RetroProgressive: Harajuku style – weird or wonderful?

I haven’t been to Japan for quite a few years, but there’s been plenty of coverage of the Japanese fashion industry in the UK recently. In particular, the ongoing exhibition at the Barbican, Future Beauty: 30 years of Japanese Fashion. Promoting itself as ‘the first exhibition in Europe to comprehensively survey avant-garde Japanese fashion, from the early 1980s to the present, the show features designs by the likes of Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto.

Running alongside the show have been a series of events and films on Japanese fashion and culture, including the uncharacteristically extrovert Harajuku phenomenon. There’s nothing unusual about young people hanging out together around a railway station (Harajuku) as they do in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo every Sunday – except for the outfits…

As far as the aesthetics go, I rather like the elegant gothic Lolita look – especially the Victorian mourning inspired designs of H Naoto. And I think it’s great that young people are still able to express their creativity and imagination by playing doctors and nurses and reenacting swashbuckling dramas in fancy costumes. I’m just curious to know why we don’t see more teenagers in the UK turning Japanese in their style of dress…

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including, and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

8 thoughts on “RetroProgressive: Harajuku style – weird or wonderful?

    January 22, 2011 at 09:19

    Possibly weird Susan, the nation of Nippon often seems to go that extra yard, suitable foodstuff for your average nonce. Do you think that this would make a suitable venue for their next fashion shoot. Here’s some scalpel sharp and ice cold tips for them in the old f follows f style, so they say.

    January 22, 2011 at 18:08

    On the link to your own site Susan, I had just cleared the Gothic Lolita ( which contrary to your own explanation, seemed to have everything to do with the novel), and had made my way in all innocence down to the pre-teens in milk-maid caps, when I realized my wife was looking over my shoulder.
    If I have learned nothing else in over 40 years of marriage, it is that sometimes it is better to say nothing, even if the deluge threatens to submerge you. This was such an occasion

    January 23, 2011 at 09:16

    I find the Harajuku fashions weirdly wonderful, malty. I’m just in Paris, where yesterday I was introduced to a range of clothing for ‘cute’ Lolita girls to wear as they travel around the world ‘spreading peace and love’.

    Sorry for getting you into trouble, mahlerman. The Little Bo Peep style costumes are intended to be sweet rather than saucy…obviously…

    January 23, 2011 at 10:48

    One of those situations where it would just take too long to explain, Mahlerman, and attempting to do so would only make it sound worse…

    I really don’t get that cutesy Japanese thing – it’s icky. But I like the Victorian mourning dress idea, what what a gloriously unlikely fashion inspiration.

    January 23, 2011 at 21:33

    Brit, the Victorian mourning trend has been gaining ground for some time.

    And there I was wondering why no one had mentioned the fab retro song/video… perhaps the Harajuku girls were a little too distracting?

  6. Gaw
    January 24, 2011 at 07:49

    Susan, I love that track. I was a bit of a fan back in the day. Another single by The Vapors, ‘Jimmy Jones’, was also a strange one (but not as successful). They were from Guildford.

    January 25, 2011 at 02:38

    Icky?? I personally find looking like a old hag stuffed into short skirts and low cut tops ‘Icky’ Why would you want sagging skin and wrinkles on show!? But that’s besides the point.

    By lumping EVERYTHING into this one ‘Harajuku’ Category you’re making one vital mistake. The styles are not alike. H.naoto recognises itself as a punk brand, Moi meme moitie is a gothic brand, Angelic pretty a sweet lolita brand and so on. It would be ignorant to say EVERYTHING is Harajuku fashion. It’s just not. There is a whole world of styles available in KERA magazines

    Looking cute is an aesthetic the West just doesn’t understand. We’re sick and tired of all the skin on parade and we’re also looking to break the mould.
    I would much rather be perceived as cute and innocent than look like some cheap hooker.
    Afterall, to me, being cute in my frilly dresses is SO much more desirable than wanting to be ogled by men. To me it just seems like Desire and lust is all Western fashion promotes.

    And We are seeing a huge increase of the number of teenagers wearing Japanese fashion. It’s just so expressive and it’s a nice breath of fresh air in the stagnant and cyclical Western fashion scene.

    January 25, 2011 at 07:34

    Thanks Kairi. I’m not sure if you clicked on the first link in this post, where there’s a breakdown of some of the various styles that originated in the Harajuku area? I’m aware that some of these ways of dressing are a reaction against more overtly sexual Western fashion designs. Thanks for the update regarding various brands, which I’m not so familiar with.. Ultimately, it’s great that we have the freedom to wear whatever we want to, so we don’t all end up looking the same.

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