What Asia Taught Me About Casual Style
Whenever I get the opportunity, I try to travel to places that have a culture so different from America that my mind gets blown away. Two of my all-time favorite trips were to Seoul, Korea and Tokyo, Japan.
As I’m walking around the streets of Tokyo, I feel like I’m part of an Anime. I’m speechless from culture shock, and I can’t get over the fact that everything is so small, i.e. the food portions, streets, cars, and apartments.
Despite the food portions being so small, I was completely bewildered at how filling they were, at which point I looked around and realized that overweight people just don’t exist in Tokyo. Seriously though, throughout my whole trip, I did not see ONE overweight person. I mean when you look at the way Americans eat versus the way the Japanese eat, it’s no wonder we’re a nation where obesity is a huge problem.
Anyways, what REALLY caught my attention was the number of guys in these cities who had an aptitude for fashion.
So many of them had their own unique style of dressing, some of which I have never seen the like, yet very well put together.
I was in a world full of what Americans would call “metrosexuals” and people who seemed to really understand the power of proper style. I was shocked at first when I saw certain things that you would never see in America, like men who wore makeup or men who spent more time on their hair than their female counterparts.
I thought, “Has the world gone mad!? Where am I!?”
I soon learned, that the same things that I found “crazy,” were things that people in Tokyo considered the norm around that area.
I Was A TOTAL Tourist
Japanese culture is truly fascinating because there are so many different subcultures within it. Some Japanese people enter a certain lifestyle almost like it’s a cult or religion.
I found out that a big part of the younger Japanese generation rebel by following one of these many subcultures of fashion and music. There were people dressed like freaks, barbie dolls, and other “weird” things I can’t even begin to describe.
When I saw people dressed in what is called Japanese Ganguro and Yamanba fashion, I first thought it was some kind of joke. They looked like some sort of African tribe that had lost their way into the streets of Tokyo. There are other subcultures like “Visual kei” which are the guys that dress like anime characters with perfectly long hair and skinny clothes, and “B-kei” (B for breakdance) who dress in hip-hop style clothes or clubwear.
I saw a lot of guys who were dressed up in goth, rock, or punk clothing, and it looked as if they MATERIALIZED out of a comic book. I’m talking about an ALL-OUT mind-blowing level of appearance, that will make you feel like these guys have almost taken it too far. At times I felt like it was Halloween.
It was all wild and so surreal – and ridiculously interesting to me.
Just so you can see how extreme the Japanese can be, here is an example of one Japanese Rock band:
Talk about hardcore.
Imagine walking into a club like this? You’d win “most interesting guy,” hands down. You’d probably scare all the girls away here in America though.
Don’t get me wrong, most people in Japan don’t dress like the pictures above, but the majority of the people you’ll see on the streets are very fashionable.
Now in Korea, I didn’t see anything crazy like I did in Japan, but a lot of guys were super stylish. Up till then, I never thought so many well-dressed guys could inhabit a single area. No matter where I was, there were always a group of guys who looked like they were heading to a photo shoot.
These guys were really the epitome of “stylish casual.”
Adopt the Stylish Casual Mindset
While in Korea, I was reminded that no matter where you are or what time of day it is, you can be fashionable. I was constantly reminded that casual doesn’t have to be the way most people think of it – with no flavor.
In America, I know most guys don’t really pay attention to their image unless they have a date or they’re going somewhere really important. Slowly but surely, times are changing here, and it’s getting harder and harder to tell a straight guy from a gay guy here in New York City (in good way). Men are learning how to dress better again after years of being lost.
Being in Asia inspired me to write this article on how we can learn to bring their sense of style into our everyday casual wear:
What I saw in Korea and Japan was that these guys are LAYERING MASTERS.
My Tokyo friend tells me that it’s rare to see anybody wearing only ONE layer over there. If they are wearing a dress shirt, they will most definitely add something like a cardigan sweater, with perhaps another vest on top; and they’ll really put together a complete outfit by adding something like a fedora and a light-weight jacket.
One layer usually doesn’t cut it. Unless it’s over a hundred degrees out, get creative with your outfit. A dress shirt will look ten times better with a sweater, a vest, or a blazer over it than it would alone. Layering also has the ability to give a skinny guy extra bulk, and a heavy guy the ability to mask his not-so-flattering parts. This is something we discuss in detail in the Kinowear Bible.
If you want to easily upgrade your “casual” to “stylish casual” like these guys, follow this rule:
Have at least ONE element of your wardrobe that stands out and changes the mood of your entire outfit, e.g., a fedora, a scarf, a dress shirt, a tie, a blazer, a really cool accessory, etc.
For example, in Tokyo, they almost always wear an ACCENT color or item with every outfit. They might wear a mostly black outfit but then wear a bright red undershirt or a white belt.
My source in Tokyo tells me that currently guys are accenting with “Scarfs, fedoras, and ties. Suspenders are also really in now. Pointy shoes, loafers, boots or converse are almost standard to give any casual outfit a kick.”
Even if you’re not specifically out meeting someone, try setting standards for yourself – never leave the house without some sort of accent to your wardrobe, so that when you happen to run into a friend or an attractive woman, you’ll be prepared with the confidence of knowing that you look way better than the average guy out there.
Think “stylish casual.”
3. Mix it up
It seems the Japanese really don’t follow any fashion “rules.” They do a great job of mixing different elements that they’ve acquired, and there is a lot of personality that is shown through the way it’s put together.
After figuring what styles you like, try mixing different elements to create a look that you’re totally satisfied with.
Add your own twist to your outfit, but make sure it looks good to you.
A good way to go about it is to find out what is popular, why it’s popular, and explore what certain fashion aspects represent. Then figure out how you can hit on the right points, in your own unique way.
So for example, if you are going for the hip-hop look, find out what defines hip-hop fashion, the reasons and history behind it, and think of how you can best create your own version without going completely out of those lines.
4. Never Settle for Less
Another thing I learned from observing fashion in Asia is to never settle to look your best every single day of your life. You want to put your best foot forward.
You want to go out there and present the best of you to the world.
Sometimes I wake up and am tempted to throw on a sweatshirt and some lame jeans…comfort wear…but I realize I am settling.
A lot of Asian guys would never do this. If they’re going out, they are looking their best.
I’d rather die of thirst, than drink from the cup of mediocrity.
When it comes to ANY area of my life, I really don’t like to settle for less than I can get, because I never want to wonder what it would have been like if I had tried my best.
I always say that life is a gift, so I’m going to live it the best way I can to honor that. Anything less than that is below the standards that I have set for myself, and that is just unacceptable to me. But most of all, I enjoy taking risks and learning from what comes.
This is a lot more rewarding than chasing an end result. So enjoy the process of cultivating your own unique style, and enjoy learning, because to just chase some end result won’t satisfy you in the long run.
Take risks with style, be bold — If this means trying out a completely kickass outfit you see in a magazine that you could NEVER see yourself in … do it. Most people wear the same lame clothes that don’t even fit right because they’re scared of stepping out of their comfort zone. They are afraid of trying something new and looking like a fool. In Asia, I saw some ridiculous failures, but most of the time, I was awestruck at the boldness, and subsequently, the GRAVITY of their unique styles.
It’s Always Better to Be Overdressed than Underdressed
While in Asia, a lot of the guys looked way overdressed. Nonetheless, their style caught my eye. It was undeniable, and it reminded me of the fact that overdressing is one of the most organic and surefire ways of standing out. Of course, use your judgment (don’t go to company dinners in your pink suit).
But if you know everyone’s going to be wearing collar shirts at a club, wear a blazer. Every time I overdressed when going out, people were strangely more open and friendly.
Did you ever have one of those days when a girl friend of yours dressed up more than usual and you find yourself strangely attracted to her (when you’ve never been in the past?)
You give her more attention and you’re probably more receptive. Even with strangers, I realize that when you actually look like somebody of higher value they assume such and treat you accordingly.
Casual doesn’t = “dress down”
In the world of stylish men, the term “casual” doesn’t mean an absence of creativity or style, it means tuning your good taste in clothing to the occasion. This means you look damn good, no matter what you’re doing.
Also, make sure you don’t take this article the wrong way. Try and calibrate your outfit for the occasion. You’ll look like a dork if you wear clothes that are way too nice for a normal house party, just like you would look like a fool going to a posh club in a plain t-shirt and shorts. Don’t look too try hard, but in a casual setting, add those extra elements to make your “casual” stylish. The key is to socially calibrate how much your casual wear has room to be upgraded or not. So do the best that you can, given the situation.
When it comes to unique styles, the guys in Tokyo have it down. Tokyo is one of the fashion capitals of the world. And despite the fact that New York City shares that title, the average American seems to fall short in comparison.
It’s as if these guys in Asia take a style class as part of their school curriculum. What are we learning here in America? Hopefully sites like Kinowear can shift the tide.
What do you think?