Harajuku Style: History and how-to

For all Otaku and Asian fashion fans, the Sugar Gamers have compiled a style guide to give you a detailed perspective on how to achieve the look without faking the funk.


Harajuku style originated with teens on the streets of the Harajuku shopping district in Tokyo, Japan. Gathering in the shopping district to hang out with friends and showing off their creative, eclectic fashion styles became the groundwork for an entire subculture that has inspired fashion lovers across the world.  Here’s a breakdown of the subdivisions and cornerstones of the Harajuku fashion phenomenon.

Lolita Kei

harajukuLolita kei (kei meaning style) is probably the most recognizable and largest of the Japanese fashion sub-cultures. The style is based on the Victorian era of clothing, specifically children’s fashion. Lolita style is unique in that there is a focus on not showing much skin and being considered sexy.

The modest clothing serves as a statement against society’s sexualized culture. Lolita style places an emphasis on what is cute and elegant and even gothic. Dark colors are favored by Lolitas, unlike many other subcultures of harajuku.

In a piece entitled “What’s With the Frilly Dresses? The History of Lolita Fashion.” The DM’s own Resident Lolita guru, Olivia Hayne’s,  wrote “Some Lolitas treat the fashion as more than just a style of clothing, but also as a lifestyle. A lifestyle Lolita is one who regularly and daily dresses in the fashion, engages deeply with the local Lolita community, and may take on hobbies which tend to gravitate around the branch of the fashion they most resonate with.” Check out her article to learn more about this rebellious street style.

Gyaru Kei

harajukuGyaru girls, in a sense, are the direct opposite of Lolita girls. Gyaru are known for being trendy, cool, and leading very glamorous lives. A true Gyaru dedicates a lot of time perfecting and keeping up her appearance and takes pride in it.  Because Gyaru fashion is more of a lifestyle than a signature outfit, there are many aspects and sub-styles of Gyaru.

What connects them is the desire and ability to stand out above the norm. One distinct part of Gyaru is the organization of Gal Circles, group of Gyaru that meet up to promote and celebrate the Gyaru lifestyle. The social side of this style of dress is built into the culture, which is one of the most inspiring things about it.

Gyaru style is one of the more easily accessible (and more affordable) Japanese styles. The makeup typically consists of dark eyeliner and fake eyelashes used to make the eyes appear larger. Clothing pieces for gyaru fashion differ depending on which gyaru style the individual chooses. Gyaru is inspired by Western fashion and is often considered the Japanese equivalent to American Valley Girl (think Clueless or Jersey Shore). For most Westerners, when they think of harajuku, this style is the one that comes to mind.

Kawaii and Decora Kei

harajukuDecora and Kawaii are not about showing off your body, but showing off your cuteness and creativity. Kawaii means “cute” and has become a major aspect of Japanese culture (how many times have you heard that something is “so kawaii!?”). This refers to wearing clothing that appears to be made for young children or clothing that accentuates “cuteness.” The style is characterized by ruffles, pastels, bright colors, and over-sized character toys or bags for accessories.

Decora means “decoration.” Decora is very bright and over accessorized, sometimes with toys. Decora girls wear an extreme amount of plastic accessories and barrettes, neon skirts, colorful socks, and cute character products. Decora often trade their accessories, similar to the Western rave culture where ravers traded “kandi.”

Visual Kei

harajukuVisual Kei simply translates to Visual style, specifically “visual music style.” It is very similar to Western glam rock and glam metal where the music heavily influences the fashion style. It’s a movement among Japanese rock musicians characterized by striking makeup, unusual hairstyles, elaborate clothing and androgyny.

Like the other styles, there many subdivisions that branch out from Visual Kei, its a very leniant style as long as it keeps to the edgy punk feel of your ensemble is evident. Yet, there are a few rules that all Visual kei devotees tend to follow. Hair is very important to pulling off this look. It’s typically a really choppy, messy look with the hair cut in multiple layers. Bangs are almost always included. This style is not about being pretty…it’s edgy!

At the end of the day, Harajuku fashion is about fun fashion in its purest form, which makes it no surprise that the fashion movement has fascinated style aficianados across the globe. Use this guide to create your own harajuku look that expresses who you are while showing love the people who brought the culture to life.

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Sugar Gamers

by Sugar Gamers

Founded as a community for female gamers, Sugar Gamers has evolved into a passionate organization of female trend setters and communicators within the worlds of tech, fashion and gaming. Founded in 2009 by Keisha Howard, Sugar Gamers work diligently to make geek culture accessible to everyone and raise awareness of the positive impact in can have in people's lives.