What exactly is Harajuku style?

What exactly is Harajuku style?

by Juliette Eleuterio
5 min

Sailor Moon cosplay, schoolgirl skirts, pink coloured hair, a whole bunch of over the top accessories and kawaii graphics are the sort of things you might find when scrolling through images relating to the Harajuku style. 

The style came about during the early 80s in Tokyo and was named after the Harajuku station in the Shibuya district. It started gaining popularity in the 90s, merging subcultural Japanese and Western styles together, and by the early 2000s, the style transpired all over the world.

@t.yen_ ©

While there is some debate about how the style came to be, it’s undeniable that Japan’s strict guidelines on how to dress was a huge factor in the coming up of the Harajuku culture. From school uniforms to work attire, there was no wiggle room for freedom of expression in the way people were dressing, which is exactly what the Harajuku style is all about.

Teenagers and young adults started to wear much more flamboyant outfits, partly as an act of rebellion and partly because it was simply what they wanted to wear. Though, Harajuku is a hard one to define for the simple fact that it isn’t just one style.

@twinkle.pink_ ©

In 1997, FRUiTS Magazine came on the scene, which documented this style in Tokyo by capturing stylish people as well as adding a brief description of the person, their occupation and what their outfit was inspired by. FRUiTS became a marker of culture of Japan, and allowed the whole world an insight into the subculture that was booming in the streets of Tokyo. Though by 2017, the print magazine was discontinued but continues to post fit pics on Instagram.

Remember how we said Harujuku wasn’t just one specific style? It’s actually made up of so many different subcultures that only adds to the freedom of expression ethos, inviting everyone who wants to to interpret the style in their own way. Here’s a rundown of just some of the styles that might be recognized.

@su1_bo ©

Sweet Lolita

The Lolita style is one that has been coming up strong this year, especially on TikTok. Think 17th century Rococo and Baroque eras, lots of ornate, puffy skirts, lace, bows and either white and light colours or pastel colours. The Lolita aesthetic has often been compared to dressing up like those creepy dolls your grandma decorates our house with, but make it cute.

@sweetbunnyblushes ©

Goth Lolita

Goth Lolita, sometimes referred to as Dark Lolita, is essentially the black-wearing sister of the Sweet Lolita. With the Goth Lolita look, you’ll find very similar styles with a black colour palette, even sometimes sprinkling in elements of steampunk.

©@rhiannomu ©

Kogal

Kogal or ko-gyaru is the Harajuku take on the school uniform. While those uniforms found in educational establishments are tightly regulated, the Kogal style goes full out. Uniform elements like plaid skirts, but make them short, neckties and scarves mixed in with wild haircuts and scrunched up leg warmers. 

@beepastell ©

Decora

This one is by far the most out there style that makes up Harajuku. When it comes to sticking to the Decora aesthetic, people will dress themselves with colourful stockings, leggings, armbands, tutu-style skirts, cropped jackets, but the key is in accessorising, going all out with mini backpacks, hair clips and ties, and having the makeup to match. This style was especially popularised thanks to the singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who was big in the Harajuku scene before getting into music.

@llugkoll ©

Cosplay

Here comes Sailor Moon. Cosplay worldwide is usually reserved for conventions, themed-parties or Halloween, but in the world of Harajuku, Cosplay can be everyday wear. From video games, mangas, TV shows and movies, Cosplay wearers will dress up as their favourite character, sometimes to a T and sometimes just by pulling loose inspiration.

@cutiemissmootjie ©

Visual Kei

Translating to “visual genre”, Visual Kei is heavily influenced by 80s Japanese musicians, specifically rock, metal and rap artists. X Japan became a key figure in this subcultural style, capturing the punk-ish, dark coloured style that has often been compared to the Emo aesthetic.

@14strk ©

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