Tokyo Street Style Woke Me From a Nap I Didn’t Know I Was Taking

japan street style man repeller

There’s the way we understand things, and the way they actually are. Sometimes these are discordant, breeding delusion, and sometimes they’re aligned, breeding pragmatism. And while I appreciate the predictability of those outcomes, it’s not always obvious which is occurring, or even which is favorable, which is why perception can feel like a kind of anarchy. A science experiment with too many variables. So it’s refreshing when, on rare occasions, our ignorance or our righteousness are presented to us in full, resplendent color, and in no uncertain terms. This is when, for better or worse, our perspectives shift into sharper focus. And this is what happened on my whirlwind trip to Tokyo last month.

Various suspicions were confirmed, assumptions were rerouted, gut feelings were solidified into beliefs or else disbanded altogether. It was clarifying in a way I hadn’t expected, especially considering the jet lag, and I’ve been pondering why that is. Time may change my mind, but so far my most tangible explanation concerns the style I observed there. Not the clothes in and of themselves (although those too), but the clothes as a conduit for understanding people and culture, and how those forces collide and refract deeper truths. Or delusions. Not sure. (Ask me later.)

Lots of people were using outer layers as an interesting means to reveal inner layers: Short sleeves over long sleeves, vests over jackets, t-shirts over button-downs. It reconfigured my conception of why we wear layers in the first place. It showed me that dressing for warmth doesn’t have to mean covering everything up, and in fact it could mean the opposite.

Given this is a long way of presenting you with a collection of Tokyo street style photos, allow me to get literal: Among other things, Tokyo disrupted my understanding of getting dressed. There’s the way I understood layering, and there’s the way Japanese kids do it. There’s the way I understood minimalism, and there’s Tokyo’s maximalist approach to it. There’s the way I understood the core components of an outfit, and my prompt retraction of that understanding once I touched down in Narita.

japan street style man repeller
Wearing a pair of short shorts over a pair of long shorts over a pair of pants may not be your thing (or mine), but it is undeniably genius. And it’s the kind of rule-dismantling that can open up the possibilities of what it means to get dressed. Summer clothes can be winter clothes, innerwear can be outerwear, and seasonal proportions can be reimagined with a little gumption.

Before I went to Tokyo I was often told I’d love it. And obviously I did (a lot), which made me feel both actualized and utterly banal, because the only review I heard about the place was that it’s better than anywhere in the world (and I heard this in full hyperbole at least 10 times before leaving). But the harmony I felt there wasn’t just wonder, although I did feel that; it was a certain alignment with my aesthetic sensibilities: simple lines and quiet precision, soft things and tactile comforts, well-cut utilitarian clothes that sit heavy like a hug. Things I’ve been drawn to since I was a kid without necessarily having the language for them. Tokyo is famous for its chaotic cross-walks and streets packed with tiny bars and towers of blinking neon signs stacked on top of each other, but underneath all the beloved flash and kitsch is a divine sense of order like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

I saw a lot of tonal layering in Tokyo: beige on cream on white, or black on gray on navy. Despite the maximalist Harajuku style often associated with Tokyo, many people seemed to be going for a kind of neutral harmony. Some did this with basic, clean-cut pieces, and others with more creative flair, as seen here.

I sensed this acutely in the street style, which made so much sense to me for something I didn’t actually understand. (I’m looking into changing that and welcome your recommendations.) The layering was creative, the proportions were surprising, and yet the resulting outfits often looked minimal and classic the way jeans and a T-shirt look in my mind but never do in reality. There were t-shirts stacked on top of each other (sometimes three), collared shirts under dresses, blouses under sweaters under vests. Lots of structure and crispness and tailoring, and not just from the most intentionally dressed people but from nearly everyone. It was a different aesthetic language. A different foundation to build upon.

New York style never fails to surprise me, but it wasn’t until I went to Tokyo that I realized the extent to which it’s working within a predetermined framework. One you can become blind to if you don’t leave enough. Tokyo offered something completely different, and consequently, more aligned with my taste. It’s nice to be shaken awake sometimes, especially if you weren’t aware you were sleeping in the first place.

Photos by Matthew Sperzel. 

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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