Japanese Streetwear: Origin, Adaptation and Influence

October 13, 2021 6 min read

japanese streetwear

Streetwear is nowadays an essential clothing style, resonating with the urban environment. It appeared in the 1980s in the streets of New York, among hip-hop fans and skateboarders, but in recent years it has literally exploded in many places around the world.

In this article, you will discover the history of Japanese streetwear, known for its loose pants and hoodies with a characteristic look, but above all for its kimonos and haoris, which are the traditional clothes of the Land of the Rising Sun.

🤔 Streetwear fashion: what exactly is it about?

The streetwear trend is a clothing style originating from the ghettos of New York in the 80s. Directly inspired by hip-hop and punk culture, streetwear has its roots directly in the city streets. This vintage trend is a mixture of sportswear, music and street art inherited from the world of rap, skateboarding, surfing and the Rasta movement.

american streetwear

Credits: Dom Hill/@ohthehumanity

At the beginning, streetwear fashion was distinguished by its loose and comfortable clothes such as baggy jeans, jogging suits, large t-shirts, oversized sweatshirts and sneakers, not forgetting the cap. Since its heyday in the 90s, streetwear has been a strong inspiration in the fashion world. Over time, the look has evolved and today's collections feature more body-hugging fits, a focus on quality and detail, and ethnic influences.

🧢 The origins of streetwear

Streetwear appeared in the 80s as a response to the extravagant and sophisticated trends of the time. It is above all a means of expression that manifests itself through a simple and casual way of clothing.

More than a fashion trend, streetwear is a subculture that claims a free and creative lifestyle, inspired by hip-hop and skate. This protest movement expresses a sense of belonging to a young and urban community that is proud to be seen.

In the 90s, many American hip-hop, rap and R&B groups emerged. With their sportswear and flashy jewelry, they became the gurus of this alternative culture.

The members of the Wu-Tang Clan

Members of the Wu-Tang Clan, an American hip hop group in the 1990s.

Driven by street artists and record companies, this trend is gaining momentum in the fashion industry. Brands sponsored by famous rappers are developing at full speed. Streetwear is a worldwide success among youth culture.

Nowadays, the trend has been democratized and nearly everyone is wearing streetwear. Although it was once reserved for the youth of the street, this style has greatly evolved and can now be found in almost all environments. The fashion industry has clearly understood this and many brands are focusing on this urban trend, including luxury brands.

🇯🇵 History of Japanese streetwear

More than a simple clothing style as we imagine, streetwear fashion is a real culture. It exists in almost every country today, each country having added its personal touch! In Japan, it is the favorite style of the youth. Everyone has at least one piece of Japanese streetwear in his wardrobe and identifies thanks to it.

streetwear in Japan

Streetwear in the streets of Tokyo. Credits: @olegsoyka

The origins of Japanese streetwear

To understand the origin of the development of streetwear in Japan, it is necessary to understand some of its history. Its origin goes back several decades, after the end of the Second World War and the defeat of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis.

During the American occupation, a little less than half a million of American soldiers settled in Japan. In spite of itself, Japan was strongly influenced by Western culture and capitalism due to the presence of these soldiers. As a result, the culture of the United States gradually blended with Japanese culture.

This is how a new generation of young Japanese was born, admiring Western culture. These same young people later developed the streetwear fashion in their country.

Appearance of streetwear in Japan

As you have just read, it was the American occupation that created the conditions for the emergence of this trend in this Asian country, which was originally resistant to the capitalist way of life.

Later on, some American street artists have become international stars. This is when we could watch them singing on TV dressed in streetwear (cap, jacket, baggy jeans, tee-shirt...) all over the world. The fashion style was thus copied in a lot of countries and each of them added their own features.

In Japan, it all started in the capital (Tokyo) in the 90s where the young generation launched the Japanese streetwear fashion. The difference with the Western style is not in the way of dressing, but rather in the people who wear them.

Unlike the American street stars, the Japanese who adopted this fashion were trying to pass a message: "you don't have to be wealthy to revolutionize fashion". It is with this idea that the streets of Tokyo were filled with young people dressed more or less in the streetwear style.

Supreme store in Harajuku district

Supreme store in Harajuku district. Credit: @bantersnaps

Among the Japanese clothing brands that focus on this street style are A Bathing Ape and WTAPS. American brands such as Supreme and Stüssy are also present on the Asian continent. However, before the creation of Japanese brands, retail stores such as NOWHERE facilitated the access to this fashion for the youth and laid the basis for the future global success of Japanese streetwear.

The appropriation of street fashion by Japanese people

Just like American streetwear, Asian streetwear is mainly composed of oversized clothes such as t-shirts and sweaters, both of which are essentials of the Western style.

However, Japan is not only copying, but also appropriating this movement by integrating typical clothes like kimonos and haoris (jackets worn over kimonos) to this clothing universe.

In addition, many hoodies are nowadays decorated with kanji and symbols like the dragon or the sunset. Other hoodies contain Japanese artworks such as The Great Wave of Kanagawa, a famous print by Hokusai... In other words, Japan has not only copied what was already being done in terms of style, but also appropriated the streetwear style.

Japanese streetwear style hoodie

Credits: Vic Domic

💯 How did Japanese streetwear become so popular?

If Japanese streetwear invaded the world today, this is mainly for three reasons :

  • The first one being the effort made by the designers to customize American models and adapt them to the local culture.
  • The second one is the impact of the big brands (Nowhere, Urahara or Supreme). As Japanese department stores saw the success of this urban trend, many of them took over the look. The Japanese streetwear then made its way into the fashion districts of Harajuku and Shibuya, which made a significant impact on the development of this street style.
  • And finally, the media who played a major role in the popularity of this Japanese fashion through the broadcasting of clips of some popular bands, news reports, movies, etc.

Japanese influence on the streetwear trend in the world

Streetwear fans are increasingly adopting Japanese influenced clothing. Even though haoris and kimonos are not common among other countries of the world, they are becoming more and more popular worldwide. In addition, sweatshirts with Japanese characters, military pants and even masks are now part of the modern world fashion scene.

japanese streetwear style

How to adopt the Japanese streetwear style?

Know that these flowing clothes, such as the kimono or the haori, can easily be matched with other clothing styles while creating a more original look.

As such, you can mix and match sportswear, jeans, sneakers, printed t-shirts, hoodies and parka... or simply add a kimono or haori jacket to your everyday outfit.

Where to buy Japanese streetwear?

Japanese streetwear distinguishes itself by its originality and its casual style. Although this fashion is highly appreciated, it is difficult to find a store specialized in this kind of collections. Thus, it is easier to buy this style of clothes through online stores.

At Japan Avenue, we propose a wide range of clothing inspired by Japanese streetwear for men and women.

🔥 Affirm your style by wearing one of our Japanese Tees!

🔥 Upgrade your look with a Japanese Hoodie, a key item of the streetwear style!

🔥 Dare an original and trendy outfit by adopting one of our Kimono Jackets for Men or a Kimono for Women!


That's all! You now know how this way of dressing developed in Japan and its influence on the rest of the world. If you appreciate this type of clothing, you are invited to discover our Japanese streetwear brand.


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