If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ll notice that school uniforms appear everywhere, from young boys and girls in uniforms strolling on the streets to anime, manga, advertising, and TV shows. Apart from its original intention as a uniform, Japanese school uniforms have become a way for students to express their individuality and ace the kawaii aesthetic by coordinating their whole outfit from the shirt and skirt to the accessories–ties, bags, and all.
Japanese uniforms were introduced almost 155 years ago with the initial purpose of closing the gap between the rich and the poor, as well as connecting students in schools. The first student uniform design was created during the Meiji period: a shirt with kimono (traditional Japanese robes) and hakama pants (pants that look like pleated skirts).
After that, when Western culture came to Japan, school uniforms experienced many changes in its style and design, some of which students are still wearing today.
Gakuran is the name given to uniforms worn by Japanese schoolboys, whose design was originally inspired by European military uniforms. The Gakuran’s color is usually black, but some schools also use navy and dark blue.
Gakuran stands out with a collared white shirt combined with an outer vest having a high and stiff collar, buttoned all the way to the neck. Pants with dark belts, leather shoes, or sports shoes will complete the standard look of this uniform for boys in Japan. Many boys these days wear white t-shirts or their school’s P.E. shirt under their jackets too.
Also, because of Japan’s hot summer climate and cold winter climate, there are usually summer and winter versions of uniform styles. In summer, boys switch to a short-sleeved, collared shirt with no jacket.
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One of the most interesting things about Japanese school uniforms is their role in school love lives. After graduating from high school, girls can confess their feelings to their crush by asking for a “daini” button – the second button on the gakuran shirt. If the guy has the same feelings, he’ll remove the second button and give it to the girl as a confession of love.
In other cases, male students can also give it to their lover if the two are already a couple. The reason for choosing the second button on the shirt is because it’s the button closest to the heart – being a presentation of young love during the high school years.
Unlike schoolboy uniforms, Japanese schoolgirl uniforms (especially high school uniforms) are more diverse, with different types and styles depending on the school.
This is the first design for schoolgirl uniforms, being the one with the longest history in Japan. Appearing around 1920, sailor uniforms were inspired by sailors’ outfits in the navy, including sailor collar shirts, pleated skirts, and accessories like neckerchiefs or detachable bows.
Nowadays, not many high schools adopt this style of school uniform anymore, but it’s still the main trend when it comes to Japanese school uniform cosplay.
Highly regarded for its stylishness, blazer and skirt uniforms have been popular since the 1990s and are the most popular type of uniform in Japan nowadays. Girls usually wear a collar shirt tied with a cute ribbon or a blouse under a knit or V-neck sweater vest to dress up the blazer.
Ideally, coupling a blazer with a shorter skirt (or one shorter than the old sailor uniform’s skirt) will make you look cuter. However, a pleated skirt around the knee is more suitable to wear at schools.
As the name suggests, this is a one-piece dress without sleeves. So, girls usually wear long or short sleeve blouses underneath based on the season, sometimes adding a cute ribbon. Jumper style skirts generally offer a girlish look, and when combined with a bolero jacket, becomes more stylish.
Because of the ease of movement, this used to be a popular summer uniform at many schools around Japan, especially elementary schools. However, in recent years, since fashion has outweighed the importance of function, jumper skirt uniforms are seen less in Japanese high schools.
Bolero is the general name for cropped jackets that come to just above the hips, ending around the waistline or shorter with no buttons in front. As a uniform, the bolero jacket is mainly worn over the jumper skirt mentioned above in winter.
The bolero and jumper skirt combo also appears a lot in anime (especially magical girl anime) and is common for Princess-type characters since this style gives a more feminine vibe than other uniforms. In fact, the bolero uniform is not as common as sailor or blazer uniforms, but it’s still popular among fancier schools for those with a good family background.
Eton is a famous college in England with many well-known alumni. “”Eton jackets are the collarless coat uniforms that are usually seen in elementary or secondary schools in Japan. However, generally speaking, the Eton jacket is not that common as a uniform outside of private schools.
Japanese schoolgirl uniforms have a unique feminine, pure, and graceful impression. Dispelling worries about students’ expression of individuality, today’s Japanese uniforms are often creatively combined with many accessories. Many students learn how to accessorize from their friends and quickly master it.
In the winter, a lot of students wear wool cardigans and sweater vests under their coats to keep warm and look fashionable at the same time. The colors can be gray, milky, navy blue, white, pink, and more. But usually, they’re gray or caramel colors.
The socks worn with the uniform are usually black, navy blue, or white with a length below the knee. Some schools have strict rules about the length and color of socks, but most often allow students to choose according to their preferences.
The socks that Japanese students usually wear have changed over the years. There are not only socks to keep feet warm in winter, but also change the overall outfit. One type of sock that is also quite popular is the 2/3 length from the knee to the heel.
Plus, there’s a pretty cool type of sock that Japanese schoolgirls are very fond of, which are cute, ruffled, loose socks also featured in some Japanese street styles, like the 90s Japanese fashion trend: Kogal.
Schoolgirls often wear ribbons or ties at the collar, showing their personal taste. Depending on the mood, the girls choose different styles and colors of ribbons and ties as long as they match with other parts of the outfit.
Most students wear black or dark brown loafers. Others choose sneakers. Recently, loafer shoes have been produced with higher heels to help “cheat” the leg length of female students.
It may sound strange, but school bags are also school accessories. Some schools designate their own bag style, but many students can choose the type of bag they like. A typical high school bag in Japan is made of leather or plastic and can be a bag or backpack. Students decorate their school bags with keychains or other pretty wearables depending on their personalities and preferences.
For Japanese students, there are ways to use school uniforms to express their own style. Boys often unbutton the top button or roll their sleeves or pant legs to look cooler. Meanwhile, girls love keychains with their idols or favorite characters as bag accessories. BT21 products, from keychains to folders, have been especially popular these past few years.
Japanese students love uniforms as a fashion and beauty standard. So, Japanese schoolgirls wear uniforms not only at school but also when hanging out with friends on weekends as a unique street style.
School uniforms have become a symbol of both youth and fashion for people in Japan and around the world.
Do you love Japanese school uniforms? If you do, don’t hesitate to express your unique fashion sense with a school uniform like the Japanese!
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