One of the first things I noticed upon arriving in Japan was how well everyone here is dressed.
There is a certain refined quality to Japanese street fashion, despite the fact that it is very similar to its western counterparts.
Many classic western fashion brands are available in Japan, such as H&M, Zara, Nike, Forever 21, along with higher-end brands such as Armani, Louis Vuitton and Ray Ban. Because of this, it is very easy to see why the styles are so similar, but despite these similarities I could definitely feel a noticeable difference between Japan, England and America, so it must be down to the Japanese original brands.
Of course, the Japan-original brands and fashion are still selling a western style, as the typical western dress-code has been dominant globally for a long time, but these brands seem to sell earthier tones which rings through to the basis of natural beauty in Japanese culture; embracing natural imperfections as a beautiful occurrence, founded in the deep animism of Japanese culture.
Perhaps the most famous Japanese clothing brand is UniQlo. UniQlo is very cheap, very diverse in products, and quite common. It is the IKEA of clothes. Despite the vast appeal of UniQlo, I have not been able to tell exactly when someone is wearing it, such as clothes from Primark or Target in the UK and US respectively. Perhaps the words I would use to best describe the brand are “neat” and “subtle”. Everything for sale feels very presentable, yet quite relaxed. UniQlo even offers to tailor the garments to assure that they fit, which is a step far beyond most western counterparts.
There is a sister company to UniQlo known as GU. GU is generally cheaper for the most part, and many designs are very similar. Perhaps the only downside is that I have been told that the quality is not as high. The two stores are often sat side by side, and so a comparison between the two regarding price and durability should be quite easy.
I was also recommended to try Urban Research, and it was really nice, but perhaps a little steep for a traveller’s expenses. If you plan to really just splash out on Japanese fashion, then stores such as Urban Research will be perfect for you; these places have a great balance of elegance and local style, not dissimilar to a Japanese version of American Apparel.
Another thing that changes the sense of style is the injection of traditional clothesin Japanese fashion. In many cities –especially Kyoto – you will see people wearing hyper-Japanese Yukata and Kimonos (robes) throughout the year, and they will shuffle through the street on their Geta (wooden sandals), but these clothes don’t really mix too well with western fashion, and so it is a general choice of wearing fully traditional robes, or wearing something else.
However, there are still a couple of traditional Japanese fashion clothing items that will change up the style entirely. That includes Tabi (socks with toes), Jika Tabi (boots with a toe space) and Hakama (broad-legged work trousers). Though these were once the sign of field-workers and labourers, and are still worn diligently by both, there seems to have been a fairly recent revival in their popularity, especially with Hakama, which I have often mistaken for a skirt at a long distance. They are unisex, and somehow have a strong masculine aspect in the shape and connotations of laborious jobs, yet an equally feminine sense in the flowing, skirt-like material. For women, I have noticed a stronger sense of using earthy or pastel colours, while men seem to go with blacks, blues, and browns.
From personal experience, the best option for shopping has been re-use stores. These second-hand shops are much more likely to have the correct size for things such as trousers and shoes, as other gaijin sell them as they move around the country.
Like in the west, re-use retro is very fashionable, and you will see many people wearing vintage denim, American university sweaters or letterman jackets.
The odd thing about the second-hand shops is the price range. One store may sell something for 300 yen, and the same store in another city may have it for 1,500 yen. This probably depends greatly on the general price of the city itself. This is a case where hunting around can really save you some money.
Shopping in Japan also includes very specific stores for certain fashion items. Want a hat? Go to the hat store. Want a handbag? Go to the handbag store.
On the topic of handbags, you may notice a lot of men carrying what may generally be perceived to be a handbag in the west. Even the relatively masculine guys will carry them, and it may seem a bit odd, but I imagine that they are generally quite useful. However, I think it is unlikely that this fashion will be spreading to the UK and US any time soon.