Dramatic Fashion

I confess: I love to write academic stuff, but sometimes I just want to share something personal with you such as what I enjoy doing in my free time, except for writing this blog of course (spoiler: watching series and dressing up). In the past, I have written about Japanese drama a few times, here and here. I am still watching it although not very consistently (I have those binge-watching moments, especially during exam periods and in the weekends) but I can enjoy an episode now and then. It’s also a good exercise for brushing up my Japanese now that I am studying something completely different.


Legal High: so funny

It should be said, however, that I am very picky; I prefer detective and crime drama (the Japanese are Mystery Masters) and slice-of-life drama with a strong sense of humor (I can even tolerate some romance). On the other hand, I am more than fed up with (mostly Korean) dramas that are complete misrepresentations of society, reinforce gender roles like it were the 19th century and feature the same storyline over and over again. Please stop showing me another handsome but arrogant chaebol son, a poor but oh so kind orphaned girl with the latest phone or a so-called “ugly” woman who becomes pretty the moment she takes off her glasses and puts on some make-up. I stopped watching stuff dramas like that, although I am sure that there are still some not so mainstream series out there worth watching.

But this is not what I wanted to write about. So, here we go: I have noticed that, personally, my fashion style corresponds with a specific style in Japanese fashion as recently featured on Japanese television. During my one-year stay in Japan, I often  received the comment that I dress “oshare” (おしゃれ, stylish) as opposed to “kawaii” (可愛い, cute), that other, more typical way of dressing Japanese are famous for. It is true that I like certain elements of Japanese clothes and styling: layering, covering shoulders and cleavage, wearing almost always feminine skirts, flower patterns, putting on accessories, high but comfy heels AND always wearing matching socks, especially in sandals (socks are everything – I have them in around 50 different colors and patterns). Besides, I also adore traditional kimono. It really is a egg-or-chicken question: do I like Japanese fashion because I dress similarly or am I being influenced by it? Yet, some of the things about my appearance are not Japanese at all, such as my make-up, and – let’s be honest – the shape of my body. Below are some outfits I approve of from two dramas I like(d) to watch (there are probably more but I can’t remember. So feel free to recommend a drama with some great fashion in it!).

  1.  Jimi ni Sugoi! Kōetsu Garu Kōno Etsuko 地味にスゴイ! 校閲ガール・河野悦子 (Simpleness is Great! Proofreading Girl Kono Etsuko). I recently finished watching this drama and I really liked it. The ambitious and fashionable Etsuko finally gets in the publishing company of her dreams, albeit in the gloomy proofreading section. I identify with Etsuko’s outgoing personality as well as with her wardrobe: I enjoy wearing scarfs (around the neck and in my hair), midi high-waisted skirts, lots of colors, flowers and socks, and I like to try out a new hairstyle now and then. There is also a vintage feeling about these outfits. As a keen vintage collector (I only buy secondhand clothing) I especially appreciate the 70s Bohemian vibe and the 50s silhouette Etsuko incorporates in her fashion style.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  2. A few years back, I watched Okitegami Kyoko no Biboroku 掟上今日子の備忘録 (The Memorandum of Kyoko Okitegami). I’m not a huge fan of this quirky detective’s silver bob, but I admire the way she effortlessly mixes and matches colors and patterns. Her clothes are not tight-fitted yet timelessly elegant. I especially like the color-blocking. Plus, adding a beret is always a good idea. It also makes me realize I should wear tartan more often. By the way, it’s obvious that glasses make you more stylish (don’t believe Kdrama makeovers, kids). That’s it for today! I will be back soon with a new post (you can expect something academic).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



Modernizing the Kimono

Kimono photographed at the trendy shop Tokyo 135°

Kimono displayed at the trendy shop Tokyo 135°

Traditional Japanese clothing is known for its specific color scheme, patterns, cut and use of fabric. Kimono 着物, literally meaning “wear thing”, is the umbrella term for all types of Japanese style clothing (also called wafuku 和服). Unlike tailored western clothing, kimono are constructed out of long strips of fabric and are wrapped around the body. In this way, they fit all sizes (full-length kimono are often too long; excessive fabric is tucked under the obi 帯, or belt). The only (rather small) distinction is between men and women clothing.

Like any Japanophile would do, I bought some vintage kimono during my stay in Japan. New kimono’s are very expensive (they are often family heirloom, or they are hired for special occasions), but you can find many second-hand shops in Japan where they sell a whole array of these beautiful garments and accessories at very low prices. I prefer second-hand not only because it is cheaper, but also because the idea that someone else has already worn and cared for this piece makes it more valuable.

yukata blog

Pictures of women in yukata (summer wear)

My collection of kimono started out of interest in all things Japanese, but instead of regarding my purchases as curiosities that should be safely put away in the closet at home, I actually like to wear them on a daily basis in combination with “normal” clothing and non-traditional elements. The three different pieces you see below are two haori 羽織 and one full-length grass-green robe, which I had adjusted as a mid-length jacket. Haori are hip-length jackets traditionally worn over a robe with small sleeves. I believe the ones I have in my possession are for men (at least I was told so because of the cut of the sleeves). The green kimono is a woman’s model.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A few years ago, “kimono” became a trend in street fashion, although it is a pity that most of these garments do not resemble the original very much (more something like a flimsy nightdress with exotic motifs that is open in the front). In Japan, kimono is still worn by many people, mostly on festive occasions. As everyday wear, however, it is rare. Some elder people still wear Japanese clothing everyday, but in general, kimono as seen on the streets is rather exceptional. Nevertheless, kimono have never disappeared from the Japanese fashion scene. To fit a more modern image, some brands have re-invented the kimono by selecting different and surprising materials, and styling the look with modern clothes or elements.


Modern wool haori from the brand Trove using modern materials: the left one has ventile lining, the right one cupra rayon lining.

tokyo135 denimkimono

Denim UK-inspired kimono from Tokyo 135°

From the late 19th century on, kimono influenced the western fashion world tremendously. Japanese clothing is so different from how Westerners were dressing at that time, it caused a revolutionary change in the traditional silhouette for women (small waist, hourglass shape). Silk kimono dominated the fashion scene during the artistic movement called Japonism (although slightly delayed in comparison to the arts). Exotic objects such as “Japanese gowns ” were popular as peignoirs, home wear or costumes. The wardrobe of Phryne Fisher, a feisty lady detective in the Australian 1920s drama series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries  contains some beautiful examples of the kimono style that was in vogue then.

Two weeks ago, I visited “Game changers – reinventing the 20th century silhouette” at the Fashion Museum in Antwerp (MoMu). This exhibition centers around the work of Balenciaga, but shows the Japanese influences on 20th century haute couture designers as well. The kimono became model for a new, freer silhouette, shaping the body of modern working women. In the pictures below (excuses for the bad quality), you can see Japanese elements, such as broad shoulders, a round neckline, the detail in the back of the pink dress, resembling an obi, straight lines, no emphasis on the curves of the body, broad sleeves, two-dimensionality, dropped waistline etc. There is also the work of Kubota Ichiku, who experiments with new textiles and designs. His series showcase several kimono linked to each other in a continuing landscape. Personally, I believe that the act of modernizing traditions, such as the kimono, is proof that this tradition is still alive and keeps abreast of times. How will the kimono be represented in the fashion of the future, I wonder?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Special thanks to my sister Elise, for being my photographer and my biggest supporter!

The Inspiration for Lolita Fashion

the inspiration for lolita fashion - nippakuA one piece dress with a bell-shaped skirt or a jumper skirt with a neatly buttoned-up frilly blouse over a petticoat or bloomers. Knee-length socks in polished Mary Jane shoes. On top of naturally colored luxuriant curls an Alice bow. Light make-up in pastel tints. That is what it takes to dress like a lolita girl.

lolita-pink nippaku

)wo “sweet lolita’s”.  – tokyofashion.com

The word “lolita”, as you can remark, has connotations with a novel of the same name, written by Vladimir Nabokov (a wonderfully well-written work, in my opinion). “Lolita” was introduced in Japan to describe the child-like, innocent image of this fashion style. Funny is that the girl Dolores, for who Lolita is a nickname, is not an innocent creature at all. Could it be that the person who introduced “lolita” to describe a fashion style didn’t read the book? You have to admit, it sounds cute. But maybe there is another reason. Although lolita girls look fragile and cute, they are down to earth. What is hidden behind their sugar-coated image can look as little Victorian as Kim Kardashian at the beach. Or in the words of Tiffany Godoy and Ivan Vartanian:

 For some reason, it resists classification. Certainly, there are some very general commonalities with the look of Rococo royalty, such as expansive skirts or the abundant use of frill. But Gothic Lolita has many other defining qualities beyond these. Furthermore, the individuals that practice Gothic Lolita have lost their bearings with the music, paintings, and literature they love. While they may like cute kids’ things and old-style classical music, they love grotesque, misshapen monsters, are devoted to Georges Bataille’s academicism, and are mad about violent rock. So, along with our bizarre sense of style and an apparent conflict in taste, we are always thought of as freaks by society.

Mana is

Mana is a famous musician, mostly dressed up in lolita fashion. He has his own brand Moi-même-Moitié. He designs two styles of lolita fashion: Elegant Gothic Lolita and Elegant Gothic Aristocrat.

Lolita girls do not blindly mimicry the fashion of the 19th Century, nor do they have an old-fashioned lifestyle. Some of them are tired of contemporary fashion, exposing too much skin. Others feel elegant and pretty in a lolita outfit. The short documentary the secret life of the lolita tells us that “though they may appear cute, they are not to be underestimated”.

Lolita fashion was born in Japan. Why? Despite the fact that these clothes are largely inspired by Victorian and Rococo fashion, there are certain similarities with Japanese fashion culture and social thinking.

In the first place, the concept of being wrapped up in many layers. (Later more about that in the second part of my posts about Japan’s wrapping culture.) From head to toe, Japanese Harajuku youngsters tend to dress up in a certain way, they present ‘the whole package’. Lolita fashion is a mix of Western Goth subculture and 19th century European dress style. So it appears to be non-Japanese. This style however, differs greatly from how Victorian women dressed in reality. Lolita fashion looks old-fashioned, but would have been unthinkable at that time. Lolita fashion is an example of cultural hybridisation (a concept I have discussed many times before on this blog). While forms of culture (e.g. fashion) spread around the globe, not necessarily the process of globalisation with homogenisation as a result is working, local cultural interaction plays the most important role. Antropologist Robertson introduced the term “glocalisation” for this process.

from Gothic & Lolita Bible, thé fashion magazine for lolita fans.

One of the more gothic inspired pages in Gothic & Lolita Bible, thé fashion magazine for lolita fans.

In the second place, and related to glocalisation, the image of cuteness. Whereas Western women and men believe being sexy is attractive, Japanese people prefer cute girls.

One of the most prominent aspects of GothLoli as a culturally hybridised form is the interaction between Western gothic/classic fashion and the Japanese aesthetical concept of kawaii (cute). (….) In general, kawaii refers to something childish/ girlish and sweet. According to sociologist Merry White, the concept of cuteness is not ‘restricted to children in Japan, though it means childlike and sweet, happy and upbeat—and vulnerable’ and Japanese cute style is defined as ‘bright for boys, lacy for girls’. – Masafumi Monden

Lolita girls often adopt a cute manner of speech and behavior. They prefer their presentation as much sugar-coated as the many cookies and cupcakes they order for their weekly tea parties.

Sweet girls in Gothic & Lolita Bible.

Sweet girls in Gothic & Lolita Bible.

Let’s have a look at the inspiration for Lolita fashion: rococo and victorian age fashion. Rococo, also called late baroque, is an 19th century artistic movement and style which developed a new dress silhouette for women. The contrast of a tight corseted bodice and a wide skirt was born. This silhouette continued to be in vogue during the victorian age and revived in lolita fashion. Panniers and petticoats often extended sideways with the help of an enormous hoop construction underneath. This extreme width, however, is not very fancied today. Neither are the tight corsets and over-the-top wigs.

Kirsten Dunst demonstrates the wide pannier under a evening gown worn by Marie Antoinette.

Kirsten Dunst demonstrates the wide pannier under a evening gown worn by Marie Antoinette.

As Rococo fashion flourished in France, Great Britain experimented with fashion during the Victorian Age (1830-900). I received a box full of precious magazines (La mode illustrée/”Illustrated Fashion”) from my grandmother some time ago. It was possession of her grandmother. The magazines date back to 1873 and were printed in Paris. My great-great-grandmother had them sent to her Belgian home every month. They illustrate the fashion worn at home and during soirées by ladies of the higher social class. Another source I keep at home are the porcelain dolls I collect.

20140803_16460620140803_163426Similarities with contemporary lolita fashion are the many frills, detailed adornments like bow ties, curly hair, a tight fit top and bell-shaped skirt. There is, however, an important difference: these victorian ladies do not look cute or innocent, they look gracious and refined. They have kids, a household to manage and guests to entertain with eloquent talk. Next to that, typical elements of victorian fashion are absent in lolita’s dress rooms. For example, the enormous hats with feathers, wide puffed sleeves, sexy low necklines or hair pieces to wear as elaborate curls.


It is likely that (cute) victorian children and adolescent’s fashion was more inspiring. The girls wear shorter skirts so that their (often) white-colored socks are visible. They have cute boots with low heels and their dresses are kept simple and Alice in Wonderland-like.

lolita kids Victorian girls wore jumper skirts over frilly chemises or one piece dresses. Their hair was not completely put up in loose curls. How lolita girls dress nowadays, is very similar to victorian children’s fashion. A difference is the length of the skirt:

Drawing out of Harper's Bazar (1868) about the appropriate length of skirts.

Drawing out of Harper’s Bazar (1868) about the appropriate length of skirts.

lolita - innocent world

A jumper skirt over a white blouse, Innocent World collection.












Sweet/Gothic/Classic lolita prefer their skirts to be knee-length. Of course there are many substyles in lolita, Elegant Gothic lolita for example. EGA’s tend to dress more mature. Men as well can enjoy this style without having to wear petticoats, and women in pants do not break the dress code.


Elegant Gothic Lolita.


– Godoy, Tiffany, and Ivan Vartanian, eds. Japanese Goth. New York, NY : [Enfield: Universe ; Publishers Group UK, distributor], 2009.

– Masafumi Monden. Transcultural Flow of Demure Aesthetics: Examining Cultural
Globalisation through Gothic & Lolita Fashion. University of Technology, Sydney. http://newvoices.jpf-sydney.org/2/chapter2.pdf

– blog History of European Fashion

Japanese Patterns in Western Fashion

I recently bought a silk, short kimono-styled top from Zara. This item was from the summer collection, though. (I’m the type of sale hunter who waits till all the mainstream stuff is gone so she can lay her hand on all the edgy, quirky, cheap left overs.)

japanese-prints-zara-kimono-jacketIt seems that during the past season, Japanese patterns were in vogue. I saw it at Zara, H&M, Mango and other chain stores. With “Japanese patterns” the brands mean embroidered images of birds, cranes, flowers and so on in vivid colors. The silk kimono jacket moved from the collector’s room straight into the ladies’ wardrobe.



H&M, Mango

H&M, Mango



On the catwalk, items inspired by Japanese style garments could be seen in the Spring/Summer collections of fashion houses.

Vivienne Westwood - marketplace.asos.com

Vivienne Westwood – marketplace.asos.com

Tokyo Street Fashion and Belgian Designers

Tokyo is famous for it’s fashion subcultures. Especially in the Harajuku 原宿 district, you can find Japanese youth sporting styles like gothic lolita (gosuroriゴスロリ), decora デコラ, cosplay コスプレ, visual kei, gyaru ギャル, punk and hiphop (although I heard the Harajuku heydays are over by now). But if we talk about street fashion, we must not forget the individual stylish ones, whose creativity lies in combining fashion items or sewing clothes themselves. A lot of fashion street snaps can be found on the internet (see under references).

I check Style Arena weekly, and was surprised that Belgian designers were sometimes worn or mentioned as “favorite brand/designer”. (By the way, the fact that people actually wear expensive brands as “street wear” was surprising too.) I have to admit that I’m quite proud of our Belgian fashion industry. Take for example “the Antwerp Six“, a group of influential avant-garde fashion designers who graduated in the ’80 from the Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

So, I gathered some pictures from Style Arena to compare. Most of the time, one or more items worn are from Belgian designers.

fashion1fashion2fashion3fashion4fashion5What does these styles have in common? 1. Almost all are worn by men. 2. The colors black, white and grey are popular. 3. Often combined with Japanese fashion items like Comme des Garçons. 4. Loose clothes, except for the tailored jackets. 5. plain fabrics, not patterned. The most popular Belgian designers are Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten and Raf Simons. Following photos are from their summer collections (in the same order as mentioned).

maison martin margiela

ann demeulemeester womenann demeulemeester mendries van notenraf simonsI think you can sense a resemblance with “the Japanese spirit”. No frills, pure looks with solid fabrics and simple colors. I would like to call it “minimalism”. According to my basic guide to fashion, “deconstructivism” is a term that covers most of Belgian fashion, while  Hanae MoriIssey Miyake, Kenzo Takada, Rei Kawakubo, Yōji Yamamoto and the like are known as “Japanese avant-garde”. Fashion and power-blogsite says:

Issey Miyake (considered the founding father of avant-garde fashion), Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto, known as “The Big Three,” brought in a new style that Europe hadn’t seen before. The style was characterized by monochromatic, asymmetrical, and baggy looks that set the stage for the beginning of postmodern interpretation of “clothes that break the boundary between the West and the East, fashion and anti-fashion, and modern and anti-modern.”

Both movements were a reaction against the tasteless, lewd glitter and glamour of the ’80. However, if I take a look at the current collections of Japanese designers, they feature extremely bright looks. In my opinion, Belgian and Japanese influenced and were influenced by each other since the eighties. Japanese people today who sport an avant-garde style, naturally tend to take a liking to Belgian fashion, because there are so much similarities. To go back to the street fashion pictures: I think this style looks classy, timeless and sophisticated. Both men and women dress cool, because of the androgynous look. So, mixing up Japanese and Belgian brands seems to be a good idea. If I only got the money…


– Street Fashion Blogs Japan: Japanese streets, Style Arena, Tokyo Faces, Japanese Street Report, Tokyo Fashion, Drop Tokyo.

– Street fashion pictures are taken from Style Arena and edited.

– Other photos are taken from the official designer’s sites.