Tokyo is one of the world’s most stylish cities. For the unsuspecting American it’s easy to feel like a fashion felon, but you don’t have to if you follow these simple tips:
1 – The most important rule of all: care about what you look like. Presentation is an art in Japan. You don’t have to be a model or dress like one, but you should look like you’ve given some thought to your wardrobe.
2 – Clothes should fit. My fellow Americans, we ignore this basic rule with alarming frequency. Go for trim but flexible; big and blousy is out unless you’re trying to come across as eccentric, and men: watch your trousers – baggy khakis read like clown pants in Japan. Male or female: clothes that are too tight or revealing make you look like you should be standing outside a bar in Roppongi, trying to hustle male customers inside. Plus, you will be uncomfortable when you have to sit on the floor. All of this, of course, goes out the window if you are a world-famous artist or a hip-hop dancer, or if in fact you are trying to hustle male customers into a bar.
3 – Black is always appropriate. Grays, browns and dark blues are also acceptable, as well as white shirts. Women particularly should avoid large amounts of red and pink: too suggestive.
4 – Layering can help turn a blah wardrobe into something worth looking at. For example, ladies can jazz up a plain black outfit with a colorful scarf (quick hint: scarves are much cheaper in the US than in Japan). If you’re male, consider embedding that polo shirt under a v-neck sweater and/or a jacket.
5 – Don’t over-accessorize. Japanese design defines minimalism. Better to have one good quality piece than to festoon yourself with bangles and spangles. Same goes for handbags, briefcases and backpacks. A smaller bag is less showy and will save you from annoying people on the subway when your bag bumps into them.
6 – It’s fine to buy your clothes at Wal-Mart or Costco. It is not fine to dress like you’re going to work at Wal-Mart or Costco. Same goes for that polo or button-down shirt embroidered with a company logo. Leave it at home unless you’re going to work at your company’s Japanese branch. Printed wear with college logos is fine if and only if you’re a student at said college.
7 – If there’s an article of clothing you could conceivably wear at the gym, then that’s where you should wear it. Track suits, sweats, and running shoes have no place on the street in Tokyo, unless you are actually going to a gym or out for a run (a highly recommended way to see the city).
8 – Slip-on shoes are a godsend in Japan. You’ll be taking them off a lot: in a shrine or temple, restaurant or, if you should be so lucky, someone’s home. Since the rules governing where to wear shoes can be unfamiliar, just memorize this mantra: “shoes on stone, socks on wood.” Imagine that any stone, concrete or tile surface is a muddy swamp, and when you step up onto any wood or tatami mat surface, it’s pure white silk. You never want your stocking or bare feet in a swamp, and you never want anything that’s been in that swamp on the silk. Slip out of your shoes to step up onto the wood, and step down into them on the stone. Japanese get truly vexed when this rule is broken but are usually too polite to tell you. Another reason to avoid laces: usually there is no place to sit while tying them, and it’s awkward to make others wait. Corollary: clean socks are vital. Leave the threadbare ones behind.
9 – Shorts: um, no. I know it’s hot in Tokyo in the summer, but be a grownup, suck it up and wear long pants or a skirt.
10 – Last word: last looks.