Last Updated on April 14, 2021
Japanese fashion has always wowed the world, with a bold sense of creativity, color, fun, and whimsy. No wonder that some of the world’s most unique fashion designers and brands have come from Japan, such as Issey Miyake and the legendary Yohji Yamamoto.
You could spend an entire week (or year, to be honest) shut away studying the rich history of Japanese style through the centuries and the various districts of the bustling cities, each with their unique fashion tribes.
Fashion in Japan in the 1990s was varied, fascinating, and worthy of reviving over and over again in 2020 and beyond. We’ve gone back in time and wandered the streets of Tokyo (only in our minds, unfortunately) to find the best Japanese trends of the 1990s.
One of the most well-known Japanese styles of the 90s was the school-girl style, known as kogyaru (or Kogal). This trend was defined by very short tartan school uniform skirts, knee-high white socks worn loose, leather shoes, a round-collar blouse, and an oversized button-up knit cardigan. A name-brand scarf such as Burberry was also a popular addition.
- Make the look a little more age-appropriate by wearing a slightly longer skirt, and avoid plaid if you don’t want to be too “school-centric”. Pick a high-waisted, box-pleated skirt that ends mid-thigh and pair with opaque or sheer tights
- To make it more streetwear and less school-wear, pair the skirt with a slouchy tee tucked into the skirt, perhaps with an embellishment or bold print
- Blazers or suit jackets give more structure than knit cardigans and can elevate the look to a more professional level
- Finish the look off with cute leather brogues and a silk necktie
Harajuku style (decora)
One of the most popular and well-recognized Japanese styles of the 90s and beyond is the Harajuku style, also known as decora. While there are many styles within the Harajuku district, and “Harajuku style” is a mix of many fashion tribes, the general public thinks of decora when they think of Harajuku girls.
This style is characterized by the wild and abundant use of color, cartoon character inspiration, and a burst of accessories. Decora is youthful and fun, you can’t help but smile when you see it. Better yet, why not wear it?
- Look for a flared or tutu-style skirt that cinches the waist to create a flattering silhouette. Pair with a bright tee in a pastel or neon shade, or with a cartoon graphic
Find a pair of patterned stockings or tights to wear under your skirt for extra coverage, as knee-high socks can be a little less age-appropriate once we hit our mid-20s and beyond (sigh, but it’s true). Think tights with bows, fruits, kittens, hearts, or anything cute and sweet
It’s all about the accessories! Cover your jacket in an array of badges and brooches, dress your arms in multi-colored bangles, and adorn your hair with headbands and sparkling clips. Add a bright fanny pack covered in knick-knacks, badges, and patches
Keep your makeup as fresh and youthful as possible, and accentuate the face with stick-on diamantes or even glittering stick-on tattoos
Who says you have to go all-out with any trend?
You can let the aesthetic guide you, but take the parts you love and leave the rest.
For example, you may love the decora way of using color, so use that to create your palette. Or, you may love the use of jewelry, so pick one arm to adorn with bangles as a subtle homage to the trend
Lolita Kawaii (kawaii means “cute”) was an important trend in the Japanese fashion landscape in the 90s (and still is). The look involves Victorian-inspired clothes with bundles of frills, all-things baby pink, ultra-feminine, girly, and doll-like. Think parasols, lace, bonnets, corsets, satin, and ribbons in the hair.
However, it’s not all girly and blushed, there’s also the gothic lolita sub-trend, with mostly black or moody-toned clothes and often a deep lip. The Lolita look is a dedicated approach to costume-style fashion and a nod to the creative way many Japanese women approach clothing and personal aesthetics.
- Put your own spin on the look by handpicking the aspects you enjoy and can fit into your daily life. You may opt for a pale pink satin corset top with wide-leg pants, with a lace bolero and bow-adorned headband
Pair a lacy, feminine pink dress with a fitted waist and flared skirt with a pair of leather studded boots. This fuses Lolita Kawaii with 90s grunge, a phenomenal combo
In the 90s, the style known as Visual-Kei rose in popular culture, stemming from Visual-Kei bands such as X-Japan. The Visual-Kei fashion aesthetic is bold, rebellious, and over-the-top. It has often been compared with other music-inspired trends such as glam rock, with plenty of leather pants, sky-high mohawks, and thick androgynous makeup.
Visual-kei fuses many aesthetics such as punk, grunge, and even a little of the Lolita trend! You may see intricate coats with lace and boning, leather corsets, or bondage-style jackets worn over bare torsos.
- Be brave and dye your hair a bold shade of orange or fuschia and pile it atop your head in an array of spikes
- Embrace layering different textures such as leather, lace, and ornate embroidery
- Cut the cheekbones with a cool-toned contouring shade for sharp lines, with smokey, angular eye makeup and red lips
- Don an intricate military jacket with gold buttons and lace edging, paired with jeans and a studded belt
Gyaru (Ganguro) style
Ganguro is one of the most unique Japanese styles of the 90s. The look was worn by gyaru girls who would apply a deep, orange-toned fake tan and foundation, with super-pale lips and harsh black eyeliner. The eyes were often made-up with pale, pearlescent shadow, with black false eyelashes and plenty of dark eyeliner.
The lips were sometimes made pale with a light concealer (an extreme example of the “concealer lips” trend worn by Western women such as Christina Aguilera in the 00s). Ganguro girls often wore long fake fingernails, lots of bright jewelry, mini skirts, tanks, and platform heels.
- Tone down the look by bronzing the skin with a warm-toned bronzer while still staying true to your natural skin tone
- Wear a pale pink or nude lipstick and use a slightly darker lip-liner to add warmth and life to the lips
- Try a deep brown or bronze eyeliner to avoid the risk of creating harsh lines, especially during the day
- Use pastel-colored face paints or liquid eyeliners to draw delicate flowers or hearts on your cheeks for music festivals (or simply a whimsical weekend)