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Your guide to Japanese style

Your guide to Japanese style

It’s the country that brought us calculators and batteries, but also karaoke and video games. Is it any wonder, then, that Japan’s fashion fuses function and fun? From Harajuku’s colourful subculture trends to its practical hiking-inspired street fashion, the country is a melting pot of eclectic style inspirations that often nod to its traditional style of clothing. 

To help us delve deeper into what makes Japanese fashion so eclectically appealing, we asked someone who knows a thing or two about it: our very own stylist, Toby Standing. He takes us through its origins, what Japanese fashion means today, and the brands you’ll want to know about.

The origins of Japanese style

The Japanese fashion we know and love today is deeply rooted in its unique history and culture. In fact, its influence goes way back to around 300 BC when Japan’s most recognisable item of clothing was created: the kimono. Its draping form, expert craftsmanship, and ability to adapt to the changing seasons became the fundamental principles on which Japanese style was born.

From the kimono to the haori, traditional garbs were commonplace throughout Japan right up until the industrial revolution, when the country became more politically involved with Europe and America. Its fashion grew increasingly more westernised, yet always retained a distinct Japanese edge. 

Over the following years, the relationship between Japanese clothing and westernised fashion evolved. Designers such as Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto began deconstructing conventional tailoring in their 1980s runway collections, eschewing sharply cut, form-fitting shapes for draping silhouettes and asymmetric hemlines. This, in turn, gave rise to the Japanese avant-garde movement.

Today, this unique relationship continues to shape its fashion landscape. From American workwear-inspired clothing to the subculture trends influenced by Gothic Victoriana, Japan reimagines and refines borrowed silhouettes and aesthetics to create fashion movements that are uniquely its own.

Three Japanese fashion movements in a nutshell

1. Ametora


“The Americana influence is so popular in Japan, it has its own name: Ametora (an abbreviation of ‘American Traditional’). It’s a style that I and many others often associate with Japanese fashion,” Toby says.


“It’s preppy, classic items – think tweed jackets, gingham Oxford shirts, and leather Derby shoes – mixed with heavy selvedge denim that rivals that of its Western inspiration. Brands like Edwin have solidified themselves against big American brands through its precision manufacturing and effortless style.

Photographed: Edwin ED-39 Regular Loose Jean ($75)

2. Gorpcore

“Although this fashion movement has been around in Japan for decades, it’s seen more and more global attention in the last five years. It focuses on practicality and an indefinable escapist attitude.


It’s often described as ‘hiking chic’ – the kind of aesthetic where you’d team a pair of New Balance trainers with a technical jacket that’s ready to take on the mountains, for example.

Brands like the highly coveted Beams and Snow Peak are masters of this look – they create clothes that, on the face of them, look totally normal, but the deeper you dive, the more interesting the details, fit, and fabrics.”

3. The Crows


“My personal favourite, this movement was started in the early to mid-'80s by legendary Japanese designers Rei Kawakubo (of Comme des Garçons) and Yohji Yamamoto.

Taking cues from traditional Japanese clothing codes, and reinventing them for an increasingly wider audience, both designers were famed for their all-black colour palettes, experimental cuts, and penchant for layering.

Photographed: Y-3 Yunu ($209)

It was the ultimate ‘anti-fashion’ movement that rebelled against the colourful palettes and sharply cut tailoring of the time. The name ‘The Crows’ was coined by the out-of-touch fashion elite of that era.

This movement has since evolved beyond the original to appeal to today’s global audience, thanks to diffusion lines like Comme des Garçons’s PLAY and collaborations such as Y-3.”

Three Japanese brands we think you should know  

1. Snow Peak

Photographed: Snow Peak 3-Way Business Bag ($279)

Snow Peak was originally created to kit out mountain adventurers, but today the Japanese brand is proving itself as a major player in functional menswear fashion too. The label’s fusing of performance fabrics and fashion-led silhouettes make a strong case for wearing its designs beyond the slopes. 

2. Kapital

Named after Japan’s denim capital, Kojima, Okayama, menswear label Kapital takes American-inspired workwear to a whole new level. Vintage silhouettes are updated with playful prints that nod to Hippie culture and its denim is crafted with such a high level of precision, it’s now coveted by celebrities and style enthusiasts the world over. Look out for its iconic Bandana jackets, too.

3. Maison Kitsune

Parisian savoir-faire meets Tokyo cool at Maison Kitsune. The company was founded by Gildas Loaëc and Masaya Kuroki as a music label before they decided to branch out into fashion. Today, the brand is instantly recognisable thanks to its preppy American-style classics and iconic fox logo.

Words: Ashlie Brombley, Toby Standing