May 23, 2012

'Cool Japan' school uniforms, now spreading across the globe

Features:'Cool Japan' school uniforms: A tale of imported culture now spreading across the globe
Sailor-style outfits, blazers, and stand-up collars are just some representative items from Japanese school uniforms, which are now spreading across the world as part of the "Cool Japan" trend. Behind the skirts and the sleeves, however, are decades' worth of imported culture and generational changes.

In July 2011, some 30 youths of different ethnicities were found on stage in a Japanese fashion show in Paris as part of France's big annual Japanese culture event, Japan Expo. The models sported checked miniskirts, cardigans, blazers, and other items found in modern Japanese school uniforms.

In addition to cute outfits, the performances on the catwalk were abundant in "peace" signs and other typical Japanese gestures and poses -- followed by loud applause from the audience -- all of which underscored the "kawaii," or cute, appeal of Japanese culture, which seems to be turning into an internationally accepted term.

The fashion show was organized by school uniform retailer Conomi, which has five shops, including two in Tokyo's largest youth fashion area, Harajuku.

"The event made me realize that Japanese school uniforms are no longer perceived as 'cosplay,' but as real fashion," says Conomi's Vice President, Toyoko Yokoyama, 36, who can't shake off the excitement she felt at the show.
Youngsters wearing Japanese school uniforms pose for a photograph after the July 2011 Japan Expo in Paris, France. (Photo courtesy of Conomi)

Conomi's school uniforms are original items that are not part of any school's designated uniforms. Nevertheless, youngsters -- often accompanied by their parents -- are flooding Conomi's shops, passionately choosing neckties, sweaters, blazers, skirts, and other items. In other words, even students who don't attend schools that require students to wear uniforms are keen on wearing them as fashion, company officials say.

"It seems that many youngsters perceive school uniforms as a type of clothing they can wear only when they are young -- a limited sort of fashion 'privilege,'" Yokoyama says. "Recently boys are increasingly visiting the shops too. It seems that their mothers are trying to make them look like handsome school boys from popular TV dramas."

Girls wearing sailor-style uniforms first introduced at Fukuoka Jo Gakuin pose for a photograph in this 1922 file photo.
Whether in Japan or abroad, it seems fair to say that school clothing is at the forefront of "kawaii" and "kakkoii" (cool) fashion for youngsters.

Looking back on the history of uniforms in modern Japanese education after the promulgation of the school system in 1872, the standard school uniform style for female students was "hakama," a type of traditional Japanese long skirt. This particular style spread across the country around the beginning of the 20th century, and quickly became a symbol of female Japanese students.

Originally, the female school hakama used to be colored purple, but this was later changed to "ebichairo," or brownish-crimson, as purple in Japan was considered a noble color, traditionally worn by aristocrats. According to some historical sources, following the color change, female students were nicknamed "Ebichairo Shikibu" after the author of "The Tale of Genji," Murasaki Shikibu, the first part of whose name means "purple."

No comments: