Fashion in Japan 1945-2020

Exhibition artworks are subject to change.


The World’s First Major Exhibition of Postwar Japanese Fashion from Monpe Work Pants to the Kawaii Phenomenon!

Japanese fashion designers began gaining worldwide acclaim in the 1970s. Until now, Japanese fashion has been discussed as if it suddenly came out of nowhere with the emergence of these designers, but this is not the case. After Japan began modernizing, dressmaking and tailoring were introduced in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and became widely popular after World War II, and Japan developed its own unique sartorial culture.

This exhibition follows the unique trajectory of Japanese clothing, especially in post-World War Ⅱ Japan, as seen from both sides: that of designers who transmit culture by creating clothes and ideas, and that of users who receive it by wearing the clothes and at times create era-defining grassroots fashion movements. It offers a comprehensive overview that references the predominant media of each era, such as newspapers, magazines, and advertisements.

This is the world’s first large-scale exhibition to unravel the varied threads of modern Japanese fashion history, from the dawn of Western-style fashion in Japan to the latest avant-garde trends, while providing social and historical context.

Exhibition Highlights

● This unique exhibition presents a comprehensive history of Japanese fashion, from pre-World War II times to the present.
● It adopts dual perspectives, focusing not only on clothing and styles created by designers who transmit fashion trends, but also on developments among users who receive them.
● The exhibition conveys the fashion culture of various eras, via not only clothing but also various media such as photographs, films, magazines, and music.
● Exhibitions include iconic designs and historical materials from each era, thanks to the cooperation of Iwami Art Museum and the KOBE FASHION MUSEUM, which have some of Japan’s top apparel collections, and brands and garment manufacturers.

Date *Dates Changed June 9 (Wed.) – September 6 (Mon.), 2021
Closed on Tuesdays
Due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), sadly it has not been possible to prepare this exhibition as originally planned. Therefore, the exhibition will no longer be held from June 3 (Wed) to August 24 (Mon), 2020.
Opening Hours  10:00-18:00
(Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Venue The National Art Center, Tokyo, Special Exhibition Gallery 1E
Organized by The National Art Center, Tokyo; Iwami Art Museum, Shimane; The Yomiuri Shimbun; Nippon Television Network Corporation; BS Nippon Corporation; Agency for Cultural Affairs; Japan Arts Council
Cooperated by NANASAI CO.,LTD.
Co-organized by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
Inquiries +81(0)3-5777-8600(Hello Dial)

Exhibition Structure

Prologue : 1920s - 1945
From Traditional Japanese Clothing to Modern Dressmaking

In the Meiji Era, Western-style dressmaking and tailoring were introduced as part of a national modernization policy. While people gradually adopted the new clothing, they did not abandon traditional Japanese attire. In the 1920s, however, “modern girls” (young women dressed in Western styles and leading relatively liberated lifestyles) appeared in increasingly hyper-consumerist urban areas, and glamorous images of them were splashed across various media.

During World War II the entire population was mobilized for the war effort, and de facto civilian uniforms called kokumin-fuku (lit. “national attire”) were designated as appropriate dress for a wide range of situations, from everyday activities to formal occasions. As fighting intensified, almost all men came to wear kokumin-fuku. Several varieties of “standard attire” for women were also decreed, but in practice, the most widely worn women’s garments were work pants known as monpe.

1945 – 1950s
The Postwar Heyday of Dressmaking

During the immediate postwar era when goods were scarce, women relied on kimono they had in their homes and a limited supply of other fabrics, which they reworked into new outfits or monpe work pants. Soon there was a rush to enroll in vocational schools and acquire dressmaking and tailoring skills. Women who attended dressmaking schools referenced magazines, “style books” and other publications, and arranged clothing designs as they liked. The dressmaking craze that spread nationwide played a decisive role in popularizing Western-style clothing in Japan. In the late 1950s, the heyday of Japanese cinema produced fashion trends derived from films, such as scarves wrapped around the head, called Machiko-maki after a movie character, and the beach styles of the taiyo-zoku (lit. “sun tribe”).

Magazine "Utsukushii Kurashi No Techo" No. 1, 1948, Kurashi No Techosha Inc.

From “Making” to “Buying” Clothes

A long period of robust economic growth expanded the middle class and boosted consumption in Japan. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics helped spur a growing number of households to buy color televisions, and TV began to eclipse the movies in terms of cultural influence. As mass production of high-quality ready-to-wear clothing became feasible, the clothing consumption paradigm gradually shifted from tailoring to purchasing. The global youth culture that had emerged in London, UK spread to Japan, and miniskirts and heavy eye makeup became popular. Among young men the look known as “Ivy,” modeled on that of American university students, was prevalent.

Hanae MORI, Men's aloha shirt with red flower pattern / Movie Kurutta kajitsu, 1956, NIKKATSU CORPORATION

The Rise of Individualistic Japanese Designers

Young Japanese designers emerged who were internationally active, presenting their collections overseas and gaining increasing prominence. In Tokyo, a group of the most cutting-edge designers formed TD6 (Tokyo Designer Six), and diverse new trends such as ethnic-inspired “folklore” and the concept of unisex clothing reflected individuals’ varied lifestyles. On the streets, student protests and the counterculture intensified in the late 1960s, and T-shirts and jeans became extremely popular as a symbol of democratic attire. Harajuku became a capital of youth culture, and the establishment of magazines such as An-an played a key role in heightening interest in fashion.

Masayoshi Sukita, David Bowie, 1973, ©Sukita

The Golden Age of “DC Brands”

In the 1980s, when Japan’s economic growth reached its peak, the phrase kansei no jidai (“era of sensitivity”) appeared frequently in media discourse. This zeitgeist was exemplified by large numbers of people dressed in so-called DC (“designers and characters”) brands, which emphasized designers’ originality and vision. On the other hand, sportswear and scanty “body-conscious” silhouettes were also popular. The diversification of style continued with the emergence of brands that sought to offer high quality at low prices. Thirty-two Japanese brands participated in the landmark 1985 “Tokyo Collection,” and the Japanese fashion world became even more vibrant.


Junko Shimada, Autumn Winter, 1988-89, 1988, Photo: Guy Bourdin

New Styles from Shibuya and Harajuku

After the economic bubble burst, new trends increasingly came from “the street.” Young people led the way in developing and popularizing Ura-Harajuku (“backstreet Harajuku”) fashions from the popular stores lining the narrow lane nicknamed Cat Street; the high-school girl culture centered on Shibuya; and Shibuya-kei, which revolved around a specific music scene. In the late 1990s, soon before the Internet came to dominate popular culture, numerous magazines targeted at highly specific groups, such as those specializing in snapshots of idiosyncratic street fashions or directed at kogal (girls with heavily tanned skin, dyed hair and gaudy clothing). Stylishly dressed readers were featured in magazines, and became influential fashion leaders themselves.


『FRUiTS』August issue No.13 cover, 1998, Private Collection

2000 – 2010s
Kawaii Goes Global, and Social Media Takes Over

Street trends became a source of inspiration for contemporary designers, and Japanese fashion came to be perceived around the world as a culture of kawaii (“cuteness”). Harajuku was ground zero for unique interpretations of styles with Western roots – such as Gothic, as represented by visual-kei pop bands, and Lolita – which grew widely popular. Meanwhile, the rise of fast fashion made it possible for anyone to dress in popular styles at a low cost.

In the 2010s, social media increased the ability of individuals to broadcast themselves to the world, and sweeping, era-defining crazes have come to be replaced by a wide range of micro-trends that each have their own devotees.

BABY, THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT, Doll one piece dress of embroidered cloth, 2002, BABY, THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT

Fashions of the Future

Today, the spread of social media across a wide range of generations has reduced the distance between central Tokyo and rural areas, and has made the relationship between cultural transmitters and receivers more equal. Clothing can easily be purchased anywhere and anytime on the Internet, and its consumption cycle is accelerating. The uniqueness of Japanese fashion is still drawing attention from around the world. With all these factors in play, what fashions will arise in the future?

YUIMA NAKAZATO, 2020 Spring/Summer Collection "COSMOS", 2020, YUIMA NAKAZATO