. Not to mention, you will be able to find anything from room-wear to office ready suits! 

    2. GU

    GU is another Japanese staple brand, holding all of your basics for cheap prices. Their items are quite similar to UNIQLO! 

    3. WEGO 

    WEGO has definitely grown in popularity recently, with affordable but trendy pieces. It is also targeted towards younger generations, and has pieces that follow the current youth trends. Some stores even have a second-hand section. They are filled with hand dyed sweatshirts and graphic tees that are both affordable and trendy.

    4. H&M

    H&M stores are all around Tokyo, with stores in Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Harajuku. If you’re looking for items trending around the world, and for pieces to spice up your basics from UNIQLO and GU, H&M is definitely a great, affordable option. 

    5. Honeys

    Targeted towards Japanese women, Honeys doesn’t sell your basic items, but rather items with character and that follow Japanese fashion trends. As the items are for Japanese women, you will find subtle colors, and more reserved/conservative designs. Regardless, these pieces are affordable and stylish, and many Japanese women love shopping here!

    When are Sale Periods in Japan?

    Who doesn’t love a good sale. Knowing when shops have sales is a great way to help save money, and buy clothing items when prices are at their lowest! 

    The biggest sale periods are in January and July. These months are when stores have winter and summer sales. End of season sales usually come in three parts, the “bargain sale”, “more sale”, and “final sale”. Essentially, the end of season sale starts relatively small during the “bargain sale”, where some items start going on sale. This is quickly followed by the “more sale” where more items go on sale, and unsold items from the “bargain sale” are discounted even more. Then lastly, to end the fashion season, a “final sale” will put most items from the finishing season on sale, and this will be the third stage in selling these items, so you will often find the most discounted items at this time. 

    The final sale for the summer season is from mid July to the beginning of August. For the winter season sale, all three parts of the sale occur during January, with some stores having “pre-sales” in December during the holiday season, and often the final sale continues to the beginning of February. 

    Many stores will also have a Golden Week spring sale in the first week of May. However, these sales often only last for the week. So make sure to grab the chance during Golden Week to get some discounted items.

    Speaking of Golden Week, why not show off your newest clothing while enjoying the long holiday in Tokyo? Visit our Guide to Life in Tokyo to see all the find places and activities in Tokyo!

    Outlet Malls

    In Japan, it is uncommon to find big shopping malls. Instead, you will typically find streets filled with shops like in Shibuya and Harajuku, or tall department buildings with many stores. If you’re looking for cheap clothing and the shopping-mall-feel, outlet malls are the perfect place to visit! 

    Outlet malls are filled with outlet shops and so have discounted items and bargains. These malls are popular in Japan because of the vast amount of brands selling overstocked items at a lower price — and all in one place! However, they are not in the city, but usually areas with more space to allow for the large shopping mall. Most outlet malls are not in Tokyo, but there are some that are close enough to be a day trip! 

    Some of the most popular outlet malls near Tokyo are:

    Mitsui Outlet Park

    Mitsui Outlet Park Kisarazu and Mitsui Outlet Park Yokohama Bayside are the closest to Tokyo. Furthermore, they also have food courts to rest at as you walk around the huge malls.

    Grandberry Park

    Grandberry park is one of the biggest outlet malls in Tokyo, and is full of great stores and restaurants. It is also right next to Tsuruma Park, the perfect location for picnics and for kids as there is a great playground.

    Gotemba Premium Outlets

    Gotemba Premium Outlets is definitely the furthest from Tokyo compared to the previous options. However, with an amazing view of Mt Fuji, and just a 90 minute bus ride from Tokyo Station, you’ll be able to visit the over 200 shops spread around this outlet mall. It’s definitely Japan’s most popular outlet mall, and is perfect if you’re looking to buy affordable pieces for your wardrobe. With the number of shops, there’s something here for everyone!

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    Fashion Schools in Japan

    Want to learn more about fashion? Japan is famous for having many vocational schools, including some for fashion. The most famous vocational fashion is the Bunka Fashion College. The typical fashion school annual tuition is from 800,000 yen to 1.5 million yen.

    Bunka Fashion College was the first fashion college in Japan, and is in Shinjuku. providing access to information on the latest fashion trends around the world. You can learn about garment creation, planning and production, business and distribution, as well as accessories and textiles. Bunka Fashion College offers a Masters level course in Fashion Studies aimed at foreign students and taught completely in English. 

    Raining Fashion in Tokyo

    Fashion Events in Japan

    As all other fashion cities and hotspots, Tokyo has a fashion week dedicated to designers, brands or "houses" displaying their latest collections, and being in Tokyo, many Japanese designers take part in this event. Known as Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo, this event takes place twice a year, in March and October. Compared to other fashion weeks around the world, Fashion Week Tokyo is usually composed of smaller brands and labels, while some big labels also take part. It’s a great way to learn more about fashion and trends, while enjoying fashion in Japan.

    Tokyo fashion week does offer some opportunities to attend, but some events are invitation only. You can also watch all fashion week videos on their YouTube channel. If you’re interested in attending, or working in these fashion weeks, then you can get more information at the official Fashion Week Tokyo website.

    Another big fashion event in Tokyo is Fashion World Tokyo, which is Japan's largest fashion trade show. At this event, exhibitors trade ideas and products in hopes of working together on projects, or finding distributors or wholesalers. This is a great event to register for if you are looking to start or expand a fashion business!

    Donating and Selling Clothes in Japan

    If you’re looking to get rid of pieces in your closet that are too old or that you just find yourself never reaching for, recycling, donating, or selling these pieces are great options! If the piece is in very good condition and trendy, you might want to consider selling the item. A great option to make some money off of old or unneeded items is to bring them to a secondhand store, or even a BookOff, where an employee will look at each item and give you some money for the items depending on quality, popularity and other factors. 

    If you want to donate or recycle clothing, an easy way to do this is to bring a bag of clothing to your nearest UNIQLO or H&M store, where they will accept old clothing of any brand. UNIQLO takes old but wearable clothing, as the items are donated to people in need worldwide. Items not donated by UNIQLO are recycled into new clothing or to create alternative fuel to reduce CO2 emissions. H&M takes clothing in any condition, as the clothing is recycled into textiles. 

    All of these options are very easy and accessible, so make sure to take advantage of them!

    Conclusion

    Fashion in Japan is fun and exciting, but it can be stressful when you don’t know what the expectations are. Of course, following these Japanese fashion expectations and tips are never a must, but it’s an easy way to fit in more as you navigate everyday life in Japan.

    Fashion is closely tied to seasons, and what better way to show off your new clothes than to head out and experience Japan at different seasons? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Summer in Japan and our Guide to Seasons in Japan to see all the fun places you can go to in Japan!

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