WIW: Japanese normcore

My recent trip to Japan inspired me to explore the relaxed silhouettes and low-key styles that emerged in the wake of normcore. I should have seen it coming because the signs had been all over the Asian street style blogs for months. In case you didn’t already know, normcore is the slippery concept that dressing in an unremarkably normal way is somehow fashionable.

Confused? You will be.

The problem with normcore as it appeared in Europe and the US is that it’s so blandly nondescript that you can’t get away with it unless you’re a bright young thing or a middle-aged white guy, in which case go ahead. In Japan, though, the raw materials to take an idea like this and run with it are all in place. They've got avant-garde fashion, awesome school uniforms and Uniqlo, all of which ground the concept in something altogether more stylish to begin with. Only the Japanese could elevate unremarkable clothing to an art form.

It looks a bit dull at first glance but in action it makes a certain kind of sense: a back-to-basics aesthetic that's not so much about keeping up appearances as enjoying the clothes for their own sake. There's a strange liberation to be found in embracing a non-identity and nothing's more comforting in cold weather than loose-fitting pants and a big woolly jumper. Then again, baggy head to toe is challenging and I’m not getting dressed without considering how it all fits together. There's got to be a certain attention to detail and I can't resist a statement shoe.

So here’s my take on Japanese normcore with two favourite jumpers and accompanying source material. I’m very comfortable in both these looks and I’ll be wearing more like them this winter. Just not every day.

I like to think of this man’s sweater as the normest of the normcore. It is lovely, but there’s nothing remotely fashionable about it, as I discovered when I tried to write about it on my short-lived blog last year. The only way to style it is to embrace its geezerly quality and team it with slouchy mannish pants and the type of shoes your sleazy uncle might wear. Mon Oncle indeed.

This is fancier, but only slightly. My all-time favourite woolly jumper (>10 y.o Pringle) worn with oversized denim pants by Christophe Lemaire, found on the deepest of deep discounts in the women’s department (I’m pretty sure they’re menswear.) Outstanding cut and fabrication, very dubious fit. Finished off with a pair of Japanese kawaii sneakers so high-concept they’re mildly absurd.

I have the vaguest of doubts about these sneakers, even though they fill me with irrational joy. I can’t take them back and I never saw myself in Stan Smiths anyway, but are they a little OTT?


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Japanese trend watch: normcore, sweet girls and style icons

I spent a lot of time on our recent holiday in Japan observing the local style. I'm a huge fan of Japanese fashion, and it was fascinating to see how it translates to people's everyday wear. 

It took me a while to process what I saw, which was not at all what I expected, and to understand it I had to read it the British fashion press: the Japanese have embraced normcore. Urban Japan is informal, modest, well turned out, rarely flashy but often very cool.

  • High contrast neutrals are very popular - black or navy worn with camel, ecru, ivory and cream colours. Black and white/cream stripes. 
  • Long, loose, relaxed silhouettes. Not much tailoring among younger women. 
  • Outerwear tends to be oversized, with giant denim or bomber jackets being particularly popular. Longer coats tend to be macintoshes, loose fitting crombie and duster styles.
  • Full and pleated midi skirts, often worn with slouchy socks and chunky shoes or platforms. Chiffon and plissé styles are very trendy. 
  • Harem pants. Cropped pants with dropped crotches are very popular with young men and young urban women with attitude. 
  • Culottes and cropped wide legged pants are almost ubiquitous. These seem to be not just fashionable, but almost part of the classic style vocabulary. Stylish older ladies wear them with aplomb. 
  • Denim is not at all unusual, but perhaps not as common as in Europe or the US. Jeans are (unsurprisingly) raw dark wash selvedge, worn boyfriend style and cuffed just above the ankle. 
  • Lots of beanies and wide-brimmed hats. 
  • Body art is unusual, but small decorative tattoos are catching on among younger women. Butterflies or dragon flies are popular designs. 
Sadly I'm not much of a street-style photographer, but I did score a few magazines which seemed representative of trends in womenswear, and photographed a few pages for your perusal:
  • Onkul shows a grown-up, ladylike interpretation of normcore as it  trickles down into the mainstream. Subtle and understated, this is lifestyle-oriented fashion.
  • Larme is a self-identified sweet girly art book. Demonstrates the impact of gyaru and Lolita style on mainstream fashion consciousness. If you can see past the bewildering layout there's some exemplary teen fashion in here.
  • FRUiTS is legendary. I had to hunt this one down but I managed to find two editions.  Ground Zero of contemporary Japanese street style, it showcases the cream of authentic Harajuku fashion.  I'm delighted to tell you that two young ladies featured in here sold me a pair of sneakers in Tokyo Bopper. 
The whole experience was an endless source of inspiration. I'll most likely have more to say on how this has impacted my style this winter, but for now I'll just leave the pictures here. Over to you!


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Stalking vintage Kansai Yamamoto...

...at Rotterdam's Temporary Fashion Museum!

Honestly, nowhere is safe anymore. I'm trying to commit to a shopping fast after the holiday and the run-up to Christmas, but it seems that Andy Warhol's prediction that in the future all museums will be like department stores and all department stores will be like museums is coming true. At least the first part is.

The upshot of this development is that I've just rifled through possibly the best collection of vintage fashion I've ever seen on sale anywhere, and this 80's Kansai Yamamoto needlecord blouse positively leapt off the rail at me. 

For those who don't already know, Kansai (not Yohji) Yamamoto designed David Bowie's legendary costumes for the Ziggy Stardust tour and his clothes are as rare as they are iconic. I don't think my pictures do this garment justice, but hopefully I've captured the vivid neon colours and you might be able to tell from the look on my face how awed I am to be wearing Actual Kansai.

I absolutely love it and can see this thing fitting right in. It could work all year round for all kinds of occasions. But there are a few problems: the sleeves are a little short, there's some slight (but not visible or irreparable) damage, and for all its impeccable provenance it's an awful lot of money for a used shirt.

I had them put it aside. I'm going to think it over before I go back to Rotterdam next week, but I'd like to know what you think.

  • Yay! Great holiday wear that suits you down to the ground! 
  • Nay! Your '80's id is getting the better of you. Save your money and walk away!

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