The Intimate Relationship between “Shōjo” Manga and Fashion

By Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

From Comme des Garçons' spring/summer 2018 collection. Printed with an illustration by Macoto Takahashi.©︎ Comme des Garçons

In recent years, manga-inspired fashion has been popular in Japan. From Harajuku-style brands to famous high fashion brands, the examples are too numerous to mention. This is not a recent phenomenon, however; fashion and shōjo (girls’) manga in particular have long shared a deep relationship, almost to the point of being inseparable. Shōjo manga researcher Kayoko Kuramochi introduces some aspects of this intimate relationship.

From “Shōjo no Tomo Fashion Book” by Junichi Nakahara (“Shōjo no Tomo” supplement in 1937 / From “Junichi Nakahara’s Jogakusei Fukusō Chō”)Original Source: “Shōjo no Tomo”, Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha (1937-1940) © JUNICHI NAKAHARA / HIMAWARIYA

“‘shōjo’ manga and fashion” prehistory
The lyrical picture craze and Junichi Nakahara

The pages of girls’ magazines prior to WWII were mainly filled with novels and lyrical pictures, not manga. At the time, it was common for girls to make their own clothes rather than purchase them, and these lyrical pictures served as reference materials and fashion leaders for female readers. Among them, Junichi Nakahara had the greatest influence.

His serial “Jogakusei Fukusō Chō” [Schoolgirl Fashion Booklet], published from 1937 to 1940 in the magazine “Jogakusei no Tomo” (Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha), for example, provided instructions on beautiful fashion for girls in various forms. This high level of aesthetics had a significant impact on “shōjo” manga artists who emerged after the war and is the origin of the uniquely gorgeous style seen in “shōjo” manga.

“Arashi wo Koete” [Beyond the Storm] by Macoto TakahashiOriginal Source: “shōjo”, Kobunsha (1958), ©︎ MACOTO GAROU

Behind the creation of a unique method of expression

After the war, “shōjo” manga grew into a major genre as the pages of girls’ magazines became increasingly centered around manga. Continuing to play a role as fashion leaders, these magazines emphasized fashion just as much as providing entertainment through stories.

Thus, a form of expression unique to “shōjo” manga was born—the practice of drawing an entire figure freed from the story panels in order to show the details of an entire outfit. This method was also optimal for creating the feeling of a world that overflowed with foreign atmosphere through motifs popular at the time, such as ballerinas, frills, and dancing roses. It was from this period that layering multiple panels began to develop as a form of expression in “shōjo” manga.

“Maki no Kuchibue” [Maki’s Whistle] by Miyako MakiOriginal Source: “Ribon”, Shueisha (1960–1963)

Additionally, promotional campaigns got readers excited by offering as prizes clothes worn by the main characters in manga. There are even stories of girls who did not win asking their mothers to sew them similar types of outfits. Such trends are the foundation for real clothes in manga.

Besides Macoto Takahashi and Miyako Maki, introduced in the images, there were many other popular manga artists at this time who were skilled fashion illustrators, including Masako Watanabe, Eiko Hanamura, Yukiko Tani, Yoko Kitajima, and Yoshiko Nishitani.

“Designer” by Yukari IchijoOriginal Source: “Ribon”, Shueisha (1974)

A turning point in the decades

In the 1970s, Japan transitioned from an age of “making” clothes to an age of “buying” them. The ’70s also ushered in the emergence of fashion magazines aimed at teens that introduced stylish ways of wearing ready-made clothes, such as the magazine “Anan.” The changes that took place in this decade also extended to “shōjo” manga. One after another, young manga artists of the postwar generation actively created profound human dramas on themes never explored previously.

“Designer” by Yukari IchijoOriginal Source: “Ribon”, Shueisha (1974)

“Designer” by Yukari Ichijo is one such manga. This work portrays fashion not as a mere decorative element, but rather as telling the story of a woman pursuing a professional career. “shōjo” manga and fashion, both of which were at a critical turning point as industries, encouraged women to enter the workforce.

Supplementary notebook depicting Ivy fashion by Ako Mutsu, offered with the November 1975 issue of “Ribon”Original Source: In a collection at Yayoi Museum

“Otome-chikku” (meaning “girly”) manga that was popular from around 1975 to the ’80s is another example that cannot be overlooked when talking about the intersection of “shōjo” manga and fashion. The term refers to the works of Yumiko Tabuchi, Ako Mutsu, and Hideko Tachikake, artists who contributed to “Ribon” magazine. Their works, which incorporated the trends of youth culture at the time, such as “Ivy fashion” (Ivy League-inspired fashion), and their supplementary illustrations, became popular beyond their target reader demographic for how “kawaii” (cute) they were. Today, "kawaii" culture is sweeping the world, and these works, which enlivened the "kawaii" culture in Japan, may be considered one of the origins of this movement.

“Jelly Beans” by Moyoco AnnoOriginal Source: “CUTiE”, Takarajimasha (1998–2002) ©️ Moyoco Anno / Cork

The rise of fashion magazines

From the ’80s to the ’90s, the number of fashion magazines increased further, as did social phenomena. More people began copying the lifestyles they saw in magazines, such as the “Olive Girls”, who were interested in fashion and subcultures influenced by the fashion magazine “Olive”. Also, with the rise of junior clothing brands in the late ’90s, fashion magazines targeted at young age groups started to emerge. These developments meant that “shōjo” manga began to play a lesser role in providing examples of fashion to readers, but on the other hand, “shōjo” manga artists also had a new place to publish their work—in fashion magazines.

“Jelly Beans” by Moyoco AnnoOriginal Source: “CUTiE”, Takarajimasha (1998–2002) ©️ Moyoco Anno / Cork

Kyoko Okazaki and Moyoco Anno are examples of manga artists who actively contributed their work to fashion magazines.

“Paradise Kiss” by Ai YazawaOriginal Source: “Zipper”, Shodensha (1999–2003), ©︎ Yazawa Manga Seisakusho

“Jelly Beans” by Moyoco Anno and published in “CUTiE”, and “Paradise Kiss” by Ai Yazawa of “Ribon”, who contributed the series to “Zipper”, are both works of manga themed on the fashion industry that were serialized at around the same time from the late 1990s to the 2000s.

“Paradise Kiss” by Ai YazawaOriginal Source: “Zipper”, Shodensha (1999–2003), ©︎ Yazawa Manga Seisakusho

Working in the fashion industry was a huge aspiration for many young people at the time, as seen in the refashioned skirts and other DIY outfits that were then popular. These manga series likely inspired some readers to go to vocational school to pursue fashion design.

People cosplaying at an event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japanand Ecuador in Ecuador in 2018.Original Source: Photo provided by Reika

Otaku culture infiltrates “shōjo” manga
The spread of cosplay culture

Cosplay, a practice that is becoming prevalent not only in Japan but also in other countries, was first established in the late ’70s as a fan activity brought on by the anime boom, involving series such as “Mobile Suit Gundam”. From the mid ’90s, it became widely known through media coverage as a behavior symbolic of “otaku culture.”

Cosplay also had a strong influence on “shōjo” manga, as it led to the creation of works that were serialized with a transmedia franchise strategy in mind, such as “Sailor Moon”, that appealed to the otaku demographic as well as young female readers. As a result of these developments, fashion in “shōjo” manga has become polarized into two genres: works that depict stylish clothes similar to those worn by readers in daily life and works that depict symbolic fashion that can be readily cosplayed.

From Comme des Garçons' spring/summer 2018 collection. Printed with an illustration by Macoto Takahashi.Original Source: ©︎ Comme des Garçons

Vogue’s flirtation with manga
Otaku culture and high fashion

The perception that “otaku culture is cool” was reimported to Japan from abroad following the global acceptance of Japanese anime and manga. Formerly seen as a negative stereotype, perception of otaku culture has completely flipped.

There are even cases of collaborations with high fashion brands that until now had nothing to do with manga, and shōjo manga has become one of their go-to motifs. Under the title “Manga x Mode = ? or ♡,” the July 2009 issue of Vogue Nippon (now Vogue Japan) included a special feature on the world’s fashionistas’ obsession with manga.

“Sailor Moon” wedding dress by MARIAROSAOriginal Source: ©︎ MARIAROSA © Naoko Takeuchi

The interplay between manga and fashion continues

Trends in the high fashion world also spread to the fast fashion industry; UNIQLO’s manga t-shirts are one iconic example. Cosplay-like Harajuku-style fashion, which incorporates manga-esque elements such as oversized ribbons, has also become an established style among young people. In the 2010s, the character Hagu-chan from the manga “Honey and Clover” became a symbolic icon of the fashion style called “mori-gaaru” (lit., “forest girl”). Recently, we can also see developments such as dresses designed around a “Sailor Moon” motif as a style for happy brides.

The history of the intersection between “shōjo” manga and fashion is likely to continue on into the future.

Credits: Story

Text: Kayoko Kuramochi
Edit: Sayuri Kobayashi, Natsuko Fukushima + Yuka Miyazaki(BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., LTD.)
Supervisor: Hirohito Miyamoto(Meiji University)
Written in 2020

- Text from the Kyoto Manga Girls Collection (abbrev. Kyoto MaGiC) exhibition held at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, 2011–2014.
- Kuramochi, Kayoko. Kawaii! “shōjo” Manga Fashion Book: Shōwa “shōjo” ni mode wo oshieta yonin no sakka [Cute! Girls’ Manga Fashion Book: Four artists who taught vogue to Shōwa girls], edited by Toshonoie, Rittorsha, 2020.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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