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Anime Chic: Appreciating Two-Dimensional Fashion

September 19, 2009


When I was younger, I remember thinking to myself that the whole pursuit of “fashion” was kind of futile. Strapping belts around your waists, adorning clumsy-looking hats and oversized t-shirts. Having someone dictate what’s in style and what’s not only to change their mind in a few weeks time. I wanted consistency, convenience and especially utility, something that was apparently counter-intuitive to the fashion industry.

But in recent months, I’ve since lowered my anti-fashion placard and have become rather welcoming to the idea. If you don’t mind me generalizing, I’ve learned that a hard fact about life (and something I really hate to admit) is that, more often than not, image is everything. It’s not only reflective of who you are and how you perceive yourself, but also your place in accordance with society at large. It allows people to make quick judgments about who you are and what your relevance in status is with just a cursory glance, whether you’re insecure, self-assured, a jock or a ballet enthusiast. Of course that’s not to say that people should be making judgments based on appearance, but we dress the way we do because it matches our tastes – and by extension, we want to connect to other people with similar tastes by marketing ourselves.

This is something no guy who’s defensive about his sexuality should ever admit to – even though I’m not really defensive about my sexuality to begin with – but I’ve noticed that with the more Anime I watch, the more I become aware of the different outfits and costumes, and how it really gives the visual medium an influence on its own. I really hope I’m not alone on this, because I noticed that I’ve taken up the habit of replacing “She’s so cute” with “Her outfit is so cute.”

Snarky cynicism aside, fashion can really come to be its own art form. It’s all about measurements and proportions that fit a specific body type, color schemes and patterns that don’t conflict with one another, and different motifs that accentuate certain parts of the body. It’s a lot more calculated than you might think it to be. I believe it just gets a bad rap because it generally conjures up images of anorexic supermodels and temperamental designers with their noses in the air.

One of the great things about Anime is that, along with the funky hair colors and impossible haircuts, the characters are able to achieve a wardrobe that would look downright gaudy in real life (unless you’re incredibly hot and have enough “build” for people to overlook it). Aside from the obligatory French maid outfits and sailor uniforms with too-short skirts, we sometimes get a glimpse of our favorite characters in their regular, everyday attire. I sometimes browse Danbooru, thinking to myself how a bunch of otakus – a subculture made up of people who are generally pictured as slovenly and unkempt – are capable of coming up with such amazing character designs.


Amu Hinamori, the world's most fashionable 11 year old.


Anime characters are so fashionable that they practically bleed fashion sense. I’m generally speaking of shows with flashy designs and colorful artwork that focus on personal development when I say this. Female mangaka groups like Peach-Pit and Clamp are probably the most flagrant examples, as seen in their excessively ornate “bishie” style – not to say that it’s expected of females who are firmly situated in Asian pop culture.

However, as I said before, there’s more to fashion than just looking cute. It’s about finding a certain style. Or more specifically, it’s about finding a style that fits you. It’s about knowing what you like and dislike, down to the minute details in choice of fabric, and then gearing these details in a way that makes you look your best and makes you feel good about yourself.

Character designs are an integral part in shaping how we view a certain character and how we expect them to speak and behave. I imagine the process to be arduous. Just like how musicians don’t make the lyrics before composing the melody, the designers don’t make the outfits before thinking up the characters. It’s a conscious effort that’s upheld throughout the show and fluctuates with the story.

I contend that when we analyze an Anime character, we should also take a look into that character’s dresser. Choosing a character’s outfit when planning a design isn’t unlike choosing what to wear for the day when we wake up in the morning. What are they wearing at a certain place in time in the story and why? What does the outfit show us without the characters telling us anything about themselves? Can you deduce whether the person is loud and obnoxious or bookish and quiet by the length of the dress? Perhaps eccentric? Conserved? Outgoing?

And if the outfit just so happens to run contrary to the very archetype of the character, would that entail an eventual “coming of age”? A more maudlin way of phrasing it would be that there’s really another side to the character, an unexplored self that has yet to float to the surface.


Fashion can also be a sort of leitmotif for an Anime. And to that end, I just have to mention Umineko. The head of the family, Kinzo Ushiromiya, is obsessed with Western culture. He watches old Western shoot-em-ups, drinks absinthe, practices different European languages, and wears Western-style clothing – a reverse weeaboo as many people like to call it. It’s highly appropriate, considering the cast and recurring themes throughout the show.

Okay, this post is too long, and I’m pretty sure I got off topic.
I’ll just end by asking this: who is your favorite character in regards to what they wear?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2009 6:47 pm

    At first I found the one-winged eagle silly and overdone, but over time it grew on me.

    Girls in Japan seem to favor layering and contrast in their clothes, which is definitely apparent in the Clannad screenshot. I mean, Nagisa, good lord, girl. Orange tights? Seriously?

  2. Y10NRDY permalink
    September 20, 2009 8:16 pm

    interesting post…

    i’ve always dug the way the dudes dressed in most of the key/visual arts shows. they seem to have a very casual yet impeccable style, a lot like what you would see on the uber-hip streets of tokyo (akiba notwithstanding).

    i used to be one of the pointy-toed, peacock haired hipsters in my 20s but as i got older i became much more of a “jeans and t-shirt with a twist” kinda guy. anime has always influenced my personal style in general. from the way i did my hair ten years ago to which kiddy grade shirt i match with which pair of loudly colored nike sbs this morning.

  3. September 21, 2009 9:14 am

    One of the best designs to feature in anime has to be Gankutsuou. Especially Haydee. Simply beautiful.

    I too like CLAMPs and their fashion sense. The weekly fashion make over of Sakura was one of the best thing about the show, and while I am no longer watching Sugar chara, Himamori too looked so…delicious…(in innocent way -__-). Designs for Code Geass were also delicious, in not so innocent way.

    Hmm I’m sure there are more, just doesn’t come to mind right now. I also liked Vash’s clean red coat (didn’t like other character designs at all), Boogiepop Phantom’s weird dress up, Witch Hunter Robin’s gothic look, Kusuriuri from Mononoke, Casshern’s ‘nice body’…yep, that’s all I can think of for now.

  4. September 22, 2009 9:37 pm

    Fashion plays such a huge role in anime, probably because often times, characters look very similar, and their clothes thus become a defining characteristic.
    For the most part, I usually love anime costumes, particularly those that are more gothic or punk. I really like CLAMP and Peach Pit as well, and most shoujo mangas.
    These costumes may be rare in real life, and mostly just weird on cosplayers, but when done right, they can be just beautiful in 3d as well.
    Anyway, you are definitely not alone in sometimes placing a higher emphasis on cute clothes rather than cute characters. I love watching anime with my sister and pointing out which costumes are cute or pretty.

  5. September 23, 2009 6:03 pm

    I’m terrible at leaving constructive comments, but I like what you did here. Amu’s fashion sense is indeed spectacular (one of the first things that attracted me to the show), and I’m sure that outfit design is one of the most difficult aspects of character design. I don’t draw, but I’ve been working with an artist for a visual novel and I’ve seen how many subtleties there are in outfit designs that the viewer never noticed consciously, yet somehow, everyone notices it unconsciously.

    Speaking of which, I never noticed Kotomi’s outfit in that Clannad episode. I like it!

  6. September 23, 2009 11:05 pm

    what can I say, Amu is COOL and SPICY! Gotta love Peach Pit and CLAMP’s designs, Ai Yazawa too!

    Speaking of fashion, there was a manga special issue of Vogue Japan released last May, with a special feature on the influence of manga in Japanese fashion. I was expecting to see MOAR though, and I really thought the article would be something like this post.

    Though, I haven’t exactly read the features thoroughly due to laziness. Time to dig that magazine up and show people those yummy photos, I guess 🙂

  7. September 23, 2009 11:05 pm

    Fashion is something somewhat different than design, when it comes to creating characters. They are definitely closely related however.

    In anime character designs tend to be much more purposeful and less so for the sake of sending signals about fashion. Which is…interesting when you have an anime about fashion! Parakiss anyone?

    And I still think Amu is still some ways away from Sakura Kinomoto, although one could think of Amu as an update of sorts.

  8. March 28, 2010 5:44 am

    hey luv amu chan ..!!! muaah ….. guyx can anyone tell me how to make an account on cruncgyroll ???

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