A 17-year-old high school boy in Tokyo likes to hang out with his friends on weekends sporting a blazer and white shirt, the typical uniform of high school boys — not his casual clothes or his school-designated “gakuran” high-collar jacket.
“When I spend time with my buddies wearing my blazer, it really makes me feel like I’m living in the moment as a high schooler,” said the teenager, who asked to remain anonymous. “I wouldn’t feel that way if I just go out dressed casually.”
He is one of the growing number of teenage boys sporting “nanchatte seifuku,” or fake uniforms, a trend that was initially popular among teenage girls but is now drawing in fashion-conscious schoolboys as well.
“Demand has outpaced production,” said Takayuki Aiura, president of CONOMi Corp., a Niigata Prefecture-based maker of fake uniforms that has an outlet in Tokyo’s Harajuku district.
“Think about it,” Aiura said. “If you’re in the same school with girls who are becoming more and more beautiful, you’d feel like you have to match up to them.”
CONOMi opened its outlet in Tokyo in 2008, targeting youngsters who go to schools with no uniform code. The trend found itself in the spotlight in 2009 when the government appointed Shizuka Fujioka, a chief fashion coordinator at CONOMi, as a cultural ambassador to promote Japan’s “kawaii” phenomenon worldwide.
A typical fake uniform popular among male teens is a slightly loosened tie, a comfy-looking blazer and snug-fitting trousers. For many, their fashion icon is 21-year-old pro golfer Ryo Ishikawa, who sports something of a debonair attitude, Aiura said.
This comes in stark contrast to the way teenage boys fashioned themselves to look “cool” decades ago, Aiura said.
The most symbolic example would be a pair of baggy, tight-cuffed school trousers nicknamed “bontan” in Japanese that were ubiquitous among teenage rebels back in the 1980s.
Resembling a zoot suit that became popular in African-American communities in the 1940s, the trousers were considered a symbol of machismo and protest against authorities.
With a hint of embarrassment, Aiura admitted that he wore bontan trousers as a teenager, at times clashing with his teachers and parents.
Based on his experiences, Aiura, 39, is convinced that no fashion is commercially viable unless it gains popularity and acceptance with the general public.
“I thought we should produce school uniforms that would be loved by everybody, including teachers and parents,” he said. “So we were very careful to strike a balance between what adults think school kids should look like and how the kids themselves want to look.”
The casual approach to the fake uniform has not been lost on the girls.
“Guys wearing blazers seem much friendlier to me. Their fashionable design somehow makes the guys look kinder and easier for me to speak to,” said a 17-year-old girl, adding that she doesn’t like the traditional gakuran high-neck jackets because they look “suffocating.”
But teenagers are not the only aficionados of the latest trend, as it seems to be slowly spreading to a potentially larger fan base of people in their 20s and 30s, who are described as “nanchatte kokosei (fake high schoolers).”
These emerging wannabes can be divided into two broad types: those obsessed with a happy past in the heyday of their adolescent youth, and those who did not have a great time and now want to experience adolescent romance, according to a 30-year-old college clerk in Tokyo, a self-proclaimed fake high schooler.
Categorizing himself as the second type, the man, who asked to remain anonymous, said he likes to walk around his neighborhood clad in a pair of his old school pants plus a cardigan and a tie that he bought at CONOMi.
“Looking back, I did enjoy my school life, but I wish I’d had more fun dating girls,” he said. “As a teenager, I didn’t really feel any special attachment to my school uniforms as I do now. But watching today’s high schoolers enjoy themselves wearing a variety of uniforms, I really wish I could be one of them.”
This longing for an imaginary adolescent romance appears to be a common reason that binds fake high schoolers together.
“One time, I was even asked by my fellow fake uniform fan, who was only a couple years younger than me, to go out with her because she said she couldn’t really enjoy her school life as a teenager,” he said. “So we went to karaoke and a zoo on a date, just like a real couple, wearing fake uniforms.”
Genki Katsube, a 29-year-old freelance journalist based in Tokyo who calls himself a fake high schooler, said although adult school uniform lovers are just trying to relive their teenage years and turn the present into a happier life, the situation for real high schoolers wearing fake uniforms seems to be different.
Katsube, who created an online community for like-minded school uniform lovers, warned the growing popularity of fake uniforms among high schoolers could be an eerie signal of their increasingly risk-averse mindset and unwillingness to challenge the establishment.
“I think today’s teenagers are becoming more and more afraid to act independently. They think, ‘If I wear fake uniforms, then it’s sure to be liked by everybody,” said Katsube. “They’re afraid to forge relationships with others from scratch and be the way they are. They might be using fake uniforms to just gain acceptance.”