What a person wears when going outside represents his or her style. Most styles also show the kind of personality that one has. While freedom of expression is encouraged when dressing up, schools, on the other hand, require their students to wear uniforms. Not only because the uniforms represent the values of the school where the student is attending, but also to easily identify which school it is that he or she is studying in. Another purpose of wearing school uniforms is to unify the students as a single body, aiming to do their best in the same school. However, not all schools in the world require their students to wear uniforms. This is because schools that require uniforms have their own standards and designs as to how it should look like. Hence, school uniforms would have to be custom-made in order to fit the body of every student and this may incur additional cost.
Still, several schools in Asia, usually in junior high school and high school, require their students to wear uniforms. Specifically, in Japan, various designs and styles of school uniforms have been developed in order to cater not just the standards of the school but also to adjust accordingly depending on the season.
A Brief History on Japanese School Uniforms
The typical design of a Japanese school uniform is tailored based on the appearance of the European-style naval uniforms. This type of school uniform was first introduced and established in the country during the late 19th century. To this day, school uniforms are still the general outfit of students studying in various Japanese schools, both in public and in private.
Also known as seifuku in Japanese, this type of school uniform consists of the gakuran and sailor-style dress. It is said that the concept of the design of the Japanese school uniform came from the scaled down sailor suits that used to be worn by the kids of royal European families. Instead of being seen as a regular navy gear, the Japanese thought of the outfits as adorable.
Since then, the idea was formed and adopted in Japan. Young girls were made to wear these uniforms as not only did they look presentable but the uniforms were also considerably easy to sew. On the other hand, some old-fashioned textbooks negate the European idea of navy uniforms. Rather, it stated that the concept came from the uniform of the Japanese Army. It is because the collar and the sides of the school uniform had a strong resemblance to the current styles of dressmaking in Japan at that time.
On the other hand, modifications on the uniforms were being made by sukeban gangs in the 1980s. The top shirts were being shortened while the skirts were lengthened. To negate the shortening of the tops, schools incorporated the use of blazers among young women wearing the uniforms. Based on a survey conducted last 2012, about 50% of junior high schools and 20% or senior high schools in Japan use the design of sailor suit school uniforms.
A Uniform for All Seasons, Even Winter: Name Tag, Skirt, Pattern, Jacket, Blazer, and Shoes
The style of the Japanese school uniform varies depending on the gender. Japanese boys are made to wear school uniforms in military style while Japanese girls are made to wear school uniforms in sailor suit-style. These styles were based on the formal military dress code during the Meiji period. The sailor style of school uniform served as a replacement for the undivided hakama or andon bakama, which was designed by Utako Shimo for 10 years, from the year 1920 to the year 1930.
For several boys attending middle school and high school in Japan, the typical style of uniform is the gakuran and the tsume-eri. This style usually just comes in two colors, namely, black and navy blue. The color black is the general hue of gakuran and tsume-eri although there are some schools that prefer the navy blue hue. This style of uniform was based on the French Army uniforms. The term “gakuran” itself was derived from two words being combined. “Gaku” translates to “study” or “student” while “ran” is historically understood as the West. Hence, the word “gakuran” literally translates to “student in the West” in terms of clothing. This style was also used by some schools in South Korea.
The gakuran consists of a top that has a standing collar, which gives the uniform a clean look. The standing collar buttons down from top to bottom. While not many may be able to see, but the buttons of the school uniform is typically decorated with the school emblem. This is not only to show respect to the school but also serves as a representation of the institution. The lower part of the gakuran is comprised of a pair of straight leg pants. A belt of either black or a dark hue is strapped around the waist with the pants so make the outfit look tied together.
To complete the look, the general footwear of most male students is penny loafers or sneakers. To give a bit of shine to the almost all black or dark uniform, some schools have their students wear collar pins. These collar pins sometimes not only represent the school itself but also the class rank of the student. If the school is a bit more traditional, a matching student cap is made to wear for the students, though this is not as common these days. It is also customary for male students to give away the second button from the top of their uniform to the girl that he likes. This is often seen as a way of confessing their feelings, as the said button is the one closest to the heart.
As for the girls, the typical style of school uniform is the sailor fuku. Usually worn by female students in middle school, this style can sometimes also be worn by elementary students and traditional high school students. The style of this school uniform was introduced in Heian Jogakuin in the year 1920 and come the year 1921, by Elizabeth Lee who was principal of Fukuoka Jo Gakuin University at the time. Lee was an exchange student from United Kingdom when she witnessed the uniforms worn by the British Royal and thought to incorporate a similar design as a school uniform in her own school.
The style is generally comprised of a white blouse with a sailor-type collar attached to it. As for the bottom, female students wear a pleated skirt at a specific length. The material and the sleeve length of the school uniform vary depending on the weather to cater both the summer season and the winter season. A ribbon is commonly looped around the collar and tied in front to accentuate the femininity of the outfit. On the other hand, there are other variations on the ribbon such as bolo ties, neckties, bows, and neckerchiefs. This also comes in varying hues from navy blue and black to white and gray.
Up to this day, the military style of school uniform is still being used by some schools, though many have developed and progressed to a more Western-pattern and style of catholic school uniforms. This new style is comprised of a white shirt, a tie, and a blazer with the school crest stitched to it, accompanied by a pair of tailored trousers in a different shade to the blazer for the boys. As for the girls, the new style is comprised of a white blouse, a tie, a blazer with the school crest stitched to it, accompanied by tartan culottes or a skirt for the girls. Name tags are also typically pinned to the blazer, shirt, or blouse for easy identification.
Because the blazer covers the arms of the students, it can be a bit warm to wear during the summer seasons. Hence, all school uniforms in Japan have a summer version, which usually just gets rid of the blazer or jacket. All schools that require uniforms also have a uniform made just for sports and other sporting activities. This is usually comprised of just a tracksuit made from polyester as its main material for year-round. As for summer, this tracksuit is replaced by a T-shirt and a pair of short pants.
The Significance of the Uniform in Cosplay and Anime Culture
Due to the fact that most people in Japan have experienced wearing different kinds of school uniforms, it can be a bit nostalgic for them seeing these uniforms. As the school uniforms also represent youth and vitality, many artists incorporate Japanese school uniforms in their mangas and anime series. This can be seen in a lot of anime that consists of students who are experiencing the normal, everyday student life.
As Japanese school uniforms can be seen in a number of anime series, a lot of people, both male and female, cosplay as Japanese students. Not only are they easy to portray but the costumes are also easier to find in various cosplay stores. A cosplayer can buy piece by piece instead of building a whole costume. The price is also relatively cheaper in comparison to those who actually build and paint their own costumes made from raw materials.
Probably one of the most well-known anime series of all time that incorporated a specific style of Japanese school uniform is Sailor Moon. With all its main characters almost always wearing their school uniforms, many female fans aspire to be just like them. Their uniforms are similar to each other with the color of their bows as the only difference. This spawned the Japanese school uniform phenomenon in the anime and cosplay culture.
Shop for Japanese School Uniforms
Aside from the styles mentioned above, there are still more kinds of Japanese school uniforms, especially for female students. This includes bolero uniform, jumper skirt uniform, overalls skirt uniform, suspender skirt uniform, and one-piece uniform. While some students prefer to have their uniforms custom-made to ensure the proper fitting of the outfit to their bodies, others prefer to just buy uniform clothing from shops. There is a number of brands that specialize in uniform clothing while others provide great additions to the overall uniform outfit.
Possibly the most basic brand that produces uniform clothing is Eastboy. They offer the usual blouse, necktie, ribbon, and plaid skirt ensemble. The price range is affordable up to a certain point, especially since their products can be bought per piece. Furthermore, most students recently also prefer wearing vests or sweaters on top of their school uniform. Unless the school has its own school sweater, students can opt to purchase their own. These vest and sweaters are great additions to the outfit during the winter season as it adds extra warmth to the wearer.
Uniqlo may probably be the most famous brand for sweaters among students. Because their line offers a plethora of colors, a lot of female students find it fashionable to add a pop of color from the sweater to complement their uniforms. Also, one thing that helps complete the school uniform outfit is a pair of socks. Generally, most girls wear a pair of black, navy blue, or white socks that reach just below the knee or middle of the sheen.
There are definitely still some more factors that would help accentuate a Japanese school uniform such as the bag being carried along with the school uniform. Truly, there are several ways to wear a Japanese school uniform. Mixing and matching may also be a key in tying up the outfit together. The best part of wearing a Japanese school uniform is experimenting on which pieces would look best when combined together. Furthermore, the most important part of wearing a Japanese school uniform is being proud of where one is attending and also being confident while wearing the uniform as it represents not just the school but also the student wearing it.