Fashion Forward Life in Japan

The Biggest Fashion Mistake Foreign Women Make In Japan

The biggest fashion mistake foreign women in Japan make is one that probably wouldn’t cross your mind.

I’m not talking about adhering to outdated J-fashion genres or dressing skimpily.

Wearing a black dress with a flattering neckline, a single-strand pearl necklace, opaque tights, and basic pumps is perhaps (one of) the worst fashion mistakes you could possibly make in Japan!


You might think you’re trying to make a “great impression” at your new company or at your child’s school by matching your formal attire (礼服 | reifuku) to Japan’s conservative attitudes.

But, in reality, everyone around you is probably wondering, “Who just died?”

Take a look this outfit:

She’s got the “no makeup” makeup look going on which matches her understated attire.  There’s no way anyone could find her outfit offensive.

Right, except the outfit above is mofuku (喪服) mourning dress, or standard funeral attire in Japan.

(You might also notice that Japanese celebrities wear similarly somber outfits when making a public apology or court appearance.)

Learning how to tell the difference between mourning wear and formal clothing for entrance ceremonies and weddings will save you a world of embarrassment when it comes to attending social functions in Japan.

Let’s take a look at simple additions you can make to your wardrobe so you’ll be ready for any formal occasion like a Japanese wedding, graduation, or company or school entrance ceremony.


Ideally, you want to stay away from black, and likewise red and white (for weddings). Instead try navy, forest green, wine red, cream, or pastels.


If you simply must wear black, consider the following:

Lace embellishments
Peplum top
Ruched hem
Cinched waistline

I stress the importance of fabric as this is what makes formal wear different from funeral attire. The black fabric of mourning clothes will have little to no sheen or luster to it.







Next accessorize with one or two (three max) of the following:

Long, double strand of pearls
Drop earrings
Tennis bracelet


Avoid simple styles and try:

Updo with tendrils
Messy bun
Braided ponytail
Reverse braided bun (my favorite!!!)


Say “yes” to the dress and “NO” to these!

As with the material of your dress, you can also play around with the material of your shoes. Suede, embossed (p)leather, and tweed are great choices.

Sheer tights (in black, navy, or brown; sheer tights with simple rhinestone embellishments on the ankle are a great way to make a statement if your shoes are “simple.”)


Finally, finish your look with a smokey eye in shades of brown and neutral lip. Or, go for coral lips with pink/nude eyeshadows. Check out this post for makeup tips:Where To Buy Makeup In Japan 

In the end, it’s all up to your personal preferences when stepping out in Japan. I hope these tips will serve as a great guideline for your next formal engagement!

More on being a woman in Japan:

The Lady Expat’s Guide to Life in Japan
An Honest Look At Life In Japan: Living In A Crystal Birdcage
A Day in the Life of a Working Mom in Tokyo

The Biggest Fashion Mistake Foreign Women Make In Japan

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