Tokyo. To foreigners it’s a city full of contradictions and to most it’s overwhelming. If you’re traveling to Tokyo, Japan, I’m going to lay down travel style ideas that will help you blend in while also retaining your own style. I’m going to try to tackle Japanese style, at least from a tourist perspective, and what the average tourist should bring when traveling to Japan.
Traveling to Tokyo my first time, I only experienced the city for a short period. Thinking myself as a fashionable person (to be honest I looked drab while there), I went direct to the fashion district, which is known as Harajuku. Any Gwen Stefani fans will know there is a song about Harajuku! Harajuku is traditionally oriented to youth fashion but the area has expanded to include high end brands on Omotesando street. It’s a landmark in it’s own right and if you love style, unique style, Harajuku is the place to be.
So at the very least, like all major capital cities around the world, fashion and style are important in Tokyo. From my personal experience, Tokyo is a bit conformist, in that Japanese people love to have similar styles. However there is this thing that happens on weekends in Yoyogi Park where Japanese create their own bizarre style, and it’s awesome.
In basic, they conform to what society feels is appropriate for most of their normal life, what their age feel is appropriate, etc. But being a foreigner could have it’s advantages as you’re always seen as such and therefore can bring your own style into the mix. Trust me you’ll be gawked at a lot either way.
What to Wear in Tokyo?
Conformity, Simplicity, and Modernity are the 3 words that come to mind when thinking of the Tokyo mindset on fashion. To an outsider, some of the choices that a typical Japanese man or woman make may seem a little out there and a tourist probably won’t be dressing in the same manner. Also keep in mind that Japanese style is often contradicting. Majority of Japanese dress rather in a smart modern way and only sometimes do some feel obliged to dress in unique and bizarre ways. For a tourist the goal is to dress in that smart modern way.
Women wear different clothing depending on age. That could be said for any country but it’s more true with Japan I feel. In the young generations, darker and muted colors have become more popular as of recent. The crazy colors that sometimes we see associated with Japanese fashion is an outlier for the most part and a typical tourist or Japanese woman would not wear that in everyday life. The trends to be more western wear with a flair of Japanese added. Recent trends have been more loose and flowy outfits and ready to wear is for sure the dominant style. Skirts, t-shirts, shorts, jackets, scarves, dresses, jeans, boots, sneakers, and flats are all very popular in society today.
Women of age do tend to wear longer and more conservative clothing. Style is important at any age but in Japan older women are conservative by nature so you won’t see many with crazy colors or anything too tight. Black, greys and muted colors are always popular in Japan as is white. Japan today feels like an extension to western wear but there are still Japanese play at style at work here.
Like French women, Japanese women like the ‘natural’ look. They want to their skin to be light in color, fair complexion, with only a slight amount of make up. The average Japanese women does not put their skin or body on display, at least compared to in the west. Being covered up is a popular look and the clothes is what really speaks to the audience.
Men, like the women, also have reverted to more black and muted colors in recent year. The average Japanese man is much tinier compared to western counterparts and Tokyo style definitely follows a more European style where clothes are fitted, tight, and what Americans would call ‘metro.’ Western style is actually very popular in Tokyo too and they will wear t-shirts, jeans, jackets, sperry type of shoes, converses, looser pants that are fitted around the waist, scarves, and caps are very much in right now.
Unlike the west, Japanese men are actually very much into their skin like their female counterparts. Skincare in Japan is very important and if you’re traveling there, you may find many stores that carry amazing skin products. Give it a try!
Like the female counterparts, Japan is very much divided between youth wear and me of age. In Tokyo though, men are probably less creative in the way they dress and you’ll see many business type of dressing, at least during the day. Even at night ‘salary men,’ go out and celebrate the night in their business wear. The city of Tokyo is stylish in their own way and it’s common now for the style to be western in some ways but with Japanese flair. All clothes should be fitted to the body as is popular in Japan.
Season to Season
The Tokyo ideal is to always be in style and to wear appropriate clothing depending on the season. Tokyo does experience all four seasons.
In Fall temperatures do get cooler and heavier clothing comes out. It’s stylish in Japan to wear, jackets, coats, and dark jeans as in the west. When I travel anywhere I often see Japanese men and women were jackets and coats when other tourists are wearing shorter clothing. Style is usually muted, conservative and respectable. During the colder parts of falls scarves are also popular for both men and women. In Tokyo, Fall is not extreme but can be chilly. I recommend sticky with Fall colors including browns, blacks, grays, beige, whites and blues. Sweaters, cardigans, and trench coats are also popular to wear.
In Winter most men and women wear plenty of heavy jackets, coats, pants, jeans, and flats, especially the younger generations. For women high heels are still not as popular like they are in the west. For men it’s acceptable to wear any type of shoes that we wear in the west but it’s more common to not wear boots but more converse, sperrys, and casual type of shoes. Although boots can definitely still be worn. Like in fall muted to grey, black and white are very popular in the winter. Japanese style tends to be conservative and no doubt in winter clothes are layered. Sweaters, shirts, and layering is also pretty common.
In Spring temperatures range from cold to chilly to warm. Unlike western countries, Japanese tend to to still dress more conservatively and in muted colors. Floral is somewhat popular but in general both men and women like a modern with simple color look. Bright colors are not as popular during Spring compared to other major fashion cities like Paris. Find a mixture of simple colors that build an outfit. For example a blazer with a simple t-shirt underneath for men paired with dark jeans. For women it really can range and most things that are acceptable in the west also apply to Tokyo. Sandals are not traditionally worn on the streets, even in the summer, like in the west.
In Summer it is acceptable to go with more colorful clothing and to wear shorts and t-shirts. Remember simplicity and clean colors over the top in most cases will work in Tokyo.
By June it’s usually warm enough to shed the jackets and coats and start to wear short sleeves, shorts, skirts, dresses and lighter colors. For both men and women it’s totally acceptable to wear t-shirts paired with shorts and to wear sandals, high heels, flats, sneakers, and other shoes that are common in the west as well.
For men it’s the same with jackets and darker colors. Usually men like to wear short sleeves, polos, fitted t-shirts and shirts as well as fitted shorts and jeans. Style is still kept and there should be some color and patterns in the wardrobe. Stick with shoes like converse, sperry’s, and low heeled boots (for night time mostly). It can be warm in Tokyo, especially if you plan to walk around so choose clothes that are the most comfortable.
Tokyo is considered to be a stylish city and to be a young city. Most of the population comes to the city to work and the Japanese work hard. Note that fashion on the streets may reflect that with more formal wear being seen during the working hours. Tokyoite’s understand that dressing correctly is essential in everyday life and you wouldn’t want to go to your job looking outdated and frumpy. And no creases! Their looks are designed to simple, stylish, and with a bit of a modern twist. Owning your style and outfit is necessary. Confidence is key!
When traveling to Tokyo, dump your collegiate wear or anything that screams loud and lazy. No sweats! Scarves are always a great add-on for both men and women. Japanese definitely favor an ‘European’ look.
I think it’s unsurprising that Tokyo is rather a conformed society. It is Japan after all. But that doesn’t mean their isn’t creativity. There is, it’s just subtle. Simplistic design has always been apart of Japanese identity and that’s true with how they dress. It probably stems from ‘less is more’ type of thing. Tokyoite’s are not flashy people by nature and it’s not like Italy where you see lots of jewelry, etc. It’s very much simple yet fashion forward. If it’s not flattering, don’t wear it.
For both men and women it’s pretty comparable to the west in the way Japanese accessorize. There are a few exceptions however including that men are way more willing to use duffel bags and satchels unlike in the United States. Of course for women the usual accessorize is acceptable like necklaces, watches, headbands, sunglasses and handbags. Tokyo is a capital city retains all the trappings of other capital cities. People want to be seen and the look is probably more flashy than what it would be outside of Tokyo.
Look Like a Tokyoite?
Some Tokyoite’s may wear high-end brands but the most wear everyday clothes from their favorite department stores or clothing stores, like
- OIOI Marui
- Shibuya 109 Tower
If you’re shopping in Tokyo, you’ll be covering a lot of area. Tokyo has so much shopping that it’s kind of mind boggling. The main areas include Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, Roppongi, Downtown Tokyo, and Ginza. Remember that for both men and women, Japanese sizes are quite small, so you’ll probably be going up in a size if you’re from the west. Also don’t be afraid to wear western brands. Japanese also wear western brands.
Fashion is pretty important in Tokyo, especially for women but that doesn’t mean you have to look exactly like a Tokyo. As a foriegner they expect already for you to look different. This is a way to blend in more with the society there and of course appreciate Japanese style.
If the clothing doesn’t fit right on the body then don’t wear it. Also think about how many times you will wear the piece of clothing and if can you combine it to work with other pieces of clothes? Functionality is important and your whole wardrobe should fit with your entire style.
Conformity, simplicity, and youthful are the basics in Tokyo style. However given that Tokyo covers vast styles, you don’t have to follow all the rules while traveling in Tokyo. In fact, Tokyoites expect foreigners to dress different from them. This page is to help travelers blend in with the Tokyo crowds more and to get a basic understanding of Tokyo fashion.
Just like in other parts of the rule, dump any clothes that don’t fit well. Fit is always important. Covering the basics, Tokyo and the rest of Japan, tends to be very conformed and simplistic. Over the top with flashy colors rarely works in Japan unless you’d like to look outside the mainstream. Only buy items that fit right for your body and look and mostly likely you’ll be okay traveling in Tokyo. Contact me if you have any questions or leave a comment below. Feel free to share!
images by: tokyostreetstyle, tokyofaces, theimpression