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The Fashion That Never Grows Old – Inside Japan’s Most Vibrant Culture, ‘Decora Kei’

The What’s, Why’s and Where’s of the infamous Decora culture of Japan.

Image: Decora Street Fashion popular in Harajuku, Japan via Getty Images

If you have ever heard of the Harajuku street in Japan, then you probably have heard of Decora fashion too. But if you haven’t heard of either of these two, then scroll on for you have come to the right article. Get ready to step into the most multicoloured and amazingly peculiar world you will ever read about!

Think of how you used to dress as a child, without thinking of what is in trend or what people would say if you dressed a certain way when you did not worry if what you’re wearing looks odd or not. Dressing up in numerous pretty colours and accessories was fun as we were children. As we matured, we left behind the exquisite colours and started choosing darker, singular shades and clothing styles. But Decora dressers do not believe being adults means to stop having fun. For them, Decora means fun.

Decora is an idiosyncratic style practised as a group in the Harajuku district of Japan which is known as the hub of street fashion. This quirky style’s name has its origins in the Japanese word for decoration and has been in vogue from the 1990s to the day you’re reading about it.

Image: Harajuku District, the hub of Street Fashion in Japan via Getty Images

Decora fashion is believed to have been popularized by the street snaps published in a famous magazine in Tokyo called Fruits Magazine. The origin of this fashion is not really pinpointed. Some trace the source of Decora to a singer named Tomoe Shinohara who was influential at the time and people might have aped the style leading to the formation of the subculture Decora. The popular appeal to this style also owes to the fact that it is accessible and cheap.

So you may ask what’s so unique about this style? Well, everything. This style is one of a kind from the use of too many accessories and decorations to its featuring of vibrant and neon colours. Now you know why it is called Decora. Decorating yourself from head to toe with accessories so that you don’t leave even one inch of clothing or skin plain is what sets apart this style from others.

Japan is known for its culture of cuteness being the motherland from where most of our cute toys, electronics, stationery and styles are manufactured. In Japan, this trend of cuteness is called ‘kawaii’ which means cute, adorable and loveable. Decora fashion is a manifestation of Kawaii aesthetics in fashion.

Decora Kei has many substyles too like Decora Lolita, Casual Decora, Pink Decora, Dark Decora, Punk Goth Decora, Froggy Decora, Pastel Decora, Rainbow Decora and many more. It is not just women who adopt the Decora style. It is a style popular among men in Japan too.

Decora dressers never grow old for they’re always decked in bright colours that help lift their bright spirits and keeps them buoyant and lively. The style reminded me of how I used to dress when I was a child of three. Though I never used to don that many accessories, it is still the same image I see reflected in this style. Decora Dressers style themselves like children who are caught in adults’ bodies, experimenting with daring colours and palettes. There is no thought at all put into dressing in Decora style. Rather it is more guided by instinct and the mood of the day.

Image: A shop selling Kawaii accessories and clothes in Harajuku, Japan via Shutterstock

There is no singular clothing style followed Decora dressers; rather it gives more importance to the colours like pink, blue, rainbow patterns and neon varieties. As many colours on a person as possible are encouraged. This style’s overall aesthetic look is inspired by cartoon characters like Hello Kitty, Strawberry Shortcake, Pokemon, Smurfs and Care Bears and you will find all these characters as motifs in the clothing and accessories worn by Decora dressers. The added use of Tutu skirts, knee-high socks, leg warmers and arm warmers add a lot of kawaii to this style as well as provide a larger canvas for fusing colours. 

Do you have difficulty deciding which accessories to wear? Seek no more, just wear them all! Accessories are the essence of a decora outfit. A Decora dresser is distinguishable from other fashion dressers by the very use of innumerable but cute accessories. Some of the common accessories used are clips, bows, ribbons, colourful band-aids worn on the nose, rings, bracelets and necklaces. Makeup is not very much used or important in Decora to bring out the child-like appearance. But glitter and stickers are used to add some sparkle to the final look. Vibrant colour dyes and wigs are used to accentuate the kawaii of this style further.

You may now ask, why Decora? Why do they dress like that? The symbolism behind this seemingly odd style is not so odd. This style emerged in response to the stifling rigid social order and hierarchies prevalent in Japanese society. In a country like Japan, where individuality is of no importance, fashion is seen as a means of expression to exhibit rebellion against the standing norms. Decora is a way of breaking out of the mould, standing out in defiance, and calling attention to the eccentricity slash uniqueness of an individual.

How do you think Decora would be received in India?

Brown Magazine spoke to some youngsters to know what the Indian population thinks about Decora and how the Indian youth would judge this unusual style if it ever reaches here.

A few responded that Decora brought sweet memories of the past to mind.

Madhuri, a 22-year old student says Decora reminded her of her childhood. “Decora reminds me of unicorns, candy, rainbows, everything bright and cheerful. I feel that decora is the expression of the child inside you.”

26-year old Liya says that decora is for those who do not wish to grow up. “I feel the people who follow Decora fashion wish to stay as a child despite their physical body changes.”

Ruby, an 18-year old, finds the style a bit too weird. She says “Decora uses lovely colours, but when it comes all together, it’s a little weird. It’s a little too much but also liberating. Maybe it looks pretty but as a theme, not something you can wear every day. It looks like a costume.”

Image: Three people wearing different Decora Substyles via Getty Images
Is our society open minded enough to accept Decora?

Teresa, a teacher from Kerala, disagrees. She says that Decora “will never be accepted in our society where even the slightest things matter.

23-year old Sristy from Assam responded that she likes the style on them. “But I would never want to try something this crazy“, she says.

Aparna, a fifteen-year-old school student, finds Decora attractive. She says, “It’s so unique and beautiful. People who like to experiment with colours and fashion would love this. It wouldn’t be something I would wear, but I like seeing people wearing decora fashion. It’s aesthetic.”

13-year old Aishwarya is all ready to try decora attire if she gets a chance and thinks its the best style there is. She says, “Everyone can wear whatever they like. If I get a chance to wear it, I will wear it.”

Though the rage of Decora fashion seems to decline in popularity, it is still a popular subculture in Harajuku. While Decora is seen as over the top or tacky, many Decora dressers find it empowering, and I must say, I agree. It is a very daring style of dressing. Decora is an outburst of colours that express identities stifled for long by set boundaries and codes. To be able to break the norms and express who you are by dressing the way you like is still a dream left to be fulfilled for many. To such people, Decora fashion comes as a true source of inspiration.

Written By

A stargazer with a penchant for words and chocolates. A fan of Greek lore and dystopian novels.

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