Where street style is still just style from the street




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 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.

Get more Personal Style ?
  • normalization is totally a word.

  • Dana

    The Japanese are the original purveyors of fanatically photographed street style. Fruits-a virtual encyclopedia of Tokyo ‘fashion’ has been around for decades–long before i-everything, pin-this, insta-that, blah, blah, blah. And you’re right, they are ‘quiet’ about it. Certain style tribes have existed forever–the Harajuku rock-a-billy, Elvis worshippers, the Gothic Lolitas, the Ganguro girls, Cosplay, etc. I love that they LIVE the fashion and the lifestyle that goes with it because that’s just what they do–I guess that’s what you mean by innocence. I don’t know if the collective ‘we’ will ever have the guts to take such outrageous risks without sole purpose of the photo-op, but I have mad respect for those that do.

  • Lindsay

    this is a really interesting debate. i lived in tokyo for a year and i think they were way ahead of the curve when it comes to street style, period. long before scott schuman et al, there were entire japanese magazines that featured street style exclusively. groups of photographers would stand at a specific intersection in Harajuku and people (not just goth-lolita/cos-play/gyarus) would get dressed up and walk by hoping to be photographed. it certainly wasn’t anything like the spectacle at NYFW but i think it did count as a lower-key form of peacocking. just my two cents 😉

  • Anne

    A HOT MESS!!!!!!!!

  • Will Code For Clothes

    I need to get my ass to Tokyo asap, as possible.

  • Checkered hightop mismatched wooden platform vans!

    • synnove

      HOW to get these?

    • synnove

      or should I say; how to make these?

  • Meghan

    People in Tokyo have such fun with fashion , they really are on a different level .

    xo Meg<3

  • The perfect place to shoot fashion!

  • @noelmo08

    and yet, how come we rarely ever see you in Rei Kawakubo’s clothes? can any CDG manics vouch for me?

  • Jennifer

    I love how fun and creative fashion is there!

    xo Jennifer

  • Lauren

    interesting debate. no doubt in my mind that tokyo street style is straight up art! it is amazing.



  • monkeyshines
  • Marina Casapu

    You don’t need to explain anybody why you post selfies!! Everybody does it, we all love ourselves. What I like about your feeds is that I’m not going to see photos of FOOD!!! Who the hell cares what somebody else eats!!!!!!!!!!!!???
    I often google tokyo street style, because they are crazy-amazing!

  • I dunno – I’m not bothered by the whole peacocking thing… I mean for a start we all do it – we all buy a new pair of shoes/jacket/handbag and can’t wait to show it off – but most of us don’t get photographed by Scott Schuman – doesn’t make us any less peacocky (is THAT a word? Cause it should be) it makes us human – desperate for acceptance by our peers – WOAH – got deep fast.
    I love Japanese Street style – we in the west are such amateurs compared to them!

    ♥ Paula Shoe Fiend.

  • Tokyo is an interesting fashion market. I think there are some people that wear the street style for the reasons you outlined, but I think, at the end of the day, we’re all just people, so they too have people dressing for the attention and not the fashion statement or moment. What will be interesting to see is as the media coverage of TFW increases every season, what will the effects be?? There will undoubtably be an increase in the product being made, but will the thirst for attention by the masses negatively impact that??? We looked at the best and worst shows of TFW, and saw exactly what you’re talking about here. The best shows felt authentic and calculated, in the sense that time and effort was put into making each aspect of the collection. However, the worst shows felt like trivial attempts to be whacky to get attention or be controversial. It’ll be interesting to see if the cream will rise or sour over the next couple seasons….



  • Leila Daiana Llunez
  • In Tokyo people don’t look at each other, people out of the norm are ignored by those who fit in the norm, I don’t think this leaves room for peacocking. Contrary to what everybody usually thinks, weird attires become a way to recognize those who belong to the same world as you do and to affirm your position in this world, it’s not a way to stand out of the crowd.

  • The problem with having the inability to emulate Tokyo street style is merely the fact that we do not live in Tokyo; whereas these suggestions for celebrating individuality is widely accepted and encouraged. We do not have the bodies, income nor the anime style that it all stems from. It is a culture you must be born and bred in, and quite frankly the U.S. lacks these qualities. We’re all too busy trying to be European that we miss out on all the fun of East Asian style. By capturing bits and pieces of these fresh ideas & acquiring them into our own staples of individuality raises the decibel level of our voice in street style (which reigns supreme in my overall observation).

    • While they’re incredibly stylish, no doubt…the idea of individuality isn’t something that’s highly encouraged in Japan…tall poppy syndrome if you may…if you look closely, you’ll notice that there are style tribes that everyone fits into. It’s fascinating- whether it’s Harajuku/pop/prep/etc. The outrageous looks are mostly reserved for youth…as they age, the collars get rounder and the wardrobes have more coverage.

      For anyone who’s curious, the masks are an extremely considerate habit- if you’re feeling ill, you wouldn’t dare leave the house without one- getting others sick would be rude. Great slideshow. You should find a reason to go to Tokyo (and Kyoto as well)- you’ll die and go to heaven at Tomorrowland, Isetan, Daikanyama and Omotesando Hills 🙂

  • i think that this debate has its roots in the man repeller community’s symposium on the democratization of fashion post circus of fashion article. whether or not it comes from an innocent or even authentic place, the beauty of tokyo street style is that so much of it can’t be made mainstream. none of the styles pictured above feel accessible, which leave you gawking over the pictures wondering how they came up with that shit. and seriously, how do they come up with that shit?


  • I like the 4th picture with the women in traditional clothing. Love Tokyo street fashion, thank you for sharing!

  • I think the most pervasive trend in Tokyo fshion is this little-girl look. I loved the clothing there, but because I am so tall I had a very hard time fitting into anything!

  • alcessa

    21. century street style = self-styled sartorial savages strutting their selves?
    (sorry for this case of “mine is longer”)

    Well, it seems logical: some time ago (like: in the 20. century?), a lonely & scared “innocence” bumped into the self-confident attribute “calculated” that was running around the fashion world, looking for partners to cling to … 🙂

  • Elise

    Love this. I’ve always been inspired by Japanese fashion culture – if only the idea behind it. Your last thoughts were spot on. Japanese street style is not essentially individualistic, because the culture is not. I have a book on Tokyo street style and there are chapters dedicated to each “genre” within Japanese street style. It is so fascinating. They do dress to impress, it’s just not Tommy Ton or Schuman. I love that they dress to impress – that’s what makes it fun!

  • =^..^=

    I lived in the enchantingly bizarro world that is Tokyo for two years: there’s nowhere else like it. This post made me homesick for the Land of the Rising Squid: pls feature Tokyo street fashion more often, Sis !

  • I can’t wait to check out Tokyo one day.. their style is so unique and funky! ANd that blue hair is pretty darn awesome. 😛

  • Amazing looks.

    Kiss from Manual Fashion

  • ana romero

    Sueño con ir un día a Tokyo!

  • manny

    tokyo is another planet, its beyond what we westerners can imagine….they are bron first, they start the day first, thats probably why theyre cooler….tokyo is in.cre.di.ble….i love how the tokyo culture is so openly sexual, thats why they’re so fucking advanced.

  • Anna Black

    Wow tokyo seems amazing, the fashion, incredible! Tghanks for the post!

  • japan is so ahead of everyone in matters of style freedom

  • Jeanie

    I particularly like this post. Maybe there’s some element of seeking attention with selfies, but to put it differently it’s a way to share a part of ourselves with the world. It opens up a way to connect to other people. Also it’s my opinion that the selfies taken by fashion bloggers often are truer to their individual voice than photos snapped of them on the streets. Ivania Carpio is a good example.

  • malu
  • Yuka

    i think people in Tokyo have really interesting styles which are totally different from fashion in other countries. and the very original Japanese culture known as “pop”, “Kawaii”, “anime”, and “cartoons” strongly inspires them. When i saw these pictures i was like “wow, is this Tokyo where i live? (i’m Japanese and live in Tokyo actually.)”. But i didn’t really like these styles at the same time because it’s just not my style. These are what people call “Japanese street style” and that’s true but people in Tokyo have various taste of fashion as people in New York, London, Milan, Paris and other countries. i mean Tokyo street style has people divided between those who like it and those who don’t like it because it’s very unique. So it’s worth it coming to Tokyo to see what Tokyo street stye is (for you) and whether you like it or not! (but you don’t have to wear a characters printed tee die your hair pink or green! haha)

  • Andria

    The Japanese are the “originators” of street style. There have been magazines dedicated to this for 10+ years. I have had a subscription to Street Magazine & Fruits since the 90s. There are always photographers hanging around Harajuku near Laforet looking to snap pictures of street fashion. It’s only recently that it has become a worldwide phenomenon. But it was in Japan first. They are light years ahead of us. I also have to say that in Tokyo, where I was when I went to Japan, EVERYONE, down to the little old ladies on the subway always looked put together and chic. They really take pride in how they present themselves. Middle America should take note.

    • lemkam

      They are the original man repellers…

  • Think Incognito

    The comments I am reading are as interesting as this post.

    I totally agree with Pattern Pulp about the incredibly stylish aspect of japanese and the style tribes thing. I went to Japan, in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto and what stroke my attention were these style tribes. More than in any other places I have been in Europe and in the world I had the impression that for young people there the way you dress tells to other people to which group you belong to. Funny I had this impression because during my trip I got to experience wearing different types of kimonos and got explained the signification of the drawings on them, the length of the sleeves etc..all these details were actually meant to tell others to which part of the society they belonged to. And I guess this is no different today.

    I think you should go to Japan to experience street style there, because it definitely has a different vibe from street style in Occident. In my opinion, in Japan, style is really linked with the culture of the society, it’s more than appearance, it’s a mindset, a culture, a lifestyle, and dare I also say a tradition.

    Last point, Japan is a society where conformity is very important, hence, according to me, the exxagerated styles (in westerner eyes) you see young people are wearing, because they know that in the future they won’t be able to do so unless they work in a very creative environment.

    Shug Avery of Incognito

  • a frump

    I don’t mind peacocking, the only thing I don’t like about it is that it disappears once fashion week is over. I’d love to see some more peacocking in everyday life, everything would be much more fun.

    I used to live in Tokyo and I loved the street style but it did feel like a bit of an isolated phenomenon, the cool people seemed to only hang out in certain neighborhoods like Harajuku, Shibuya, etc. I really wish this attitude would spread around a little more. People need to start having more fun with fashion.

    • Sharon

      2nd on the much needed ‘more peacocking in everyday life’

      Why can’t people just wear what they wanted to everyday without any regards to society’s pressures or normalities… the streets would be a much more interesting place and the term ‘peacocking’ wouldn’t even exist

    • cfz

      Oh, I hear you! Don’t ever come to Australia, you’ll die of sartorial boredom. Jeans, jeans, jeans, oh look, more jeans.

  • Lina

    A good deal of Tokyo “street fashion” that foreigners see is done by the companies themselves. (I’ve acquaintances who design outfits to be worn by men and women parading the streets, or by shop attendants.)

  • I like Tokyo ever since I was 4 years old. My father used to have annual business trips there and I just love everything from electronic toys, anime and avant-garde fashion. I find them the most confident “I-don’t-give-a-damn” fashionistas. Before there was Tommy Ton or The Sartorialist, these is the Tokyo streetstyle already. Fresh, confident and fun. This “Peacocking” thing I guess, doesn’t really comes to these young Japanese folks’ mind because they’d been like that for years.


  • Teresa Maria

    Welcome to your planet!

  • megan

    I have to say I really dig those wood shoes!

  • Soul Fishing

    Gorgeous photos! Love them all:)


  • s.p

    I’m surprised that nobody has really mentioned the ‘pea cocking’ element in Tokyo — the ‘youth’ areas are packed full of street style photographers who shoot for all sorts of magazines, websites, trend-hunters for brands, etc. There is one particular block stretch of Omotesando that is always & consistently lined with photographers with note pads, sitting by the street like the front row of a fashion week show, watching the crowd walk up and down, ducking out to photograph some-one. They are really there all day and all night, all year round, rain or snow – and there are many people who are infamous in that scene only for their outfits, walk that stretch regularly and appear on all the blogs. Although it’s a really original ‘street-style scene’, there is a really huge element of playing up for cameras.

  • i mean i think its different when its not really a niche thing and everybody’s doing it, and its not just people who are working the fashion sector that dresses the way they do. the way these people in tokyo dress reflects the subculture and interests, which provides the context for their dress and thus is not seen as mere peacocking. if people develop more than just an aesthetic, but rather a whole lifestyle behind the way they dress, it would provide authenticity to their style that would elevate them from the mere levels of peaocking (which i think is the most basic level of creativity).

  • Ana

    I think the whole idea of documenting street fashion started in Tokyo with FRUiTS in 1997. They don’t get as much credit as they should.

  • Elizabeth

    I find it so interesting the style that comes out of such a restrictive culture. I have often wondered if the dramatic style is one of the few outlets for socially acceptable self-expression in Japan. That aside, I wish some of this creative freedom were injected into

  • jar jar

    I’ve never yet posted a comment on this blog, and as a
    13th-generation (or so) white New England Puritan well-heeled in European
    travel s but for whom Asia is admittedly terra incognita I should probably be
    the last to point an accusatory figure in this regard, but I frankly found the
    discourse in and around this posting too culturally – if not
    ethnically/racially – disturbing to keep my mouth shut. The language used to
    describe the unabashed innocence and exuberance of this Tokyo street style is
    precisely the same kind of language used by European colonists to describe the
    foreign otherness (and, ahem, lack of
    cultural sophistication) of the seemingly colorful, mismatched, stylishly
    incomprehensible – to Western eyes – style of indigenous peoples in Africa, the
    Americas, Polynesia, Oceania, etc. etc. etc. Think Columbus and the Spanish
    conquistadors, Aby Warburg in the American southwest, Gauguin in French
    Polynesia (or even my Puritan forebears in 1630s Massachusetts – so perhaps I’m
    not all that far removed from this phenomenon after all). We need to ask
    ourselves if what we are describing is in fact the street style in question and
    the culture that generates it, or our own misunderstandings of both? Should we
    not perhaps consider instead that these brilliantly attired Tokyo street
    stylists function within a sophisticated & self-aware cultural system all
    their own? Have we succumbed to the irresistible tractor beam of Tokyo street
    style’s own complicated, self-professed (illusionary) insouciant naïveté, and
    is our “celebration” of its SEEMING innocence merely the confirmation
    of not only our misapprehension of it (and perhaps a call for us to reopen our
    anthropology 101 textbooks), but also the ultimate “success” of
    Tokyo’s subliminal style rhetoric. I.e., are we really seeing a kind of Tokyo sprezzatura – or feigned nonchalance—à la
    Raphael and courtly ethos in the renaissance (see Baldassare Castiglione’s Book of the courtier)?

    • Perhaps I am
      interpreting your argument incorrectly, but in regards to Leandra’s use of the
      term innocence and the accompanying descriptions, I believe they were used to
      capture the seemingly untouched state of Japanese street-style in regards to
      the broader, ongoing debate that Suzy Menkes’ piece elaborates
      on( To
      expand, such terms were used in a way to profess and appreciate that the truly
      genuine, unique Japanese fashion has been unaltered by the perils of the
      western street-style scene that have arguably become more a race for
      recognition than a celebration of individual style. Now, this isn’t supposed to
      sound as if these stylish men and women of Tokyo aren’t “informed” or
      “aware” of the fashion climate and its priorities in other parts of
      the world. In fact, looking at consumerism of fashion at large, we see the most
      interest stemming from these countries. Rather, I think the piece reaffirms and
      respects that Japanese street fashion has had the ability to remain unique in
      this mass-share of digital media.

      As someone who did a research paper on the revolution of Japanese fashion
      (albeit last year as a 10th grade assignment), I really do believe that
      Japanese fashion has made many more contributions and wise social commentary
      (which, in my opinion, is what good fashion should do whilst enchanting) than
      many western designers or style-makers.

      It is by no means a competition but it should be recognized that the streets of
      Tokyo seem to have zealous for fashion that has been established long before
      the ‘peacocking’ in other areas of the world, and the ability to keep that
      raison d’etre above the fray is so respectful.

  • You’re not going to rehash my obsession with japanese streetstyle, are you? It took me years to quit it, this country I’m in is not ready to see me under the influence of Fruits again.

  • I wish I could tap into that market, so bad!

  • debbywarner

    I love it but would look totally effed up in Miami.


    YES. The distraction provided from either that blog, or one just like it, is the reason I failed Graphics II in high school. 😉