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:
- 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
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.