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Image: Wikipedia Commons: Jacob Ehnmark from Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo fashion subculture: Visual Kei

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In this series, we will be exploring all the fashion subcultures that have made Japan the fashion powerhouse it is today. The popularity of the music genre, Visual Kei, went on to influence the start of a new fashion subculture with the same name. Today, it is considered to be one of Japan’s most unique and recognizable subcultures.

Short for "Visual Style," Visual Kei is an alternative music and fashion movement defined as flamboyant, androgynous and theatrical. The aesthetic takes influences from international and Japanese glam rock and punk rock bands. Followers often have long dyed hair and wear heavy makeup and monochromatic outfits.

Image: iStock: Image Source

There are quite a few subgenres within this subculture. The most common ones are Kote Kei, the most old-school one with a goth and punk feel, Erguro Kei, which features grotesque motifs, and Tanbi Kei, a style that is more influenced by Victorian and Rococo fashion.

Given the punk and goth influence, it is unsurprising that most of the clothing worn follows a darker scheme. Outfits will often include dark lace and feature goth motifs such as cobwebs, skulls and crosses. An excessive amount of studded accessories, piercings and platform shoes like Creepers and Doc Martens, are just as important as the outfit itself.

The key thing about the Visual Kei aesthetic is that although individual aspects may look slightly messy, such as teased hair and ripped materials, overall everything looks stylized and polished.

The History and Cultural Significance of Visual Kei

Image: Flickr: ジェンナ

Originating as an underground music scene during the 80s, Visual Kei can best be seen as Japan’s take on the rock genre. Having taken inspiration from the glam rock genre as well as pioneering artists like David Bowie and Queen, this subculture quickly went on to establish its own unique set of characteristics and by the 90s, the term Visual Kei was officially coined. Interestingly, what came to define the style was not the music itself but the visuals and performance. Those in Visual Kei bands had a certain look to them. They were more androgynous, having elaborate hairstyles and wearing stylized costumes.

X Japan is widely considered to have been the one that revolutionized the characteristics of the subculture. Their overall look was not only inspired by glam rock artists but also by the theatrics of Kabuki. The members wore dark eyeliner and sometimes face paint to create a look that blended aspects of the heavy-metal and glam-rock genres. Their hair, which was often dyed, long and teased to create immense volume, was also a talking point. Notably, each member had their own persona. They dressed slightly differently, adding to the dramatics of the overall aesthetic of the group. Many other influential Visual Kei bands, including Dir En Grey and Malice Mizer, played an important part in shaping this subculture.

Is Visual Kei Still Popular?

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

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This stuff is way cool. These kids won't always dress like that, but it's great that at least for a little while not everyone has to have the same haircut, same clothes as each other, or belong to the big group. It's really, really creative.

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