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Conservative Makes a Comeback

Classic Fashions Are Back on the Rack


A Chanel-style collarless jacket.
(C)GLam Roberts

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A beige half-length coat and boots. (C)Color & Design Research Room of Kyoritsu Women's Junior College

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During the past five or six years, form-fitting dresses, contemporary styles with an avant-garde feel, and fast-fashion retailers offering casual, trendy clothing at low prices have been all the rage on the Japanese fashion scene. Lately, however, young Japanese women on the forefront of style appear to be leading a return to a more modest, conservative look.

Making a Virtue of ModestyThe growing trend toward conservative clothing is being spearheaded mainly by women in their twenties and thirties. Representative items include textured tweed half-length coats, Chanel-style collarless jackets, and tight or pleated skirts. Professional women in particular favor neat, collarless coats and jackets, which they often pair with miniskirts and boots. In addition to basic colors like black, gray, and dark blue, soft and elegant colors like white, cream, pink, and beige are also in vogue.

Timeless Becomes TrendyIn the context of fashion, the word conservative refers to basic styles immune to passing trends. But in the mid-1970s a style known as konsaba (short for konsabatibu, or "conservative") caught on among young Japanese women, and the word became widely associated with a particular style.

When the konsaba look first began to gain traction, jeans and other unisex clothing had permeated the fashion scene. Two variations on the conservative style - hamatora ("Yokohama traditional"), and nyutora ("new traditional," which originated in Kobe) - then appeared, causing an explosion in konsaba's popularity. By the 1980s it had taken over as the preferred fashion among college girls.


A form-fitting skirt and pumps ensemble. (C)Color & Design Research Room of Kyoritsu Women's Junior College

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After taking a backseat to casual styles during the 1990s, the conservative look made a comeback in the spring of 2000. Young women hanging out in the Shibuya and Harajuku districts of Tokyo, for whom casual had been the fashion norm until then, adopted conservative clothing as a brand-new trend.

A Recurrent StyleThe conservative look has been known to resurface during transitions from one fashion trend to another. The conservative fashion boom of the 1980s, for example, followed the trend toward folkloric styles and jeans in the 1970s, and the 2000 revival came in the wake of the casual styles of the 1990s. Since the mid-2000s, fast fashion - quickly produced clothing with small price tags that reasonably approximates the latest high-fashion trends - has held center stage on the fashion scene. But fashion mavens had best take note: an increasing number of young women are embracing the konsaba style, and may be more likely to prefer the novelty of neater ensembles like a white shirt and close-fitting jacket paired with a tight skirt and pumps. (March 2010)

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