One glance at the street style scape in Tokyo and I see innocence. These paladins of outlandish color and print and heel shape don’t dress for the confirmation of a camera lens. Their style wreaks of individuality, curiosity, and that exciting element of trial and error. Even the face masks don’t look jarring.
Maybe I’m wrong, though. Maybe they’re doing exactly what we do. Maybe I’m just blinded by the novelty of accessible Tokyo street style. But at first sight, I’ve got to say, I think in matters of this capital-D Debate, (I really didn’t want to go here. At this point, the proverbial horse has been dead ten times and yet subsequently beaten ad nauseam,) Tokyo is beating the shit out of us.
Tuesday morning I received an e-mail from a reader cum pen pal cum galpal informing me of the deluge of Tokyo Fashion Week street style images as photographed by Streetfsn’s Nam on Style.com. Her sentiments went something like, “in terms of ‘peacocking,’ I think it really depends on the region. I mean, what seems like a totally forged marketing ploy of an outfit in New York (in hopes to be shot by Tommy Ton or the like), may be a genuine expression and enthusiasm for fashion in Japan.” I wanted to agree but without ever having been to Tokyo, or even having seen the images yet, I couldn’t. So I remained silent until I had a chance to peruse the photo gallery and after a brief consultation with Man Repeller’s own Kate, here’s the theory we’ve begun to conjecture:
If Tokyo street style is like an Instagram selfie, New York street style is this curiously self-deprecating, somewhat self-aggrandizing, holier than thou I-would-never-post-a-selfie-but-aren’t-these-shoes-great? mobile app lurker – embracing, appreciating, basking in selfie culture from a safe distance but never willingly participating.
As Kate put it, though she loves looking at other people’s selfies, she won’t post her own. Why? Because she doesn’t feel like she has the wearwithall (her pun, not mine) to post something of interest worthy of sharing via selfie. As a defense mechanism, she will chalk up the lack of selfie-sharing to that same blazon of too-cool-for-school attitude documented above, while she quietly double taps the plethora of the mirrors boasting reflections in her feed.
The subjects of those very mirror photos, however, are obviously eager to share something with their networks, right? As a fairly ambitious selfie-grammer, I can say: duh. Frankly, I don’t care if people hate the hyper sense of vanity associated with photographing myself. For every person that rolls his or her eyes, I am almost certain there is at the very least one individual (most days, it’s my mother) satisfied with my amateur snaps. And why do I post them? Because I feel like it. Because I’m wearing something and I think it’s cool or I think it’s outrageous or I think it’s God awful but damnit, I want to celebrate that. All of that.
Which brings me back to the initial, convoluted analogy. There is an undeniable air of “whee! I am wearing what I love because I love it and want to wear it!” in Tokyo that doesn’t seem contrived or offensive or exploitative at all. Fashion is just being fashion the way that most selfies are just…selfies. Across the other lenses of street style photography, it’s hard to neglect that thick sense of pre-calculated restriction, no matter how loud it may look. There are ulterior motives and though the subjects of these photos may appreciate the art and craft and even want to see where their stoic images land, they often remain quiet. I’d argue that this is because the extensive conversation is stripping street photography of its inherent cool-factor. This in turn really makes me wonder about what drives us as human beings. Also, though, if Tokyo street style falls victim to the critique of New York, London, Paris, et al, too, will it eventually lose its innocence?
Has it already done so? The bulk of Tokyo street style seems to be classified easily into specific genres. Is it possible the dedication to looking ‘unique’ is a type of conformity? How’d it get so dramatic?
Ultimately, when we first heard ‘Tokyo Street Style,’ the initial thought was of the really outrageous Hello Kitty or Goth Lolita looks. When that was taken out of the picture, the stunning, original, wearable creativity stood out. Do you think the normalization (zero idea if that’s a real word) of people dressing in a cartoon-ish manner (the line of demarcation between fashion and costume need not apply) makes it easier for the everyday style-conscious gal to take risks? Probably, and that’s awesome.