LA vs. Tokyo: College Couture

Los Angeles and Tokyo. Two famous cities, two completely different cultures.

A simple stroll down any bustling street is all it takes to give you an idea of just how different even the fashion choices can be. But this disparity in style isn’t reserved for the streets. Enter the realm of university libraries and lecture halls and you’ll see that not only do Tokyo and LA students offer a different perspective on what is appropriate for the classroom environment, but they also appear to hold varying opinions on how much time and effort should be put into getting ready for a day dedicated to learning.

Prior to attending college here in Tokyo, I was first exposed to the world of collegiate fashion when I enrolled at a small university in Los Angeles, California. I had grown up in the Bay Area and was accustomed to athleisure and flip-flops being a socially acceptable mode of dress, but life in LA was totally different. While I would make my trek to University Hall in t-shirts and Nikes, girls around me would totter into classrooms in 4-inch wedges and thigh-high boots. Spray tans and crop tops that more closely resembled bikini tops were not uncommon. But that isn’t to say that my attire was anything unique. I came to find that there was a sort of range, or “Spectrum of Style” so to speak.

One end of the SOS required minimal effort—sweatpants, leggings, t-shirts, running shoes, and flip-flops were the norm. Messy buns and little to no makeup topped off the look. On the complete opposite end of the SOS was the sort of dress that called for significant dedication and prep time: girls who chose to outfit themselves on this end of the spectrum would commonly be seen showcasing meticulously applied makeup, hairstyles that could only be achieved with a curling iron, and outfits pieced together with numerous accessories.

 But girls who fell somewhere in between were just as common. Rather, it may be more accurate to say that instead of consistently gravitating towards one end of the SOS most girls liked to freely place themselves on any point of the spectrum depending on their mood or course load that day. There was no amount of effort—or lack thereof—that drew extra attention. Everyone was free to outfit themselves as they pleased.

After a full year of freely adjusting my style on a day-to-day basis, I was in for quite a shock when I first began attending college in Tokyo. Here there was no detectable Spectrum of Style. Instead, cardigans, skirts, and kitten heels dominated the classrooms. There were no outfits that showed excessive amounts of skin and very few dressed in clothing that could come close to being described as “loungewear”. And it wasn’t so much the lack of sweatpants that surprised me, but the fact that there didn’t appear to be as much variation among outfit or makeup styles. Back in an LA classroom, it was fairly common to see a girl in a tube top with eyeliner wings to her hairline seated in between girls dressed in workout gear and sweater sets. On a Tokyo campus, however, while everyone was dressed fashionably, few seemed to take a leap and experiment with a less conservative style or venture down the “lazy” road and show up to a lecture wearing their pajamas.

I had always thought bravery was required when it came to dressing up for class, but here it was the opposite. Instead, it took me a good couple of months to work up to wearing my usual sweats and t-shirts in an environment where my comparably minimal level of effort could stick out quite conspicuously. But in time I came to realize that none of my fellow students cared how much effort I would put into my appearance so long as I wasn’t behaving in a way that hindered the learning environment. My classmates weren’t putting in extra effort for others. They dressed well solely for themselves. And this dedication to themselves is ultimately what inspired me to occasionally step out of my comfort zone on days when I had more time to get ready or simply felt like experimenting with a new type of dress or hairstyle.

LA versus Tokyo. Even if there may be no obvious SOS, know that one always exists. At the end of the day “classroom couture” is essentially about outfitting yourself in what makes you feel most comfortable in an environment where education is the ultimate goal. So whether you feel like you learn best in stilettos or sweats, it doesn’t matter. Your professors and peers quite frankly do not care how you choose to outfit yourself, so the time and effort you put in each morning are entirely up to you. College should be a time where we are free to experiment and express ourselves. Because let’s be real: whether it be cardigans or crop tops, neither have the power to raise our GPA or dictate how hard we hit the books.