Media Mix, April 28, 2019

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about clothing that’s appropriate for work and other situations. Though dress codes are certainly not limited to Japan, there seems to be a feeling here, especially in media circles, that it’s only natural for companies and other organizations to demand their employees follow certain protocols with regard to appearance. Schools tend to be the most notorious in their demands, going so far as to order students with natural highlights to dye their hair black so as not to suggest they may be dyeing their hair brown. And in a real sense, the “problem,” if there is one, is that people in positions of authority feel they have a duty to socialize young people under their nominal care. The weird thing, as pointed out in the column, is that eventually such control becomes evidently counter-productive, as in the case of International Christian University trying to persuade its freshmen not to wear “recruit suits” to the school’s welcoming ceremony.

The most interesting example of this kind of shifting standard is tokkofuku, those baggy, elaborately monogrammed, and often colorful getups that were once—and often still are—associated with biker gangs of the juvenile delinquent type. Apparently, over the years, boys, as well as some girls, who are graduating from junior high schools attend their leaving ceremonies attired in tokkofuku, and the authorities are so alarmed that in some areas they’ve banned the clothing, saying that the mere association with potentially antisocial behavior is enough for concern and police involvement. What’s fascinating about this phenomenon is that kids originally took the tokkofuku idea as a means of perverting their mandatory school uniforms, by changing those uniforms in order to make them seem more dangerous and thus more idiosyncratic. Now, those tokkofuku themselves are a kind of uniform, since in many cases the kids who wear them are straight-A students who are simply having fun with their friends. It’s a fashion in and of itself—there are even shops that specialize in selling custom-made tokkofuku just for such occasions. In effect, kids who buy them aren’t antisocial at all. They even embroider their costumes with messages of appreciation to parents and teachers. It’s individualism, but only up to a point.

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