As someone who often gets mistaken for being Japanese (I'm from Hong Kong...), I must admit, I do take offense a little when people say that they made their initial judgement because I dress like a Japanese person. What exactly does this mean? Does this imply that there is a 'uniform identifiable' style that is immediately recognisable as 'Japanese'. It's certainly not a reference to national/traditional dress as I'm not out and about in kimonos and obi's. What people are referring to when they make that assumption about me is based on the images they have seen from popular tomes like Fruits and the 'quintessentially crazy' streetstyle images people have seen on the web, TV documentaries etc. Seeing as I'm not from Japan, of course I'm no expert on the style complexities of the people there but I'm pretty sure the style there is not at all uniform and that it's a big misconception that Harajuku girls decked in plastic fantastic accessories and white legwarmers are running riot on the streets of Tokyo. Yeah yeah, Susie, point out the obvious why don't you. You laugh now but the number of times I overhear people commenting openly (under the impresison that I don't understand English...) 'Yeah, they ALL dress like THAT in Japan' is disturbing to say the least.
Therefore, I was rather pleased to see a new book that presents a more rounded and fair picture of Tokyo streetstyle. The Tokyo Look Book (teaser reader here)covers the 'stylish to spectacular, goth to gyaru, sidewalk to catwalk' and in a book combining streetstyle photos and informative 'style tribe' analysis, we get a much more indepth picture of Japanese style that goes beyond the misconceptions. Written by Philomena Keet, from London, who did her Phd on Tokyo street fashion (so THAT'S what I should have done after coming out of uni without a clue what to do...) she has constructed five broad chapters that cover the loose strands of style she observed in Tokyo. Each chapter covers the ins and outs of that style, what the wearers of that tribe do, their cultural habits, where they shop and an introduction to designers and brands associated with that particular style.
1) Shibuya Girls & Guys, 2) Spectacular + Subcultural (AKA what has promulagted Tokyo's reputation for 'crazy' dressers...), 3) Youth Street Fashion, 4) The Stylish Femme, 5) Young Men at Work
So begins all the terminology that gets thrown about in each chapters that quickly makes me realise that whilst we have our own set of style classifications (indie, chav, nu-rave etc...), so too do Tokyo.
1) Shibuya Girls & Guys - Shibuya is an area I would liken to Camden in London or Mongkok in Hong Kong. It's teenybopper land with fast and cheap fashion where gaggles of people hang around forming a hub, most notably around the Shibuya 109 centre, a shopping mall that Keet delves into quite a bit. Key words being..
'Gyaru' is a popular style, described as 'fun-loving, mini skirt-wearing, tennyboppers'.
Loosely related to that umbrella term you then have 'yamamaba' or 'mamba' (this hilariously means...mountain hag!) who have an obsessive penchant for dark tanning, fluro/white make-up and brightly coloured hair. Then you have 'hime-kei' who likes to wear a lot of Disney princess-esque clothes. 'Joshi kosei' are high school gyaru with a thing for monogrammed wallets, cute sparkly phone accessories and short short skirts with those infamous white loose socks.
2) Spectacular + Subcultural - Keet raises a good point that the costume styles illustrated in this chapter aren't seen everyday and for the people who wear them, it may not even be what they wear everyday but it's more like a 'Sunday best' sort of style. More lingo...visual-kei meaning visual style that is inspired by J-rock music identified by spiked/dyed hair, piercings, coloured contact lenses. But then under visual-kei you get a plethora of sub-styles - Lolita, punk, goth and 'decora-kei' (decoration style). Even a term like Lolita is loaded with variations. Another form of one-off outfits worn not as a style but as a costume is the otaku who dresses normally 9-5 but goes out cos-playing when they can. Keet also points out that whilst they 'look' outlandish, there are still confines within the genre of costume they choose to don. I would say this is a fair assessment, not just with the 'subcultures' of Tokyo but in other cities too.
3) Youth Street Fashion - We then get to the nitty gritty of Tokyo style, the hardcore fashion lovers who are concerned with the changing nature of fashion. The chapter probably covers the biggest breadth of people as they're basically the sort of people who you can't box in, who have individuality/flair and are also ever-changing - as every city, not just Tokyo, will have. It's funny how people would say that my style is very 'Japanese-influenced' when I don't particularly relate to anything I see in this chapter because everyone looks SO different. Trends spawned in the backstreets of Harajuku are due to the varying nature of shops there - vintage, small avant-garde brands, mainstream etc. The word 'ura-hara-kei' (backstreet Harajuku style) has now come to mean a style that pays a lot of attention to 'mode' - the international avant-garde and also the smaller Harajuku-based brands. The photos seem to display such a wide plethora that giving 'mode-kei' it's own chapter seems a little forced but I would probably say this is more my cup of tea style-wise.
4) The Stylish Femme - Just as we have our well-to-do Sloanes, Tokyo has their well-to-do OL or 'office lady' who work in clerical positions in offices, living at home in order to fund their appearances, or 'onesan-kei' (older sister-style) who are mature, grown up versions of the Shibuya fash-scene. This style would be what I would call the mainstream fashion style in Japan, certainly from what I saw. A designer bag hooked on the arm with a pristine brunette coiffure and neat/conservative/mininmalist clothing.
5) Young Men at Work - This chapter again serves to demonstrate diversity amongst men's fashion in Tokyo but also a familiar mundaneness about the suited and booted people who exist all around the world. The emphasis is on dressing for various jobs whether you're a construction worker, in creative areas or work for a finance company.
The main thing that strikes me is that the author seeks to demonstrate individuality. Unlike in magazines like Fruits, Street or Tune where you barely have a caption, alongside the photos in this book, you get given background info on that person, their likes/dislikes, where they hang out, even the way they interacted with the photographer so that the subjects aren't just mere fashion plates but represented as people with different lifestyles, opinions and of course, style.
My only criticism would be that as Keet is approaching this subject from an anthropological perspective, the way she disects a person's style can seem a little cold and very matter-of-fact. THis is probably necessary when dealing with a subject so complex and as detailed as the book is, there will probably still be people grumbling that there are vague generalisiations and fallacies in the book.
Long review over. If you were smart enough to skip my tedious natter, the short of it is that it's a photo book with lots of indepth oomph and explanation for Tokyo streetstyle admirers.