5 Universal Lessons in Style from Tokyo

November 8th, 2009

Tokyo style runs the gamut from schoolgirl cute to Harajuku edgy to ladylike sophisticate.  But there are more commonalities than first meets the eye.  We’ve boiled down five lessons in style to adopt from the ever design conscious Japanese.  

Lesson 1: Dress up!
You don’t need a special occasion to look good.

Culturally, the Japanese are a formal people, with an emphasis on immaculate presentation (noted in both fashion and food).  What happens is that the mere act of leaving the house is a reason to get dressed up.  After all, you want to look your best.  Both women and men fuss about the details - the perfect turn of a cuff, the correct type of shoe, the silhouette of a jacket.  Formal attire isn’t required, but it’s artfully blended into everyday outfits, for work and for the weekend.  While this fastidious attention to detail isn’t practical for everyone, it’s worth noting that it almost never hurts to dress up - whether it’s for work or for the weekend.

Lesson 2: Mix things up. 

Experiment with texture.

Japanese clothing is dominated with neutral colors - black, white, shades of grey, khaki, and olive.  What keeps the fashion interesting isn’t really the color palette.  Rather, it’s the textures that make the outfit. We love the mix of chunky cable knit with smooth, opaque tights - or the gleam of (faux) leather paired with a tailored tweed.  Even monochromatic looks can be visually interesting when the right textures are combined.

Lesson 3: Make a Statement. 
Include a statement piece in every look.

Most great styles are actually very simple.  Think of the standard blazer/white button-down/jeans combo, for example.  But depending on the pieces chosen, this iconic fashion formula can be visually boring or interesting.  The rule of thumb here is to pick the visual center of your outfit (e.g. the blazer), and choose one that makes a statement.  Maybe it’s a collegiate crest on the breast pocket, or maybe it’s a chain detail on the pocket - these details can turn an ordinary blazer into a statement piece.  But remember that it’s not necessary to make an outfit full of statement pieces; these special garments can carry a look.

Lesson 4: Think holistically. 
Consider your whole look when getting dressed.

This guideline follows from the lesson on statement pieces.  The Japanese focus on simplicity helps to balance a look between statement pieces and ordinary garments.  The idea is to consider each piece in relation to the entire outfit so that you have an look that works holistically.  That way, you have an outfit that’s more than the sum of its individual pieces.  It’s easiest to do this when you start with an idea of what you want your outfit to say about you.  Then, add and remove pieces so that your final look reflects the concept you’re trying to achieve.

Lesson 5: Be bold. 
Try on new styles, even if you don’t think they’re for you.

As Katie in Tokyo said, the Japanese are all over new fashion trends with a passion.  They’re wearing puffer jackets, chunky knits, capes, shorts with tights, foldover boots, collarless jackets, and whatever else is hot on the fashion radar.  While Tokyo’s eclectic style isn’t directly translatable in other countries, Tokyoites’ sense of fashion adventure is.  You don’t have to buy into each trend (please don’t), but do try out new styles in store, even if you don’t think they’ll work with your figure.  You’ll be amazed at what new styles you can wear, and it’s the best way to explore your sense of personal style.

Entry Filed under: Men, Women

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sarade  |  November 9th, 2009 at 8:39 am

    What an interesting article! You really put some thought and research into this. I love the adventurous style in Tokyo! Something we can all aspire to..adding a dash of excitement to every day attire.

  • 2. JenX  |  November 9th, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    I think we in north America can definitely be more experimental. Thanks for the post =). I’ll def be trying different textures in my fall fasihion when we typically wear darker colors.

  • 3. M  |  November 9th, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    I’m going to Shanghai in the spring! Would jeans, a t-shirt, and sandals be appropriate? I’m not going to try and blend in, by any means (I’m a tourist, not moving house), but I’d like to not be glared at by the locals.

  • 4. elle  |  November 9th, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    YES!! I’ve always loved that they dress up for any occasion. Every Japanese fashion magazine that I’ve owned showcases a shoe assortment of 90% heels and 10% flats. Haha.

    I think we should dress up more… especially California :)

  • 5. mimi  |  November 9th, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    I agree with Elle– no one in SoCal dresses up much! Even at “dressy” events and venues I see people in old jeans (women too) and sneakers. I always feel so much better when I dress better than I had planned to.

  • 6. annie  |  November 13th, 2009 at 4:02 am

    Yes - so right about the Japanese- so thoughtful and out together with polish!

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