If you are looking for a nuanced, sartorial guide to Japanese fashion, this is the wrong place. I’m writing this in my strawberry pyjamas. Beside me is the entirety of my shoe collection: four flip-flops; two ballet flats; a pair of black heels; and one in gold I was cajoled into buying, only to realize that it was engineered for stilt walkers.
Though my idea of haute couture is adding a scarf to any outfit, I’m a keen observer of fashion. I view fashionistas perhaps how aliens view humans. Who are these creatures, and what are these costumes they wear?
For me, Japanese women are right at the top of this complex, Fashion-on-Point pyramid. I’m entirely convinced that the Japanese have devised an intelligent lavatory system that curls your hair, picks out your clothes, and projects a manga while you take a leak. After all, they did invent the talking loo.
Here are three fashion choices you won’t likely see in Japan:
Flip-flops are a flop.
On my very first day in Tokyo, I settled into my seat in a crowded subway compartment. Most of my co-passengers kept their eyes fixated on their crystal-embellished smartphones.
Then I noticed a sudden shift in gaze towards me, or, more specifically, my coral flip flops. I had assumed it was a look of appreciation — I’d painted my nails and restored them to a fairly decent state. But when the stares didn’t turn into compliments, I realised something was up. I looked around only to find that no one else was batting for Team Liberate-Your-Toes. It wasn’t just flip-flops that were left out in the cold — even embellished, accessorised thong sandals were striking in their absence.
In my entire time in Japan, I saw one woman in open-toed sandals. She also had her foot in an ankle bandage. I began to understand the significance of all this when I found flip-flops in the bathroom accessories section of a Tokyo store. Go figure!
Yes to legs, no to cleavage.
Japanese women have the natural ability to carry off clothes that you’d find in the toddler section of a store and still make them seem straight out of a fashion magazine.
I did give Japanese fashion a try, but the lace collar, pleated skirt, and frilly top made me look like a Swiss maid en route to milk a cow. Interestingly, while Japanese women are rather daring in their choices of bottom wear – hot pants, mini skirts, and sheer stockings –they seem to steer clear of plunging necklines and deep-cut blouses. Instead, tops are usually oversized, full-sleeved, and many-layered.
The why? There is an unsaid modesty rule regarding above-the-waist garments. While you won’t be branded with the scarlet letter for showing some décolletage, get ready for polite side-eye.
Where are all the sunglasses?
Anna Wintour would be mighty pissed. Sunglasses and piña coladas are what dream travel Instagrams are made of. But the Japanese don’t do sunglasses. The few times I did spot them, they were worn indoors by young women at karaoke bars.
In Japan, sunglasses are accessories, not necessities. I’m certain that a poor old Japanese lady thought I was going to mug her. So if you choose to be shaded, remember, you could be perceived as shady. Thankfully, Japanese don’t arrest you for bad puns.