When Did Asian Fashion Become Western Fashion?


Asia has always been known for its sense of fashion. From traditional Chinese cheongsam dresses to the mishmash of styles that made Harajuku famous, its techniques are iconic. We now live in an interconnected world, one where you can visit several countries on the same day and where the latest clothing trends are available at the click of a button. As a result, we’ve seen a sharp rise in popularity of Asian styles across the world, and particularly in the West.

So when, and indeed, how, did this happen? Well, a significant factor is an availability. While big-name designers like Dior’s John Galliano have been finding inspiration from Asian countries for years, it was much harder to find beautiful Eastern-style clothing at a price most people could afford. The advent of online shopping changed this – as long as you didn’t mind longer delivery times, you could find whatever you liked and have it shipped to you for less money than a single designer jacket.

Styles Around The World

In America, everyday clothing used to be very casual: jeans and a t-shirt, that kind of thing. However, fashions change with the times, and in the 2010’s, people preferred a slightly more formal look. This tied in very nicely with Japanese clothing trends at the time – button-down shirts, sports coats, anything which looked professional, but fun was acceptable.

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Photo by Elizabeth Baker, 2016

Similarly, the UK was undergoing something of a recession at that time, which meant the most popular clothing consisted of sports brands, which were inexpensive, but often low-quality and tended to have an unflattering fit. The sleek, slim-fitting Asian styles were the antithesis to this, and people looking to stand out from the crowd began to adopt these looks for themselves.

Countries in Europe tend to have relatively stable climates. For example, Switzerland is relatively calm most of the time, whereas Spain is almost always hot. In contrast, Asian countries can be sweltering for half of the year and snowy for the other half, so the styles in these places have to be fluid as well. As a result, there was clothing coming out of Asia that would suit wherever you were on the continent, which made it an excellent choice regardless of where you lived.

The Rise of Asian Fashion

Popularity breeds popularity. With these styles slowly becoming more commonplace, several celebrities got in on the action. Entertainers such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna wore clothing from big brands like Roggykei and Guo Pei, and this introduced their fans to high-end Asian fashion too (although in Rihanna’s case, many were less than impressed, comparing the long trailing dress to a semi-cooked omelet). Artists such as Gwen Stefani and Kanye West used Japanese-inspired designs in their music videos and album art, which helped propel Asian fashion into the public eye.

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Rihanna at the Met Ball. Photo: George Pimentel/Getty Images

So why exactly are Asian countries the trendsetters and not somewhere else? A lot of this has to do with the vast array of styles on offer. China, for example, tends to have a lot of flowing dresses and clothes which emphasize femininity, whereas Koreans prefer multi-layered methods which wouldn’t look out of place in San Francisco.

There’s also the fact that some places have a potent concentration of young people, many of whom have money to burn. Places like Shibuya and Harajuku allow these people to spend money and show off their outfits in the company of their peers – we’ve all been young once – sure, you could do something sensible with your savings, but sometimes you want to have the most beautiful clothes. These places have street fashion hotspots to the point where just about everyone in western countries has at least heard of Harajuku.

Asian fashion’s rise in popularity can only be a good thing. The places we live are home to people from all over the world, and while clothing styles come and go, the more ways people can express themselves, the better. There’s a reason why those with an eye for fashion are now looking to the East for inspiration – with the massive blend of styles, materials, and designs, the only question that remains is whether or not the West can replicate this kind of success for themselves in the East.


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