That Does Not Mean What You Think It Means: Some Japanese Fashion Words to Remember

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That Does Not Mean What You Think It Means: Some Japanese Fashion Words to Remember

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While most of you with an interest in Japan probably already know what words like “gyaru”, “lolita”, and even “shironuri” or “decora” mean when it comes to fashion and subculture, there are a few everyday words that are pretty useful when it comes to tracking down those last pieces to complete your look.

Don’t let misunderstandings that could be avoided prevent you from achieving your Japanese fashion “image change” (makeover)!

Coordinate (コーディネート or コーデ)

The word “coordinate” or “cōde” for short is the commonly used term to describe an outfit or look. Whereas, “coordinate” is generally a verb in English, in Japan is it a noun and a hashtag (#コーディネート, #コーデ, #今日のコーデ, etc.) which is used often by those looking to show how fashionable they are. A near limitless number of combinations can be made depending on the season, style, brands, or main point of interest you want to draw attention to. Basically, it’s the “outfit of the day” or #OOTD. In addition to magazines and fashion blogs, this term (even if it might be misspelled sometimes) is also all over the Instagram and Wear accounts of the fashion conscious and wannabees alike.

Border (ボーダー柄)


Border print (“bōdā-hyō” or simply “bōdā” for short) is the general term for a pattern with horizontal stripes encircling something, usually a top. Those retro tube socks with the stripes near the top? Border! A ringer shirt or one with contrasting collar or cuffs? Not quite. Border can be as minimal as a few stripes running along the border of the sleeves and/or neck hole, or encircling the torso but most commonly refers to a piece where the stripes run horizontally. When you start seeing “border print”, you know that summer is just around the corner as it has been one of the popular looks that just about everyone has at least one of.

Mizutama (水玉)


Mizutama, literally “water balls”, is what polka dots are called in Japanese. While the European dance craze hasn’t really caught on in Japan (as far as we know), the motif from where the name comes from remains. The dots decorate containers of Calpis (aka Calpico) and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has made a name for herself by decorating things with her various interpretations of the motif.

Tartan (タータン)


Known as “plaid” in North America, Japan uses tartan to describe the horizontal and vertical criss-cross pattern originating from Scotland used for the skirts of schoolgirls and the button-up shirts of otaku. Isetan department stores use a colorful tartan on their shopping bags and comedian Kenji Tada from the comedy duo COWCOW is known for wearing suits with the same design on stage.

…To Apply

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Kai Okudara
Kai Okudara

Writer, researcher, photographer, foodie, KSDD

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