In other global cities they may still wear ACNE jeans or cardigans, in Tokyo that would be just one of last week’s trends amongst so many others. But – there is something lasting here that stands out. Something that can be spotted in every street around Shibuya: men wearing (ladies’) handbags, pocketbooks and soft purses – casually over the shoulder, elegantly on the wrist or firmly gripped on the way to a meeting. Thanks here to trend hunter Rene Kurita who went out to the fashionable neighbourhoods of Tokyo to document what seems to be so common here.
Written by Verena
Photos by Rene Kurita and Verena
Bags for boys in all sizes.
Where did it actually all start, that men are so conscious and caring about their looks in Japan? From what we know, it all started in the late 70s to early 80s when lots of men’s fashion magazines came up. Hot Dog Press, Checkmate, Popeye, Men’s NonNo – just to name a few. With disco fading away there came this decade of the eyeliner, the new wave and the softened aesthetics of pop. In 1995 street fashion magazine SMART came out and with that every man in Japan went simply crazy to find out about the real trend! SMART is basically the men’s version of CUTiE magazine, that eventually stressed on fashion picts and trendy graphics.
Long shopping bags, either delicately swinging…
… or used more as back-hangers for urban travellers.
Japanese boys like them in colour, too: a strong red is just the right thing for an afternoon walk along Omotesando…
…and what looks good on girls, might suit boys as well: gold!
Why do boys wear bags at all? All you need is money, keys, phone… right? Pockets in your jeans will do… Wrong! One obvious reason is practicability here! If you ever lived in Tokyo, one thing is for sure: everybody spends a lot of time traveling on the train from home to the centre of things (think about the greater metropolitan area of Tokyo – this is not Paris!). That’s why people might not come home after work before sports or party activities (and some won’t even come home for days…).
Therefore it does make a lot of sense to keep everything in one decent looking bag. Another thing is culture, I guess. Whereas in Europe boys are just fine to carry their uttermost essentials – maybe they like to feel free, unhampered from any exterior burden such as a bag – let alone the sight of a feminine looking handbag! A Western bloke wouldn’t so easily throw the strap of a small purse over his shoulder to head out in the urban wilderness…
Red is a must! Worn tightly.
Another way of playfully displaying your new pocketbook: with a soft grip, like you would hold your cup of Royal Milk Tea.
But why not?
Let’s get back to the late 80s one more time, as those also started some theories about the gender twist. Think of it like this: if a bloke wears a usually feminine connotated designer piece, you might think he’s either on the forefront of the metrosexual movement – or – in the Western world some people might put him in the gay category. Because by his act of wearing clothes you could think he demonstrates his attitude and therefore wants others to perceive him in that way, too. That’s why Judith Butler started to lecture us about performative action in 1990. One of her issues was, that gender is rather a social construction. In short, according to her you’d just have to simply act it out and wear by the sleeve what you would like to be – feminine, masculine, or something somewhere in between.
But that is simply a Western way of looking at things! It can’t just be imposed onto the Japanese context. I highly doubt that an analysis of the usual Sunday shopping frenzy in Shibuya could be perceived as a bold attempt of gender bending. I guess, the boys just wear whatever they think is best in terms of highest possible stylishness – let it be a dress, a long skirt, make-up, or the handbag. If it suits them well (and it certainly does) then it can certainly be worn without any deeper pondering about attitude or performative action. That is one of the reasons why the fashion market is here: fast, free, new and radical. Ask any fashion designer you know, and they will tell you that they love Japan!
Look at this! A tiny brown purse with stamped out flower motifs for the city boy…
… and a version to match the individual apparel.
So a boy in Shibuya might dress in the common casual style that looks something like “just out of bed”, with the hairdo heavily rumpled and the clothes neatly arranged to look very loose. And yet, the ladies’ purse that he is wearing so elegantly doesn’t effeminate him at all. You can be anything from ‘Arbaito’ boy (part-time staff) to businessman – important is the style of attaching your bag to the rest of the outfit. It can be a tight grip around the handle or a loose fit over the shoulder – there is always a delicate thin strap functioning as a fashionable accent to match the apparel – like a touch of rouge on the cheeks.
Here we have Keiji again showing us his usual habit of wearing his handbag…
… and here he tries on some of the more colourful products. A green crocodile imitation? Well, there’s a product for every taste.
Last but not least the designer handbag from Yves Saint Laurent, spotted in Shibuya. Also a must!
There certainly are as many different handbag styles as there are different men… In Shibuya the boys with the Beyoncé-lookalike girlfriends certainly go for something less subtle: an outdoor camper’s bag, sometimes dangling from their behinds. Also, businessmen are increasingly spotted with a certain Burberry bag having the label well visible on its front. Another variation: Porter – Yoshida & Company is the Japanese brand that is really popular over here right now.
But one thing is totally lacking in this little survey: the trend of utilizing messenger bags! Well, these aren’t the bags to go on the wrist, usually… But right now there is an exhibition at Ebisu’s POINT gallery about that issue alone, displaying messenger bags illustrated by artists such as DISKAH or MADSAKI. Worth checking that out for more in case you are in town!