Tuesday, March 1, 2005
TOKYO Sexiness is a complex thing. Just when you think you have the last word on latex and five-inch mules, your date will be swiveling his head to look at the girl who just walked in – in a cotton shirt and long shapeless skirt.
The words “Sunday gardening” flash into your brain and you wonder what can be so special about her black Converse sneakers, that dowdy floral-print shirt, those short cotton socks. And then your date enlightens you with a sort of moony look: “She looks so inexperienced, so innocent. Not sexy or anything, but rather attractive.” Well what can you do but smile and self-consciously hide your bad black mules under the table?
Actually, this guy hits it right on the nail. Not-sexy-or-anything is the mode many a Tokyo woman has been aspiring to for some time now. And as the weather grows warmer, the trend is being enhanced by young women in flowing cotton skirts, loose cotton socks, and embroidered shirts of becoming but old-maidish fragility.
In an age when Japanese fashion magazines exhort women to be “coquettish with a cutting edge” and to “master the art of allure,” and when gratuitous images of sex assault the senses from every facet of the media, the schoolmarm look is practically bizarre, even almost punk.
Kaya Misaki, 24, says, “Outright sexy is not a state I’m comfortable with and it’s boring to look at, too. A miniskirt and high heels convey just one, same-old message, and we all know what that is.”
Kaya works as an assistant at a small advertising agency and she likes to layer her clothing: a knee-length cotton skirt over jeans, two white T-shirts trimmed with lace, one on top of the other. When asked whether her outfit had any messages to convey, Kaya thought about it and then said with a little defiance: “I want to look like I read a lot.”
The fashion critic Makoto Umazume calls the trend “the revenge of the virgin” and says it’s an “inevitable desire” for Japanese women to dress this way. “Japanese women are small-statured and short-limbed. The bombshell look just doesn’t work for a lot of them. And young women have a stubborn stoicism about looking sexy. It makes them feel cheap and dumb, whereas the virginal look requires a certain intelligence to pull off.”
He says the whole thing originated with the emergence of Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons in the early 1980s, and Kawakubo’s statement that “it’s far better to conceal, than reveal.”
Since then, both designers and women have been experimenting with and then honing the art of concealment. Brands like Toga, Limi Feu, Frapbois and Zucca all stress the beauty of loose, flowing lines, and the importance of imagining the small, slender bodies underneath.
Umazume says, “The Tokyo virgin is well-read, knowledgeable and sophisticated. She chooses to insulate herself in her own spiritual world. Virginity for her is less an issue of sexuality than a state of mind, and she strives to remain unsullied and pure no matter what her sexual experiences may be.”
It follows that her wardrobe should consist of the light beige tones of Ebony and Ivory, those sheer white cotton shirts that look like something out of the film “Picnic at Hanging Rock.” Chizou Miyata, who has been an ardent fan for the past three years, describes her take on the clothes: “I wear them for the most important moments in life. Like going for a walk with my boyfriend, cooking for him on weekend afternoons, arranging flowers, reading in a café. They make me feel more relaxed, more beautiful and well taken care of.”
For Bulle de Savon, the story is much the same, though the brand has a reputation for being more colorful than its two rivals. The prints and color schemes change with each collection and this summer the emphasis is on lace and nostalgic floral prints. Hemlines are longer, and the waists tend to be untucked, which means straight silhouettes and concealing lines.
“Cute and comfortable,” is how the 34-year-old fan Kazumi Kitajima summed it up.
“Unlike other brands for people my age, this place knows how a Japanese woman functions – she works, she takes care of house and kids, she cooks, she rides her bicycle to the train station and to the market. It’s better for us to wear natural, washable materials and things that aren’t too restricting. We have a lot of work to do, but we also want to look nice while we’re doing it,” she says.
She blushed and added that to wear these clothes helped keep herself in shape – designed for young girls, the virgin look clothing tends to be tighter and smaller no matter how loose they seem. “I tell myself that the day I can’t fit into these things anymore is the day I stop being a girl,” she says.
Her words make perfect sense to the Tokyo virgin. Anyone can be a woman, but to be a girl requires guts and determination and a genuinely romantic temperament.