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!

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • shevia replied 3 years ago

    Well thank you! An absolutely fascinating report and the magazine pictures are a fantastic treat. A family friend, formerly a costume designer, has recently been in both Japan and China. She claims China is where the action is style wise and she was not impressed by Japanese street style. I found this a bit unfathomable, but your report helps me understand what she meant somewhat - perhaps Japanese normcore is not her cup of (eccentric, very English) tea. I love a lot of the looks in your pictures. Looking forward to how this reverberates through your style. Did I say thank you? 

  • replied 3 years ago

    Wow, so many unusual looks! I can see why you got so inspired. I can really see you taking ideas from them and making them your own. Lovely to see culottes prevailing so much and interesting how bf jean silhouettes are so strong, yet over here and in US they are fizzling out. Can't wait to see what outfits you create and I bet you have ideas for your business too :) I have to confess to knowing zero about Japanese fashion, so this was an education for me too, hehe.

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    Jaime, that's interesting! It wouldn't surprise me to learn that China and probably also Korea are overtaking Japan in the style stakes, but there's still a lot of energy in the prefectures. For sure, Tokyo's shops are amazing (Laforet and Shibuya 109 spring to mind) but in terms of inventive street style there seemed to be much more going on in growing cities like Fukuoka and Hiroshima. And maybe your friend wasn't looking hard enough at the gentlemen. Japanese men are Very. Stylish. Indeed.

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    Diane G: I have to admit that all those fabulous ladies in culottes made me think of you! And yes, I've come back with loads of ideas, although perhaps not in the direction you might think...

  • viva replied 3 years ago

    This was my favorite picture. Very 80s meets now, somehow. I love it!

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    viva, that was one of my favourites too! Definitely worth copying. 

  • Laura (rhubarbgirl) replied 3 years ago

    Interesting - it's reminiscent for me of the Kinfolk stuff here in North America, which is also influenced by normcore and also a sense of practical retroness, if that makes any sense. I don't know that I'd ever dress this way, but it's nice to have some style directions that aren't all about hyper sexuality and skin showing, you know?

  • catgirl replied 3 years ago

    Love these - the long plaid skirt and the skater boy pants are killing me.  I wish I could dress more creatively. Maybe I need to devote my off-days to this sort of style.

  • Diana replied 3 years ago

    One of the things that struck me about Japanese street style when I was there a year ago was that the women, no matter what they were wearing, all appeared really ladylike even if they were wearing things that were not traditionally ladylike like boyfriend jeans or hectically oversized clothing or menswear styles.  I don't know if it's an attitude thing or hair/makeup or what, but it's fascinating to me because I would not look ladylike at all in some of these outfits...

    I'm really looking forward to seeing your takes on these styles!

  • skylurker replied 3 years ago

    thank you for sharing, this is so interesting! Quite different, in fashion and display, from Western magazines.
    I'm struck by how juvenile the styles are. The first pics, full of preppy classics, remind me of my school days. "Larme" is sweet girly, as you said. "Fruits" look the most familiar, featuring the fearless teen fashionistas that make up most of the Japanese streetstyle we see here.

  • Joy replied 3 years ago

    Thank you.  I didn't notice any leggings or super skinny jeans in these photos and lots of long skirts.  I am looking forward to seeing or hearing how these impact your style.

  • Sara L. replied 3 years ago

    Fascinating!  Thank you for sharing.

  • Xtabay replied 3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this.  I've always admired the sculptural quality that one sees in a lot of Japanese fashion, and the way they wear it.  Not too much body-consciousness to my eye.  The emphasis is definitely on the clothing and styling rather than the body.  Walking, moving art!

  • Sterling replied 3 years ago

    What a great synopsis.  And the pictures were just icing on the cake.  

  • Cerinda replied 3 years ago

    Thanks for such a little treasure trove.  I really respond to the elegance and wearability of the Onkul spread, but oh, that gorgeous sweater in image #24 from Fruits!

  • crst replied 3 years ago

    Love the coats in 6 and 7.  Love both looks in 28 too, although they are quite different from one another.  So cool to see these all. Thank you for posting!!

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    Laura: I noticed the resemblance with Kinfolk too. It's interesting to see normcore developing into a kind of natural classicism. 

    Una: I felt the same way about the long plaid skirt, not least because she's wearing "my" shoes. And I'd forgotten how much I love skate pants. 

    Diana: yes! That ladylike thing runs all the way through Japanese feminine presentation like a stick of rock. Is it a combination of attitude and attention to detail? Skylurker, maybe that's how they get away with looks that read as juvenile on the surface. I think it's a "kawaii" thing. 

    Joy: skinnies and leggings are definitely there, but not as popular as the looser styles. I was surprised as well. 

    Xtabay: you just nailed what I love about Japanese fashion. It's not about the body, it's the overall effect. 

    Cerinda: exactly! Combining the comfortable elegance of Onkul with the exaggerated forms of Fruits is my aspiration. Hard to pull off, but let's see where that goes. 

    Sara, Sterling, crst, thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. 

  • Cococat replied 3 years ago

    Wow interesting. Some of the looks seem so unflattering to my eye, yet there's still something appealing about them. My favourites were 26-28, particularly the 1930s velvet, 60s colour block, and Westwood plaid influenced looks in 26. Very inspiring!

    Approprio, did you see older women dressing like this or was it something that only younger people embraced?

  • marble replied 3 years ago

    Thank you for this, very interesting read! I recently moved to Seoul and have seen many similarities, especially oversized jackets, neutral colors, ankle length pants, and platform or high heeled shoes. I have not seen many cullotes or midi skirts but i have seen plenty of mini skirts worn with nude tights and sneakers. I have also not yet been to the more fashionable (rich) neighborhoods in town. This post has made me even more excited to travel to Japan!!

  • Style Fan replied 3 years ago

    Thank you.  There are some very interesting looks.  I like the idea of culottes being classics.  Also I am all for the BF jean sticking around for awhile.  There is a store in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto called Kaliyana that always reminds me of Japanese fashion.  Lots of culottes there.

  • Angie replied 3 years ago

    GREAT! Thank you, Liz. I loved reading your thoughts. Very fun. 

    We went to Japan a few years ago, and I found that you see it all - from traditional and ultra classic to hectic OTT. It depends entirely on where you observe the street style. Harajuku and some parts of Tokyo look  like what you have shown here. But other parts of Tokyo like Ginza do not - it's far more classic and modest. Very girly and ladylike. Kyoto is very classic and Yokhama is a mixture of everything. 

    Have you noticed how very few of your visuals here showcase denim! 

    I LOVE how very slight and petite woman in Japan pull off the oversized look with panache. Same in Hong Kong. It absolutely works with proportions that are just flattering enough. 

  • La Pedestrienne replied 3 years ago

    Awesome post! Thanks!

    Another fan of boyfriend jeans (I prefer to call it "androgynous denim" -- I find the BF term a little heteronormative) and looser styles in general. I also love all the over-the-top-chunky shoes here.

    It's interesting, to see how a culture that is by-and-large more petite than Americans/Europeans is able to embrace loose, un-tailored garments in a way that is a hard for a lot of westerners. As an almost-petite American, I feel like the standard line directed at people my size is not to wear clothes that swallow/engulf you. What these models here prove is that anyone with enough personal *presence* can wear whatever they want, regardless of size. "Wear the clothes, don't let the clothes wear you" etc. I think this also goes for how well Japanese women are able to express femininity through very androgynous and masculine styles. 

  • CH replied 3 years ago

    Good selection of magazines! There's a few others that are rather popular among the younger age group: ViVi, Jelly, CanCam.

    Oh yes, body art is in fact quite rare in Japan. This is because of the association of the age-old gangs (still exist now though). Also, most of the public Onsen (hot springs) do not accept patrons with visible tattoos.

  • Astrid replied 3 years ago

    Thanks for posting! I love the Onkul looks.

  • kkards replied 3 years ago

    thank you so much for this entertaining and educational post…i live in a neighborhood with one of the leading engineering schools, and each September i look forward to the arrival of the new international students just to see the fashion. unfortunately, usually by the end of the school year, most have curbed the distinctive edge, and blend into the background. 

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    Thanks all! Glad you're enjoying the pics. 

    CocoC: older women tend to be much more tailored, polished and pulled together, but I did spot a few adventurous looks. (Quite randomly, enormous sun visors are very popular with some older ladies. They really made me want one.)

    Funny you should mention Dame Viv. She has a significant retail presence in Japan, along with fellow independent Brits Paul Smith and Margaret Howell. She looms large, was very influential in the development of the Lolita style.

    Angie: what I notice most about denim in Japanese fashion is that it's worn very differently. People seemed much more likely to make a statement with it (however subtle) rather than y'know, just put on a pair of jeans.

    La Pedestrienne: that's an interesting point about the proportions. I've been pondering it myself. I love an oversized silhouette but it's not easy to get it right. These effortless ladies are paying close attention to execution given how detailed some of these looks are. A lot depends on things like the position of the waistline, colour contrasts, size of the earrings etc. The devil is in the detail. But they look great!

  • skylurker replied 3 years ago

    I come back to look at the pics again, such a treat.

    Also, I have to do my French duty and point out that the title of the 1st mag "MON ONCLE" is probably referencing Jacques Tati's movie :

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    skylurker: YES! I love that film! Jacques Tati causes havoc in a high-tech household. Maybe that's why I instinctively reached for that one in particular.

    Glad you like the pics. Onkul is a nice magazine. I wish I could share all of it.

  • Lisa replied 3 years ago

    Oh I always enjoy a peek into fashions around the globe, thanks!

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