Sunday, July 19, 2009

Japan: Fashion

Japan is known for its street fashion, so I was curious what kinds of outfits I would come across as I walked around the cities. I was based in Kobe, which I don't believe is really a "trendsetting" city, though I did see a few ganguro girls at a mall by the harbor--that's the subculture that dresses like a cartoon version of American valley girls, with bleached hair, deep suntans, miniskirts and platform flip-flops. And of course there are the "Engrish" T-shirts I mentioned a few posts back, though those are so common that they don't really belong to any one subculture.

Outré fashions like the "Lolita" trend attract a lot of attention in the media, but I can't say I ran across much of that myself. Actually, instead of seeing lots of Lolita girls, I saw a surprising number of women in traditional yukata, or cotton summer kimonos. This is pretty amazing, considering that yukata can get very constricting and uncomfortable during the hot, humid Japanese summers. I went into a department store and had a saleslady dress me up in a yukata while my friend Lexi took photos, but unfortunately she hasn't sent them to me yet...

As for "ordinary" Japanese fashion, very little of it would attract strange looks if worn in America, but taken in the aggregate, it shows some distinct differences from American fashions. Necklines tend to be higher than they are in America, and layering is very popular: if a Japanese girl is wearing a cute strappy sundress, she'll usually have a white T-shirt underneath it. Lexi told me that the layering trend occurs for several reasons:
  • modesty
  • suntans are not fashionable (except among the ganguro subculture)
  • the Japanese believe that covering up in hot weather will keep you cooler than exposing your skin to the sun
  • the weather is so hot and humid that you want to wear two shirts: the one next to your skin will absorb the sweat, and the one on top will stay clean and pretty
  • the Japanese are self-conscious about being slender and small-boned, and think they should wear baggy clothing to compensate for it
Layering can create some very cute outfits, but at the same time, I thought that most of those outfits would be a lot more practical in San Francisco (where it's windy and foggy and layering is a necessity) than at the height of a sticky Japanese summer! So I definitely drew inspiration from the girls I saw in Japan, but I mostly waited to act on that inspiration till I got back to a place where the climate is more temperate.

In Japan I became completely converted to one trend, though: carrying a parasol.

(Ralph Lauren makes parasols to sell in Japanese department stores, which I found so funny that I had to take a photo.)

Seriously, why did we Westerners ever abandon the use of parasols? They're pretty, they're no more hassle than carrying an umbrella, and in terms of sun protection, I prefer them to gloopy-greasy sunblock. I bought a parasol for 200 yen ($20) on my first day in Japan and didn't get sunburned once, even on the days when I was outdoors for hours. While I can pretty much guarantee that without the parasol, I would have gotten burned.

The only downside to the parasol, I guess, is that if you're a white girl, in an East Asian country, carrying a dainty accessory that was last in style circa 1920, it is very easy to fear that you look like a colonialist or an imperialist. Here I am walking through rice fields with my new parasol:

It made me feel like Naomi Watts in The Painted Veil.

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