Harajuku Style

Wearing our obsessions on our sleeves has become pretty commonplace here in the good ol’ US of A in the last few years. As I’ve discussed in a couple previous articles geek wear has gone from a graphic T-shirt and jeans into the hallowed halls of high fashion, but the youth of Japan have been taking it to the street.

The streets around Harajuku Station in Tokyo to be exact. On Sundays the streets, shops, and pedestrian bridge are filled with young people out mingling to see and be seen in the latest fashion in styles that range from Gothic Lolita to cosplay and punk. Considered a street fashion capitol of the world this phenomenon has its roots in the end of WWII when a then occupying US soldiers and government civilians and their families lived in housing close by called Washington Heights. Young people began to flock to the district to indulge their curiosity in the vastly different American culture.

Much as our styles have gone from saddle shoes and pompadours Harajuku style has evolved as the district filled with designers, models, and photographers. Now the streets are lined with shops that cater to independent youth oriented designers and labels as well as the big names like Louis Vitton, Prada, and Chanel. The trend hasn’t stayed in Japan either.

With a slew of Harajuku magazines both in Japan and international like Fruits and Tune the phenomenon has hit our shores. Music Artist Gwen Stefani has brought the Harajuku style to department stores and Targets across the country with her Harajuku Girls and Harajuku Mini lines as well as her fragrances and two solo albums dedicated to Harajuku.

Here’s a breakdown of the main styles that have come out of the Harajuku scene. You might just recognize some of it.

Visual Kei-

Visual Kei is most common among Japanese rock groups and involves elaborate outfits (Lady Gaga anyone?). This style mixes


The Lolita is a Victorian/Rococo/Baroque era inspired look with short ‘cupcake’ shaped ruffled dresses, bonnets, bows, parasols and lace. There are subsets in this group that are denoted by specific details or variations of the look. Gothic Lolita mixes gothic and Lolita influences and usually involves darker colors and styles. Sweet Lolita has a more childlike edge with softer pastel colors mixed with sugary fruit, cute animals, flowers, lace, and bows. Falling somewhere between the two is classic Lolita which can be considered more mature and allows for more sophisticated styles. There are almost infinite variations available on the Lolita theme but one that this writer found particularly interesting is the Guro or Gore Lolita. This subset often wears white to emphasize the wounds and fake blood added to their outfits.


Literally translated to ‘cute’ or ‘pretty’ Kawaii is a style that should be pretty familiar to us here in the States (at least if you’ve ever walked into a mall with a Sanrio). Kawaii as a style includes outfits that emphasize the youth or ‘cuteness’ of the individual and are often clothing pieces associated with young children. A subset of this is an up and coming style called Decora which involves piling on the plastic hair clips, accessories, and stuffed animals.


Harajuku style itself is composed of a mix match approach to styles, designers, eras, and culture. Creating unique styles is the essence and puts the culture at the forefront of current design. An emphasis is put on finding and creating looks from individual pieces, though brand loyalty is starting to creep in.


There are other groups that wander the streets near Harajuku Station (a resurgence of punk, a decent showing of rockabilly, and of course Cosplay). The diversity and loyalty of these Japanese fashion pioneers makes a Sunday stroll a feast for the senses. They have truly turned fashion, and clothing, into a geek worthy obsession!