10 Kawaii Fashion Snaps From Tokyo's Street Scene

Though Tokyo isn't part of the big four Fashion Weeks, it doesn't suffer from a lack of sartorial inspiration — especially when it comes to street fashion. What's happening on the runways is boundary-pushing and trend-making (a topic we'll tackle in an upcoming post), but what regular folks are wearing out and about — in Harajuku and beyond — makes the most extravagantly decked-out Lincoln Center showgoer look normcore.

In the new book Tokyo Adorned (available now), photographer Thomas Card captures some of Tokyo's most niche, obsessive, inspiring fashion tribes that go way beyond what you thought you knew about Harajuku's Lolita girls. Showcasing some of the more obscure kawaii movements, such as Party Baby and My Little Pony as well as more recognized ones like Steampunk and Lolita, Card captures the unbridled joy of dressing up that's unique to Tokyo. Click through for our interview with Card, where he talks about the specific cultural aspects of Tokyo that nurture this type of creativity, what drives women (and men) to adopt these style sensibilities, and the meaning behind "frog's puke."

Wanna learn more about Japanese style? Check out Style Out There, our 360-degree-look at the modern-day Harajuku girl.

Photo: Courtesy of Tokyo Adorned.
What about Japanese niche style tribes makes it so different from what's happening elsewhere?
"The entire Japanese culture supports the search for identity and is far more tolerant of the extreme manifestations that pop up in kawaii fashion. The use of clothing to present identity, even a superficial identity, links people across all cultures. This, in turn, empowers each of us to feel better about ourselves and the way we are perceived."
Photo: Courtesy of Tokyo Adorned.
Getting dressed up to the nines is almost a taboo in the West. Is it the same in Tokyo?
"In the United States and in most of Western culture, people who push to the extreme are often ridiculed and pressured to conform to the 'norms' of a common dress code. In Japan, even if some people feel that these extreme looks are absurd, they do not voice their dissent, thereby allowing these girls free rein to explore their ideas of self. The girls who have the clearest ideas and most confidence to express them receive a lot of support and develop followings, to the point of pop stardom."
Photo: Courtesy of Tokyo Adorned.
What we love so much is that there's so much joy in each look but, also, so many rules.
"In the past, I believe there were more rules and guidelines, but I was pleasantly surprised by the general lack of rules. When I traveled to Tokyo on the initial scouting trip, I expected to find groups of girls defining their looks based on group-defined rules, exhibiting group behavior. The various Lolitas seem to have the strongest group ties and most consistency, but even within Lolita groups, the emphasis was placed on the fashion displaying an individual's concept of their own identity. What we perceive as a group was, in reality, friends sharing a common understanding and wanting to exchange ideas, the same way any group of friends forms anywhere else."
Photo: Courtesy of Tokyo Adorned.
What's the most specific, strict style genre you've encountered?
"One of the larger groups I encountered met because they all loved Fruit Lolita looks. They shared ideas and admiration for various creative approaches but fell short of imposing any rules that restricted the participants, beyond a common love of sweet Lolita looks."
Photo: Courtesy of Tokyo Adorned.
A lot of these looks have foreign origins but become an entirely different thing once subsumed by Tokyo style setters. What's the most delightfully warped you've seen?
"One of the girls chose a name for herself that has a dual meaning of messy excess and 'frog's puke' — this sub-meaning was not lost on her when she named herself. The cover girl’s name is Ugko (although it wasn’t spelled clearly when submitted for the book). When I asked her about her name, she said it stands for 'ugly kid.' I find this sense of humor and celebration of the cuteness in the grotesque delightful."
Photo: Courtesy of Tokyo Adorned.
Do they typically stay in one style, or do they experiment?
"One of the standout girls came to the set in a Victorian dress. When we asked her to go on set, she explained she wasn’t ready and asked if we had a place where she could change. We heard what sounded like ripping coming from the room. My interpreter went to check on her but came out with a shocked look on her face and told me she couldn’t explain what was happening..."

See the reveal on the next page...
Photo: Courtesy of Tokyo Adorned.
"...When the girl came out, she was wearing duct-tape shorts and bra. She had taken the duct-tape-accessory look to a whole new level. She left the studio in the duct tape to join her friends for dinner and to go out for the evening. Love!!!"
Photo: Courtesy of Tokyo Adorned.
I'm assuming that these getups are for special occasions. How long (on average) would it take to get dressed up like this in the morning?
"This is often how you see these people dressed on a daily basis, although it is human nature to try to look your very best for a photograph. I imagine the time it takes them varies greatly depending on the girl and specific look she is achieving."
Photo: Courtesy of Tokyo Adorned.
Does each girl's individual aesthetic only apply to her clothes?
"One of the things that I loved about showing scenes from their homes was the sense of complete commitment. The level of detail, dedication, and care is fantastic."
Photo: Courtesy of Tokyo Adorned.
For example?
"In one girl’s room, I photographed the display case that she had for her set of fake nails — it was amazing! However long it takes, the commitment has certainly paid off, both by bringing a sense of empowerment to each of these people and by being true to themselves — they have captured the attention of an admiring audience worldwide."
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