Style Out There : Decora Fashion in Tokyo-
“Fashion provides one of the most ready means through which individuals can make expressive visual statements about their identities.”
- A Bennett ( Culture and Everyday Life)
Decora Fashion. Tokyo, Japan - Why do they take this fashion to such extremes?
Day 3 -
Our arrival to Tokyo started with a visit to JOL cafe, a meeting spot and beauty salon/ prepping station for decora followers. “Decora” a term literally derived from “decorative”, is more than appropriate to describe this elaborate fashion. My hosts were Kurebayashi and Junnyan, two friends who are firmly rooted in the decora world. Kurebayashi explains that this cafe exists for all the girls whose parents frown on decora fashion and so have to hide it from them. They leave the house in regular clothing and then can decorate themselves in the comfort of the salon. It seems to me like a lot of extra work. Why is this sense of style so important to the girls that they are willing to take all these extra covert steps?
For Kurebayashi, this style is simply fun! She loves the look and feels it speaks to her identity. Her love of decora started with a fascination with earrings, she wore so many at a time and that slowly transformed into full decora fashion. Kurebayashi has been dressing this way for many years now, and is actually an icon to decora followers. As we walk through Harujuku street, she is met with excitement and fans excitedly coo over her. Several shops offer her free food or products. It is fascinating to me that she is viewed as a celebrity in this world, but she explains that she has around 500k followers on social media. Her photo has been included countless times in Fruits magazine and other popular magazines documenting japanese street style, and she is credited to being a trend setter for todays revival of decora fashion.
It all seems very simple and light hearted but it doesn't really answer my question as to why they take this fashion to such an extreme.
I turn my attention to Junnyan who is one of the rare decora boys. Through our translator, he intelligently provides me with well thought out answers but as i ask him questions about why this fashion speaks to him, he begins to shut down. He mentions that the fashion helps him wear a mask. That it could be a device to hide his complexities and inner self. Perhaps this is my answer? Decora fashion gives people something to hide behind. As i try to probe deeper, Kurebayashi jumps in and insists that they use their wardrobe to express their identity. She explains that this form of self expression is actually empowering. That they are communicating information about themselves, dressing from the heart and take pleasure in the process.
Day 4 -
Kanae, a 23 year old with a 1 and half year old baby has recently discovered decora. We chatted as she got ready, and i took great pleasure in watching her attention to detail as she planned and pieced together her outfit. This is a fearless fashion, with a skill for multi layering. Hair clips are matched with pin badges, layered over brightly colored clothes. Tights are teamed with socks, odd shoes are worn with different colored shoelaces swapped out. Jewelry, hats, sometimes wigs are added alongside an assortment of key chains displaying cartoon characters or sushi figurines. Tutus seem to come as standard, often wearing 2 or 3 at a time. The look is “Kawaii”, a japanese word that i will soon be hearing a lot of. Literally translated it means “cute”, but the decora followers take it to mean cool, sweet, hip and adorable. Japanese fashion imagery and advertising tends to lean towards cute unlike western society, where there is an emphasis on sexy.
Walking along Harajuku street with 10 brightly adorned and highly decorated girls was a spell binding experience. My eyes danced back and forth trying to take it all in. Each girl had sculpted such a visually compelling look, and each glance revealed more intricacies of their fashion. Their outfits bombarded me with stimulus, and although i felt rude staring, the girls seemed to correctly interpret my gaze as wonder and awe. There was not one sign of embarrassment. It was evident that the girls took great pride in their appearance. A belabored shriek of “kawaii” was heard as the girls greeted each other. As they busily assessed each others outfits, excited to see how each other had styled themselves.
Although decor fashion looked to me like elaborate costumes, the girls were quick to correct me that it was very different to cosplay (another prominent Japanese fashion). They aren't pretending to be someone else or reenacting a known character. This to them was a unique look which spoke to their own personal identity. Initially everything they wore looked similar to me, just one big colorful crayola box of eclectic style. It was intriguing to learn that they genuinely see themselves as individual and totally different from their friends dress. They loved to be creative and they reiterated that they felt empowered by doing so. My biggest surprise came when i asked them if they received much negative feedback from people. The girls admitted that they did, but when i gave them the opportunity to speak back against all those people, they simple answered that they had nothing to say. There was no message in retaliation. They dress this way for themselves and it did not matter what anyone else on the outside thought. Even Kanae admitted that her husband wasn't fond of her decora fashion but she didn't care! This was something she did for herself and he had to learn to live with it.
Both Rumi my interpreter, and Cat, the german outsider who is now deeply immersed in decora fashion offered insight into Japanese life. In their eyes it is a structured society with many rules. There is even a different language used for when you address an elder or senior versus a friend.
Typically clothes are often dictated by casual or formal events, whether its day or night, the weather and where we work. How we choose to dress impacts how people see us, how we perceive ourselves, but it can also comply with social convention. That is something i am made very aware of in Japan. As Rumi and i walk the streets of Tokyo i soon notice how the clothes are almost uniform like, and a plain white shirt seems almost standard issue. There is an order here, an expectation and code of conduct, although Rumi calls it in her opinion, a repressed culture. Bizarrely in conversation with her off topic, i had a moment of clarity. She asked how careful i was about my diet, and i explained that normally day to day i was very strict. I tend to eat organic food, i believe in the benefits of a whole food plant based diet, i limit sugar and alcohol, however, every now and again i would have a blow out cheat day. This day i would just be reckless, and eat everything and anything, the more sugary and decadent the better. I would literally allow myself to gorge with total freedom having just been subjected to weeks of a meticulous diet. And that was the moment, could i liken my desire to go crazy after following such strict rules to that of the decora fashion? These girls wear a simple school uniform every day till they are 18 years old and then eventually swap that for a monotone, drab suit. Faced with such heavy social pressure and restraint, was decora just their chance to just have a fashion blow out and rebel?
In western society there is almost a fashion rule book. It tells us what we can wear, how we can wear it, when we can wear it. What colors, shapes and fabrics are fashionable for the seasons and for most part we adhere to it. And yet here in Tokyo, a community so enforced with social compliance, ironically, we see Japanese teenagers truly cultivating their own independent style. The decora followers clearly take great joy and celebration in their appearance. It is refreshing to witness these girls dress for themselves. Although the fashion seems extravagant and ostentatious at first, the more i learn about their motivation and the culture that they live in, i can begin to understand it. Even the little decora garb that i flaunted over the few days filming made me feel part of something. The girls were excited to show me how to dress and we all instantly bonded when i showed my willingness to be involved in their photo booth sessions. Honestly, it was fun, the bright colors made me feel more upbeat and i loved the warm response i got from passerby’s. Ultimately, it is hard NOT to have a huge smile on your face when you have a hello kitty band aid taking centre stage on it.