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How to Dress Harajuku Style

Harajuku style originated among teens on the streets of the Harajuku Shopping District in Tokyo. It may have been brought to many people's attention by American singer Gwen Stefani, but the evolution of the style certainly didn't begin with her and it certainly won't end with her. Like many "street fashions" it is difficult to characterize, both because it is constantly changing and because it has many manifestations. There is no cookie-cutter approach to the style, but if you want to dress in Harajuku style, here are some guidelines to get you started.


1. Mix and (mis)match different fashions. What is now known as Harajuku style started as teens in the district began to integrate traditional Japanese attire, especially kimonos and geta sandals, into their dress. Before, they wore primarily clothes that were influenced by the West, but by mixing the traditional with the modern, they created a new style. Other examples of mixing and matching including the punk look with the schoolgirl uniform or a goth look with designer clothes. In Harajuku, mixing different styles and mismatching colors and patterns is encouraged--you can do anything you want, as long as your outfit is a thoughtful expression of your individuality (see Tips).

2. Become familiar with variations of style in the Harajuku district. It's impossible to pinpoint one "Harajuku style." Many styles have originated or developed on the streets of Harajuku, and many Harajuku girls (and boys) integrate one or more of these somewhat more defined styles into their outfits.

* Gothic Lolita involves wearing gothic, feminine and elegant clothes, to the extent that you look like a living Victorian doll.

* Japanese punks, inspired by the punk movement that began in London in the 70s, magnify rebelliousness with over-the-top clothes, accessories, makeup, and piercings.

* Cosplay entails dressing up like your favorite cartoon/anime or computer game character.

* Decora style favors bright colors, flamboyance and accessories from head to toe. You decorate yourself with plastic toys and jewelry, and it's not uncommon to have so many that you can hear them click together when the person moves.

* Kawaii (literally translating from Japanese to "cute") places an emphasis on childlike playfulness--anime characters, ruffles, pastel colors, toys, and so on.

* Wamono refers to mixing traditional Japanese attire with Western fashion.

3. Dress in layers. One of the hallmarks of Harajuku is layering. Sweaters, vests, or jackets over blouses over t-shirts, dresses worn with leggings, and so on. Layering clothes (or giving the appearance of layering by wearing ruffled dresses, for example) allows you to mix and match a wider variety of different styles, and adds more dimension to your outfit.

4. Customize your clothes. Secondhand clothing and do-it-yourself styles are popular ingredients in a Harajuku outfit. Like that flowered skirt but think it would look cuter with a ribbon pinned on it or with a more uneven, angular hemline? Get out the scissors and glue and make your store-bought clothes uniquely yours. Or, go even further and make your own skirt. Cutting the fabric to create bold angles and lines can make even a plain black dress appear remarkable and fun.

5. Accessorize. Add any wild accessories you have, such as belts, earrings, hair clips, jewelry, and handbags. Remember, accessories can be colorful and loud, and they don't have to match your clothes. Speaking of loud, in decora, a particular Harajuku style, accessories embellish an outfit from head to toe, and objects such as bells are sometimes used to add an aural dimension to the wardrobe.

6. Go wild with your hair and makeup. The Harajuku style doesn't have to stop with your clothes. Pigtails and other "cute" hairstyles are particularly popular, as is dying your hair. Creative, even theatrical makeup can be a fun addition.

7. Wear whatever looks good to you. It's been said that the Harajuku style is not really a protest against mainstream fashion and commercialism (as punk was), but rather a way of dressing in whatever looks good to you. If you think mismatched rainbow and polka-dot leggings look good with a plaid dress, go for it!

8. Smile and say chiizu! If you dress Harajuku style outside of Harajuku, you'll likely draw attention from people unfamiliar with your international fashion sense. If the attention isn't positive, just smile graciously and keep going about your business. But if people ask questions or want to take pictures, strike a pose! The people in Harajuku are proud of their style, so you should be, too.


Many people mistakenly think that dressing Harajuku style is about just "throwing things together." While the assembly of different styles and patterns might seem haphazard, it's important to put a lot of thought into your style. If you study how people dress in the Harajuku shopping district, you'll see that the intricate outfits are carefully chosen to convey a certain image that a random and thoughtless combination never could.

Harajuku style changes very quickly. Keep up with the evolution of the style by reading publications like FRUiTS and Style-Arena.jp (see Sources and Citations below). These publications and others like them offer a wealth of pictures of Harajuku outfits and are updated weekly or monthly. If you want to dress in Harajuku style, looking at pictures is a good way to get inspired.

"Harajuku style" is also known as "FRUiTS fashion" to those who follow the magazine, but neither of these terms are commonly used by the Japanese who epitomize style when describing themselves.

Contrary to popular belief, Harajuku style is not just for the girls. While some variations of the style lend themselves more to females than to males (e.g. Gothic Lolita), many of the hallmarks of the style are gender-neutral. After all, it's about dressing in what looks good to you--why should girls have all the fun?


Don't get carried away with brand loyalty. While it's OK to favor certain designer labels (especially since brand loyalty is big in Japan), Harajuku is about creating your own look, so if you appear just like the mannequins in the mall or the pictures in the catalog, you may be stylish, but you're not Harajuku. Don't be afraid to mix that Calvin Klein dress with a used, torn and tattered pair of jeans and some combat boots.

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