If you're quite familiar with Japanese fashion culture and subcultures, you might have came across people wearing rather dark makeup, with big and wild hair, with leathers and studs and just the overall dark or gothic appeal to them, and you somehow might have even noticed the obvious androgynous aesthetics. That happens to be what they call Visual kei.
Visual Kei, what exactly is it?
It is one of the most popular subcultures that emerged in Japan in the 80s. Though the word Visual kei can be subjective due to some people referring to it as a music genre, but to some, it is actually is a way for someone to express their individuality by a distinct way of dressing up, and that includes big hair, studded belts and high heeled leather boots, but, more of that later. The name was derived from "Visual style", which was what the band X Japan called their style and it was believed that they are the pioneers of this style.
This movement was embraced and popularized by many Japanese bands from the genre of the same name. From the flamboyant way of dressing, to the wild hair and the dark makeup, the term visual pretty much applies to it in every sense of the word, because band members tend to stand out on stage or through a crowd.
This fashion statement is Japan's own version of Western's glam rock, but it also noticeably a mix of punk rock, heavy metal and glam rock. Kabuki theater may have a tiny hint of its elements to the visuals as well. Visual kei tends to be very distinct that you can notice and identify them from afar.
The genre doesn't lock itself to just Glam rock or rock in general, but its actually ranging to pop, classical and even electronic. First generation bands under Visual kei are X Japan, Color, Buck-tick and D'erlanger. They were gaining popularity in the underground scene at the time, though X Japan and Buck-tick were recognized and were introduced to mainstream and both were a huge success commercially. A lot bands followed these footsteps and some them are still well known by J-rock fans to date. Bands like L'Arc~en~Ciel and Glay were also in the spotlight in the Visual kei scene in the early 90s, though these two bands had toned down their appearance later on when they reached the mainstream. Another band named Malice Mizer gained popularity the same time as the two mentioned above, but they are heavily influenced by classical and French music, and the wore extravagant costumes with classical European (French Rococo) themes. They actually pioneered the substyle of Visual kei called Tanbi kei.
This style is actually achievable even by those who are not into the music genre, it is its own fashion statement by itself. And it may seem that this style is just putting together random dark pieces, but that's not the case. It's more on coordinating and putting together clothing that would end up, well, a vision. The best thing about the style is the mixture of both dark themes and colors, and it is notably a lot in the Gothic or Punk side.
Photos: Tokyo Fashion
Though it is known that Visual kei is more on the theatrical side when it comes to clothing, it can be achieved by using simple pieces too. For tops, shirts that are torn or dark with any graphic design that involves your favorite band or any kind that would suit your preference as long as it's dark and fits into the category, striped tops is also an option (the most common). It can be also noted that pants that are either plain black or has a plaid pattern is typically present (Punk rock reference). There are also themes behind different looks, like skulls, cobwebs, crosses and the like. It is up to the wearer to layer everything together that fits with their desired look. Black leather boots of different lengths is also considered, both with laces and straps, high heeled or platform. And due to its androgynous look, cross dressing is also a thing for VK, for both male and female dressing up as the opposite sex. Some of the most notable crossdressers in J-rock history are Mana-sama, Kaya, Jasmine You and Hizaki.
Hair is usually more on looks that are gravity-defying and sometimes on the extreme side. The style varies from short to long that are usually teased on the top and some also with different aspects like curls, spikes and bright synthetic colored highlights. Dyed hair is also frequently seen like shades of grey, white, blond, red or brown. Most of the styles are based or inspired by Shoujo manga or anime. It is important to invest time in styling the hair, this fashion is all about the visuals after all, meaning you need to be as such from head to toe.
Makeup is also the same range as the clothing style itself. They tend to be more on the theatrical side with a lot of focus on the eyes and lips, it is elaborate, but not too overwhelming, think Gothic style makeup, some of them apply really pale foundation with lots of dark details like blacks and reds for the eyes, especially. Feminine looks are often emphasized for the makeup, that is why contouring the nose is important so that it will appear a lot smaller, cute and feminine. Contact lenses are also applied for some enhancement of the eyes and new eyebrows are usually drawn over the original (which is covered by heavy concealer and foundation). Both men and women can wear makeup for this look due to the movement's androgynous style.
Accessorizing is using typical punk rock pieces. Studded collars, chain necklaces and bracelets, cuffs, arm warmers, and dark nail polish is part of the overall aesthetics.
There are a lot of substyles that stems from VK. Some of them a little bit closer to home but the others have completely different themes and motifs, even the colors. Listed below is some of the substyles under it and some brief description of each.
- Oshare kei
- Angura kei
- Casual visual kei
- Tanbi kei
- Eroguro kei
- Kurofuku kei
This is the complete opposite of Visual kei, Oshare kei appears to be bright and colorful but with the same style, it's just the color palette is a lot different, more on the happy and cheerful tones.
This subgenre is often associate with another VK subgenre called Eroguro kei, this is also surrounded by dark colors and accents but it has a traditional Japanese twist to it. Modified kimonos are typically worn for this look as well as some styled school uniform, remember that this is mostly influenced by traditional Japanese outfit from the Showa era.
Casual visual kei
This one is pretty much self explanatory, this is the toned down version of the original Visual kei, where regular daily outfits can be put together and produce the look. It's pretty simple, but still VK.
This substyle was already mentioned above that has the European inspired look, with obvious elaborate classical themes and elegant costumes, Tanbi kei literally translates to "Aesthetical style" and it sure is living up to it.
Eroguro is derived from two words, ero, which means erotic and guro which is from gro(tesque). It gives you an idea that this particular substyle is all about something horrific or horror with blood and guts as its theme.
This one is mostly monochromatic, and color black is the main color, hence the name of this style. Kuro is the Japanese word for black. So the key point for this style is wear this color only from head to toe.
Upon reading everything above and you now know a thing or two about this popular genre and fashion subculture, you'll realize that despite being somehow similar with western glam rock in looks, it is still have quite a lot of distinguishing features on its own. Visual kei fashion is not as popular as it was before in the 80s and the 90s, but it's still one of the most sought after fashion trends in Japan to date and you can still find people donning this style specially in the streets of Harajuku.
VK is truly one of Japan's most memorable subculture and fashion statement that gained worldwide attention, it is possible that it may die down little by little in the next few years but it doesn't mean that it will be forgotten.
How does Visual kei appeal to you? Which ones of the substyles is the one you liked the most? Do you consider changing you style the same as this? Tell us in the comments below.