For a long time, the anime culture has been influenced by the sailor-style school dress. Here’s how realistic they look and where they came from.
In Western culture, school uniforms are not new. They tend to be associated with private schools, usually religious ones, though the occasional public school will also require them. The uniforms of Japan are not much different from the rest, but they have a unique style.
The seifuku, or sailor’s uniform, is the most popular uniform associated with Japanese schoolchildren. Series like Sailor Moon and Lucky Star feature characters wearing the iconic outfit, but why are sailor uniforms even a thing in Japan?
Japan’s Uniforms go back at least 150 years, to the Meiji Era. Typically, male students wore hakima and female students kimono. This would change when uniforms became the norm. Although Western style was becoming more popular in the 1880s due to its ease of dressing, there were still issues with it.
Utako Shimoda, a women’s activist and educator, began advocating for more comfortable attire. Kimono was restrictive in terms of movement and Western corsets were too restrictive. She created a uniform that was inspired by the Japanese imperial court ladies in-waiting. It included the hakama, which is a loose set worn over a specially-designed Kimono. This uniform would become the standard uniform for high-school students during that time period. Even today, they are worn to graduations.
Sailor-style outfits became increasingly popular in the 19th century. They were inspired by the outfits worn by royal European children. They were simple to make and quickly became the standard for high school girls. For boys, military-style uniforms called gakuran were implemented during the Taisho era, around 1912-1926. They consisted a matching set consisting of a black jacket and pants, with five golden buttons on the jacket. Also worn was a cap. Elizabeth Lee, Fukuoka Jo Gakuin University’s principal, introduced the sailor-style uniform, based on British Royal Navy uniforms, in 1920.
This was the most common uniform style, and is still in widespread use today because it is so formal. More Catholic-style uniforms were introduced with blazers, ties, and other formalities. During the 1980s, members of sukeban, or delinquent girl, gangs and began lengthening their skirts and shortening their shirts, so blazer and sweater-vest uniforms were implemented by schools to try and quell this rebellion. This was also the time when banchos delinquent gangs saw a rise. Since 2012, the sailor-style uniform has seen a decline in popularity. Only half of middle schools and 20% high schools still use it.
Many seifuku uniforms do not have short skirts, contrary to what anime would have you believe. Students usually do this on an individual basis to personalize their uniforms. Some schools have weekly uniform check, so the girls just roll their skirts to reduce them when they want. Shorter skirts became more popular in the 1990s, as the gyaru street fashion also gained popularity. The kogyaru look is particularly popular. It features school uniform-like outfits, short skirts, oversized socks and dyed hair. This style of fashion has declined in popularity over the years.
Because of its association with youth and innocence, the seifuku style has become a tool of sexualization and attraction. Adult-oriented media will feature young girls in school uniforms. These are often shorter than other types of clothes, such as nurses’ uniforms and maid outfits. This trend can be seen in some anime and manga titles, usually as a way for panty shots to be used such as in series like Rosario + Vampire.
Although not all series have shorter skirts, they aren’t all bad. The school’s shortest skirts will typically fall just above the knee. This artistic choice can be used by the artist to create a unique look in their work. It’s how they choose to depict the characters wearing the uniforms.
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About the Author
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Molly Kishikawa, an American artist who lives in Japan, is Molly Kishikawa. She was a huge anime fan from the beginning, starting with Sailor Moon’s original broadcast on Toonami. Two years living in Japan, she has witnessed first-hand the way Japan views anime and manga. She also enjoys videogames like Dungeons & Dragons and J-Rock.
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