A Laywoman’s Notes on Fashion in Japan

Even though their models are all white people, Japanese store Sense of Place captures the spirit of fashion in Tokyo.
The clothes at Japanese store Sense of Place capture the minimalistic spirit of fashion in Tokyo. Not sure why their lookbook models are all white people.

I went to Japan expecting Japanese fashion to be colorful, girly, goth, zany and generally out-there. Yay for stereotypes based on figurines, Gwen Stefani videos and old coffee table books! My first “durrr” realization was  that fashion is always changing, and expecting a country to have one particular fashion sense over more than one year is crazy.

Expectations aside, here is what I actually observed in Japan.

Looks from Niko and ... capture Tokyo style
Looks from Niko and … capture Tokyo style

1. Tokyo Style: Cool, Sophis, Business-Ready Athleisure

One of the first things I noticed was a dominance of black & white in everyday clothing. Hit the subway station in Shinjuku before or after work and the throngs of salarymen/women seem to be keeping it classy and cool in a uniform of white button-ups and black pants/ skirts. That said, Shinjuku is a more business-y district, so it makes sense that it would be dominated by tasteful work clothes.

Outside of work-wear, the main style I noticed in broader Tokyo was boxy, geometric “athleisure” wear, layered in neutral palettes. I saw lots of women wearing baggy, comfy T’s layered with cool, super-long sweaters and girly skirts, their feet in tasteful boots or sneaks with high socks.


This understated cool look was everywhere, and I felt super schlubby in my bright colored sundresses and flip-flops.

After a week of observation, I bought an outfit inspired by the Japanese fashion I observed at our favorite clothing store there, Sense of Place:

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Also, a clear or white long umbrella is essential, as it rains all the time. You can even get an umbrella bag for it before entering a store, or leave your umbrella in an umbrella holder. Someone else may take yours, since they all look similar, but I guess then you just take someone else’s.

2. This Style Was Dominant in Harajuku, Too

I’m not saying what you picture as “Harajuku girl” fashion style was non-existent in Tokyo. I definitely wasn’t there enough to get a full picture of how people dressed at all times. I just saw this kind of look far less in actual Harajuku than I expected to. This left me wondering if that type of look is out right now or just has always been notable because of its rarity.

I saw zero of this. Photo from Buzzfeed.
I saw zero of this. Photo from Buzzfeed.

3. Tokyo Loves Their Sneaks

If you like sneakers, like Neil and I do, you can seriously get lost in alleys visiting every cool shoe store ever. The latest sneakers are suddenly available, and it’s hard not to leave the country with some new kicks.

4. Every City Has Its Own Style

Oddly enough, fashion seemed the most uniform in Tokyo and was much more varied in Kyoto and Osaka. In those cities, I felt generally ok in my bright colors and flip-flops. It wasn’t until we went to Osaka that I noticed the “Harajuku girl” style I had expected to find lots of in Japan. According to one resident we talked to, Osaka folk are more experimental, artsy and rule-breaking than their Tokyo kin.

5. Hungover Makeup is What’s Up (in Tokyo)

Because whenever I’m bored and alone I jump down the rabbit hole of makeup videos on YouTube, I arrived familiar with the concept of “igari,” or hungover makeup.


I saw this EVERYWHERE in Tokyo. Not so much in the other cities.

Anyway, I’m sure this post will be obsolete in like two seconds, because fashion is always changing. I left Japan with a new respect for tasteful, sophisticated layering and comfy-ass boxy sweaters. I also left with some new Japanese clothes, so maybe some of their cool will stick on me.