A rough guide to Japanese street fashion

Since attending Hyper Japan Spring 2012 back in February, I have been meaning to post a number of things, and one of them is a little guide to Japanese street fashion. Although I don’t particularly follow any kind of fashion, I’ve always been interested in clothes and styles, and recently I’ve become quite fascinated by Japanese street styles. After watching the fashion show at Hyper Japan, I took the opportunity to quiz an expert (Emma Chipperfield of Frills & Frolics) on the many different styles I saw on the catwalk. This is, I hope, a rough guide to Japanese street fashion…

Classic Lolita

Street fashion

Classic Lolita is a more mature style of Lolita that focuses on Rococo, Regency, and Victorian styles. Colors and patterns used in classic Lolita can be seen as somewhere between the Gothic looking and Sweet styles; it is not as dark as Gothic Lolita, but not as cutesy as Sweet Lolita. This look can be seen as the more sophisticated, mature Lolita style because of its use of small, intricate patterns, as well more muted colors on the fabric and in the overall design.

Designs containing a-lines, as well as Empire waists are also used to add to the more mature look of the Classic style. Most Classic Lolita outfits, however, still stick to the basic Lolita silhouette. Shoes and accessories are less whimsical and more functional. Jewelry with intricate designs is also common. The makeup used in classic Lolita is often a more muted version of the Sweet Lolita makeup, with an emphasis placed on natural coloring. Classical Lolita brands include Juliette et Justine, Innocent World, Victorian Maiden, Triple Fortune, and Mary Magdalene. (Wikipedia)

Sweet Classic Lolita

Street fashion

Sweet Lolita

Street fashion

Sweet Lolita is the most over-the-top style and includes aesthetics nearly exclusive to Lolita. It is also the most ‘child-like’ of the Lolita styles however, in Japan, cute is for everyone not just children, using many bows, ruffles and light colors to make up an outfit. The most common colors used in a Sweet Lolita outfit are pink, white, and powder blue, but an outfit can be made with nearly any pastel or plaid (or nearly any color at all as long as it is not neon) colour or shade. Common motifs in Sweet Lolita are toys, strawberries, cherries, cakes, ice cream, cookies and candies, hearts, polka dots, “cute” animals and flowers. Prints inspired by fairy tales and children’s books are also quite common. (Lolita Fashion Wiki)

Bittersweet Lolita

Street fashion

Bittersweet Lolita is a Lolita substyle that emerged as a fashion somewhere between Gothic Lolita, Sweet Lolita, Pirate Lolita and OTT Sweet and many others can be incorporated into Bittersweet, such as Princess Lolita and Aristocratic styles including Rococo. (Lolita Fashion Wiki)

Hime Lolita

(Image source)

Hime Lolita (literally Princess Lolita) is a Lolita substyle featuring royal and elegant themes. The style takes inspiration from the Hime Gyaru fashion whilst still keeping the Lolita silhouette. Common themes are miniature crowns, pearls, lace gloves and high heels. Sometimes the dresses may be shorter than most Lolita dresses.

Hime Lolita is a very over-the-top style, dresses will have many frills, ribbons and are usually pink or white. Common prints are floral and regal prints such as crowns and tiaras etc. Jumperskirts are often worn blouseless, or with very elaborate, flared sleeve blouses. (Lolita Fashion Wiki)

Classic Gothic Lolita

Street fashion at Hyper Japan

Gothic Lolita

Street fashion at Hyper Japan

Gothic Lolita, sometimes shortened to GothLoli (ゴスロリ), is a combination of the Gothic and Lolita fashion. The fashion originated in the late 1990s in Harajuku. Gothic Lolita fashion is characterized by darker make-up and clothing. Red lipstick and smokey or neatly defined eyes, created using black eyeliner, are typical styles, although as with all Lolita sub-styles the look remains fairly natural. Though Gothic make-up is associated with a white powdered face, this is usually considered bad taste within the Lolita fashion. Some Lolita uses dark color schemes including black, dark blues and purples, although black and white remains popular. As with some Western Gothic styles, cross jewellery, religious symbols, bags and purses in shapes like bats, coffins, and crucifixes are also used to accessorize the Gothic Lolita look. (Wikipedia)

Mori Girl

Street fashion at Hyper Japan

Mori Girl fashion recently emerged in 2007 in Japan. Mori means “forest” in Japanese, and the style concept is “a girl who looks like she is living in the forest” The look is natural & earthy. The fictional archetype was declared as being the character of Hagu from Honey & Clover. The actual archetype of Mori Girl fashion is the actress Yuu Aoi, who as a matter of fact played Hagu in the Honey & Clover movie in 2006. Mori girl has developed not only as a style, but as a lifestyle as well! Quirky girls who love vintage clothing, pocket watches, tea, moss or going snooping in the grandma’s attic will feel right at home in this fashion style. Although Mori Girl is natural, it does not mean it is simple! Mori Girl does have a little bit of complexity to it. (WikiHow)

Visual Kei

Street fashion

Visual kei (ヴィジュアル系; lit. “visual style” or “visual system”) is a movement among Japanese musicians, that is characterized by the use of make-up, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes, often, but not always, coupled with androgynous aesthetics. Some sources state that visual kei refers to a music genre, or to a sub-genre of Japanese rock, with its sound usually related to glam rock, punk rock and heavy metal. However other sources state that visual kei is only a fashion, with its unique clothing, make-up and participation in the related subculture being what exemplifies the use of the term. (Wikipedia)

Punk Lolita

Street fashion

Punk Lolita is a sub-style of Lolita that is very similar to the British punk and uses a similar colour and tonal scheme of reds, blacks, blues, and purple. It is inspired by Vivienne Westwood and her influences in the UK. Unlike British punk style, Punk Lolita can consist of frilly skirts paired with cutsews or a more delicate blouse with a tougher skirt or pant, and then accessorized with feminine accessories to lighten the look. Make up tends to be on the lighter side to evoke a more soft appearance to the punk look of the outfit. Motifs commonly seen can include playing card suits, skulls, and grungy or slightly creepy cute characters. Clothing in this style can have a deconstructed look to it rather than a tailored silhouette. (Lolita Fashion Wiki)

Otome Kei

Street fashion

Otome (乙女) means “young lady” in Japanese. Otome-kei (乙女系) is a Japanese street style that focuses on details like bold colors, unusual mixing (but not necessary – can match) of colors, fabric ruffles, embroidery, and ribbons. It can be classified as a substyle of Lolita. A lot of the clothing can be used with Lolita, but the silhouette is a little different. Petticoats are often unnecessary. The look of otome is romantic and girlish; it can even be described as the more mature version of Lolita. Unlike Lolita, there are no strict guidelines for this style. Typically, the look one tend to want to achieve with this style is a “refined young lady”; most often, you get the late 1950-1960’s feel from the clothes. Some have even called this style as casual OL (office lady) style. Popular otome brands: MILK, Emily Temple Cute (ETC/Emikyu), Jane Marple, Lois Crayon, Mina Prehonen, Enfant/Sherry Baby, Axes Femme, and Jill Stuart. (Daily Otome)

Wa Lolita

CamCon fashion show

Wa Lolita is a form of Lolita fashion incorporating traditional Japanese clothing elements whilst still keeping the Lolita silhouette. Wa Lolita dresses commonly consist of a modified Kimono to fit with various Lolita garments. Although another way is to have an otherwise normal Lolita dress made with fabrics that have a Japanese look to them. The shoes and accessories used in this style are typical of traditional Japanese garb including kanzashi flowers, and Geta, Zori, or Okobo. These shoes are often used in place of the normal Lolita platform and high-heeled shoes. The origin of the prefix Wa in Wa Lolita is the kanji Wa (和), which is used to denote many things of Japanese origin. Wa Lolita is one of the more uncommon styles of Lolita. (Lolita Fashion Wiki)

Fairy Kei & Decora

Street fashion

Fairy Kei is a street fashion from Japan. It can be described as kawaii style meets 80s pop. (WikiHow)

Decora fashion was first seen on the streets of Harajuku in the late 90’s, and was said to be initially inspired by fans of Tomoe Shinohara, though the fact is disputed. It’s a style that has certainly evolved over the years, and what may look like a horribly matched mess to some, there is a certain level of organized chaos to these loud and eccentric outfits. Despite appearances, it’s not about just throwing things together. A close look at some of the girls shows the huge degree of thought that’s been put into their loud attire. (Japanese Street Fashion: Decora)

As far as I can tell, Fairy Kei and Decora are really similar, and there are also a lot of deviations, such as Pastel Kei and Pop Kei. Basically though, they both seem to be connected to “kawaii” (cute stuff) and the 80s.

Gyaru-o (male)/Gyaru (female)

Street fashion

Gyaruo (which can be written as ギャル男, ギャルオ, ギャル汚 in Japanese) are a sub-group of modern Japanese youth culture. They are the male equivalent of the gyaru. The o suffix that is added to the word, is one reading of the Kanji for male (男). And recently, the kanji for ‘dirty’ in Japanese (汚), which also has the same reading, is often used by gyaru and gyaru-o in a light-hearted way, poking fun at themselves because of the reputation that their subculture has gained within society due to their dark skin, hairstyles and often grittish, rough style of clothing that they wear. Gyaruo are characterised by their deep tans, dyed hair, party lifestyle and a liking for all different types of trance music including para-para dancing music, Eurobeat. (Wikipedia)

Gyaru (ギャル?) is a Japanese transliteration of the English word gal, that of girl being gaaru (ガール). The name originated from a 1970s brand of jeans called “gals”, with the advertising slogan: “I can’t live without men”, and was applied to fashion – and peer-conscious girls in their teens and early twenties. Its usage peaked in the 1980s and has gradually declined. The term gradually drifted to apply to a younger group, whose seeming lack of interest in work or marriage gained the word a “childish” image. It is now used almost interchangeably with kogyaru. Gyaru subculture is still a large influence in Japan’s fashion economy with gyaru brands branching out and becoming more accessible in rural areas. In Tokyo, more often than not, a shopping center at each main train station is dedicated to offering the newest and trendiest items from popular Gal brands. Some brands are also reaching overseas by having their items easily accessible in webshops offering world-wide shipping services. Gal Circles (gyaru-sa/ギャルサー) are also a fun part of a gal’s life. After peaking in 2007, the gyaru trend appears to have declined in Japan, but has gained in popularity in China. (Wikipedia)


I’d like to give extra thanks to the Lolita Fashion Wiki, which helped me to fact check this piece (as well as a few other websites which are all referenced above)! This is by no means an exhaustive guide to street fashion, and I don’t claim to be an expert. Also, street fashion styles are changing and mixing faster than I can write, so I expect there are a whole bunch of different styles out there now. I’m aware of some styles which I haven’t mentioned (such as Dolly Kei, Cult Party Kei and Aristocrat), so maybe I’ll do a “part 2” post in the future (I’ll need some willing models though, as I really do hate having to borrow photos off the Internet. Almost all of the photos above are my own, but I owe massive thanks to the models!). This really is a fascinating topic, and one which I would like to learn more about so, if you spot any mistakes or would like to add any information, please leave a comment below. (*^_^)v

12 thoughts on “A rough guide to Japanese street fashion

  1. Very interesting, thanks for sharing!
    I don’t know too much about the different fashion types and that although I’m female and living in Japan, but I couldn’t care less *g*
    I find all the different Lolita styles very confusing, too! ^-^;;
    All I knew so far were the Gothic Lolita and Sweet Lolita styles. *g*


    • Thanks Emily! Yeah, I’ve not seen much more than variations on Lolita and visual-kei outside of fashion shows. Next time I’m in Japan I think I’m going to look harder though! 😉


  2. thanks for sharing! I saw the fashion display at hyper japan it was really good but it did make me a bit confused as to how many styles there are out there- I think I’m a classic gothic! I’ve created an illustrated blog for lolitas called thecrazypussycatclub.com It’s a cute and funny blog about a jazz club populated by cats which features Miss Kitty’s guide to modern etiquette plus some kawaii kitlets. If you like it I’d really appreciate it if you shared it with others who might also. many thanks!


  3. Pingback: Fun Link Friday: Japanese street fashion | What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

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