Harajuku’s Kawaii Fashion Culture

What is Harajuku’s Fashion Style?

Known for bright, candy-colored outfits with plenty of exaggerated accessories, Harajuku’s unique style is popular worldwide. ‘Kawaii’ meaning ‘cute’, is a term often used in Japan for everything from small dogs to prettily-decorated cakes, but for fashion, it has a specific style. For clothes, it means complex outfits featuring layers, bright or pastel colors, decorative accessories and extravagant hair colors and styles. From head to toe, the outfit is an explosion of fun but is carefully put together. It usually includes a combination of western and Japanese clothing, while childhood items and vintage pieces can be added into the mix.

There are a variety of different genres including Lolita, Gothic-Lolita, Decora, and Fairy-Kei which contributed to and developed alongside the Harajuku style. While Lolita is fairly well known (you can read more about it here), more niche options like decora involve extreme accessorizing while Fairy-kei involves a more unreal approach. Rejecting the norms of society, the clothes allow the wearer to express themselves and ignore the trends of popular fashion.

The History of Harajuku’s Fashion

Harajuku’s Kawaii Fashion Culture

One theory of how the ‘kawaii’ fashion trend started is based on the impact of mechanical pencils on the handwriting of schoolgirls in the 1970s. Offering delicate, thin lines, the pencils encouraged playful writing and a return to childlike writing became popular and cute. This snowballed into accessories and later fashion, maintaining a strong tie to nostalgia, with moments of returning childhood greeted in Japanese with cries of ‘natsukashii’. ‘Cute’ characters like Hello Kitty boomed in popularity and the ‘kawaii’ culture took hold of Japan as a form of pop culture. The style was soon associated with Harajuku thanks to its reputation for fashion, imported goods, and popularity with teenagers.

How Harajuku’s Kawaii Fashion has Changed

While the nostalgic fashions have changed over the years, the style has retained its link to childhood, bright colors and fun combinations. There are also nods to popular characters or fashions from abroad, with elements of Cosplay sometimes being included. Thanks to the increase of international influence, particularly from neighboring South Korea, the style has seen more changes in the past 10 years. The popularity of K-pop and Korean make-up brought with it elements of Korean fashion, hair and make-up styles.

Today, the fashion encompasses many different influences and the variety of outfits is much broader, however, there are still some staple elements from its origin days. Candy-colors, frills, bows and childhood items reign strong, and the development of the kawaii style is an integral part of its appeal.

How to enjoy Harajuku Fashion

Harajuku’s Kawaii Fashion Culture

Whether you’re new to Harajuku fashion or have long been enjoying the style, Takeshita is the best place to experience it. You can dress up in your own outfits and go shopping for new additions or start your collection anew.

Where to shop for Kawaii Outfits in Harajuku

Harajuku’s Kawaii Fashion Culture

Many shops in the area sell clothes and accessories with Lolita favorites being MILK HARAJUKU, “BABY, THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT” and RoseMarie seoir. All three are popular for their cute style, but will not allow you to visit only to take photographs. Department stores offer a great option with many different names in one place. Laforet is a good place to start as it is home to pop-up stores as well as favorites like Jane Marple, Angelic Pretty and more. Closet Child and STYLENANDA are also great options, with ACDC and WC Harajuku offering a more street-wear feel.

For accessories, there is OSEWAYA (on Takeshita Street) as well as popular sock store Calzedonia. Unfortunately, British store Claires which was a much-loved staple of Takeshita recently closed. You can mix it up with pieces from vintage stores, the children’s toy shop KIDDYLAND and even the Disney Store for the ultimate Harajuku Kawaii outfit.

How to Spot Kawaii Outfits in Harajuku

The popular day to see eccentrically-dressed shoppers was Sunday, however, this has become less common now. You may still see some impressive costumes but be sure to ask permission before you take photos. Along with the main shopping street, be sure to head to the popular stores of specific styles and the latest coffee and tapioca cafes too.

How to take Kawaii Photos in Takeshita

If you have new accessories to show off then make sure you snap a photo in the famous ‘purikura’ photobooths of Takeshita. Popular for their super-cute styles, the booths allow you to pose, edit and add slogans, decorations and stamps to your photos. Print them out and save as a reminder of your day! We have a full guide on where and how to take these great souvenir photos.

Kawaii Snacks to Enjoy on Takeshita Street

Be sure to visit the many fun food-stalls and cafes of Takeshita-dori. Many sell fun snacks that match the kawaii-culture, from rainbow candyfloss to super-cute sweets and delicious popcorn. Check our complete guide to the best street food in Harajuku for more ideas.