Japanese Fashion History

The Japanese Fashion History

Japanese design fascinates and inspires the world of fashion. In fact, it has given birth to some of the greatest masters in its history. However, its popularity and reputation for innovation did not come about overnight. It is rather the result of a slow and meticulous evolution.
The Japanese Tiger Reading The Japanese Fashion History 9 minutes

Japanese fashion influences the world in the 21st century. However, this has not always been the case. How did Japanese fashion evolve? What is the history of Japanese fashion?

To answer these questions, we decided to list chronologically the key moments in Japanese fashion. Get comfortable, prepare a tea and let's go together to this beautiful country that is Japan!

Japanese design fascinates and inspires the world of fashion. In fact, it has given birth to some of the greatest masters in its history. However, its popularity and reputation for innovation did not come about overnight. It is rather the result of a slow and meticulous evolution. Step by step, cultural barriers have fallen and the borders between East and West have been redrawn gradually. In this article, we will see how Japanese fashion has evolved over time. Ready to travel? 🇯🇵

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Japanese Fashion before the 20th Century

Japanese Fashion 20s

250 AD: The Kofun period

The first traces of Japan's history date back to this period. Initially influenced by Chinese and Korean settlers, the costume of the first Japanese was a loose garment made of rectangular pieces of fabric.

1467-1477: The War of Ōnin

A civil war arose from a conflict of succession between shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa and his younger brother. In 1473, the shogun chose to retire and pass the power to his son, and settled in Kyoto to dedicate the rest of his life to the quest for aesthetics.

Ashikaga Yoshimasa

His son adopted a modest and rustic decor, bringing a new taste of simplicity to Japanese culture. Although this aesthetic trend is not the only one present in Japan, it is the main one, and it is the one that will guide the development of the country's visual culture in the coming centuries, making it a typical feature of Japanese culture.

1868: The Meiji Restoration

With the return of the powers of the state to the emperor, the era of the shogunate came to an end. This revolution is motivated by the need to modernize the country, and is evidenced by the arrival of an American military fleet on the Japanese coast in 1853, determined to open willingly or unwillingly the Japanese autarchy to international trade.

The country of the rising sun was thus initiated into Western culture and its market became globalized. The concepts of wafuku and youfuku (respectively "Japanese clothing" and "Western clothing") are opposed whereas the Western clothing takes precedence over the traditional clothing. Japan is trying to combine centuries of feudalism with the novelties and the modern way of life of the West.

Japanese fashion in the first part of the 20th century

Early 20th Century Japanese Fashion

1905: Japan emerges victorious from the Russo-Japanese war and modernizes under the Meiji era.

1923: Inauguration of Namiki Dressmaking School, later renamed Bunka Fashion College, a school that trained young women in European-style dressmaking to meet the demand for Western-style clothing among Japan's elite.

Bunka Fashion College
Bunka Fashion College students nowadays.

1938: Birth of Issey Miyake, a famous Japanese designer, who was one of the first to organize a fashion show in Europe 35 years later. Kenzo Takada, also a Japanese stylist who had made a career in France with his brand Kenzo, was born the following year.

1942: Birth of Rei Kawakubo, Japanese designer, who founded the brand "Comme des Garçons", an influential and respected personality in the fashion industry. Yohji Yamamoto, Japanese designer, known for his clothing brand, was born one year later.

1944: Birth of Kansai Yamamoto, one of the leaders of contemporary Japanese fashion, who sadly passed away recently. He was the costume designer of David Bowie.

Kansai Yamamoto

1951: Hanae Mori opens his workshop, which creates costumes for the flourishing Japanese film industry. She is the first Asian woman to be granted the strict label of "haute couture".

1958: Kenzo Takada enrolled at Bunka Fashion College. This is a first for the school, which until then only accepted women.

1961: Kenzo Takada graduated at the same time as Mitsuhiro Matsuda and Junko Koshino, future stars of Japanese fashion.

1961: Hanae Mori makes a trip to Paris, and a fitting in Coco Chanel's haute couture salons. She soon launched her own ready-to-wear collection, and became the first Japanese designer to gain international recognition by dressing women in Tokyo, New York and Paris.

Hanae Mori

1964: Kenzo Takada moves to Paris and starts working as a freelance stylist.

1968: Issey Miyake witnesses student riots in Paris while he is interning in Hubert de Givenchy's workshop. This revolutionary spirit inspires him, and he travels to New York to study ready-to-wear with Geoffrey Beene.

1970: Kenzo Takada presents his first collection in Paris and opens his first boutique, called Jungle Jap. Miyake returns to Japan to set up his studio, and presents his first collection the following year in New York.

1971: Kansai Yamamoto launches in London. His clothes are the complete opposite of Japanese fashion: colorful, decorative and mischievous, they are appreciated for their pop and theatrical spirit. He himself became a figure of popular culture, and David Bowie is one of his best clients.

1973: After studying fine arts and literature and working in advertising for Japanese textile giant Asahi Kasei, Rei Kawakubo began designing clothing and founded Comme Des Garçons Co, Ltd. in Tokyo.

1971-1980: The First Wave of Japanese Fashion

70s Japanese Fashion

In the early 1960s, the very private world of haute couture, where Dior and Balenciaga reigned supreme, was taken over by Cardin, Courrèges, Rabanne and Ungaro. Ten years later, in Paris, the student revolt defied the conventions of the status quo, the Vietnam War left a deep disillusionment with international politics, and the second wave of feminism gave women a new autonomy.

The fashion of the 70s abandons the old chimeras of the 60s, and with the freshness of their oriental point of view and their young enterprises, Kenzo Takada and Issey Miyake are ready to take over. With their inventive cuts, multicultural inspirations and exoticism, Takada and Miyake captivate the fashion world. They are rapidly rising to become influential figures in the industry within a few years.

They joined the ranks of a group of international designers who redefined ready-to-wear and who, by daring and innovation, proved that this once inferior mode of creation could rival haute couture in creativity. Among this group of young rebels are Sonia Rykiel, Thierry Mugler, Jean Charles de Castelbajac, Claude Montana, Walter Albini, Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace, and Ottavio and Rosita Missoni, among others.

1981-1988: The Second Wave of Japanese Trend

Second Wave Japanese Fashion

The nonchalant sweetness of the 70's ends, and the 80's see the return of an assumed glamour. After presenting their collections in Tokyo for a few seasons, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto decided to head for Paris. The duo, awkwardly nicknamed "Hiroshima Chic", completely ignored the conventions of Western fashion and unwittingly rewrote the rules of the game.

Kawakubo and Yamamoto propose a striking contrast with the excesses of the 80s: a cerebral, intellectual, deconstructed, raw fashion. Their clothes are like enigmas, wrapping the body in the undulating folds of a destructured kimono. Like so many affronts to the codes of Western beauty, they exude a subversive allure that one likes to endorse or decry.

Comme Des Garcons 1980

The fashion world is quickly divided into two camps: those who understand and those who do not. The majority fall into the latter category, and Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto therefore become the unofficial uniform of fashion editors and other industry insiders.

1993: Issey Miyake launches Pleats Please, an innovative line that takes the designer into a new era of design based on textile engineering. Junya Watanabe, with the financial support of Comme Des Garçons, sets to present collections in Paris under her own name. Jun Takahashi founds Undercover. Kenzo Takada sells his company to LVMH.

1999: Kenzo Takada retires to devote himself to his passion for art. Issey Miyake leaves the world of fashion and entrusts his creative responsibilities to Naoki Takizawa to focus on research.

2003-2010: The Third Wave of Japanese Style

2000 Japanese Fashion

Japanese fashion is now recognized around the world for its unique hybrids of Western and Eastern dress codes. Free from the conventions of the past, the fashion industry looks to Japan to discover new ideas, as it did in the past with Parisian haute couture.

2013: Working with his Reality Lab, Issey Miyake launches Homme Plissé, the long-awaited men's version of Pleats Please.

2016: Issey Miyake holds a comprehensive retrospective at the National Arts Centre in Tokyo, providing for the first time a comprehensive overview of her work and her pioneering role. Rei Kawakubo presents a collection that takes punk into the pomp and pageantry of the 18th century, and continues to defy Western standards of beauty. And the fashion world is always divided between those who understand and those who don't.


Congratulations, now you know the basics of Japanese fashion history! You have seen the different periods that marked the fashion of the land of the rising sun and now you know the reasons why Japanese fashion is the way it is today. All you have to do now is to dress in this style. Why not take a look at this Traditional Floral Kimono?

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