Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

The Japanese fashion scene is varied and fascinating. While most Westerners are familiar with the Harajuku teen style (popularized by Fruits Magazine), and the more intricate movements like Gothic-Lolita, my personal favorite is "onee-kei": older sister style.

Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

Onee-kei is about looking pulled together - cute, but still practical - and features combinations of clothes to wear to the office or after hours. S Cawaii, Vivi, JJ, Classy, and Glamorous are Japanese magazines that reflect the current trends. Other titles, like Kera or Pretty Style reflect different versions of the same thing. As with most fashion magazines, however, all the titles adjust depending on the dominant trends.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

These magazines have one major difference from their American and British counterparts - though Elle, Vogue Nippon, and the other usual suspects all have Japanese versions of their magazine - these glossies are really just look books... page after page of how to put together stylish outfits, a little advice on hair and makeup, and some small sections (food and lifestyle) near the very end. As you can see, many of the pages revolve around a theme, and different ways to play to a trend.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

(They also feature handheld gaming systems as a fashion accessories. And run ads with women playing games. I love this.)


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

Clothes geared toward the office are more functional, but planning a striking outfit for going out is apparently the fashion equivalent to preparing for war. (I'm also wondering what's beneath the orange jacket - perhaps the tiniest LBD on the planet?)


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

The day wear and casual items are often basic - simple tops, jeans, shoes, many of which readers can obtain state-side. But it's the pairings (and attitude of the models) that keeps it fascinating.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

Models are rarely seen jumping, and are often posed in sexy or goofy positions, in a variety of locations around town. This shot leans artistic - however, S Cawaii is also known for having its models give sexyface on one page and then stick out their tongues in a teasing gesture in the next.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

Looking through the merchandise can get frustrating. I would love to rock that Sesame Street cardigan.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

Domani magazine is on the edge of onee-kei style - it typically features professional career women of means (ads for high end brands are dominant), and women who are in their 20s, 30, and 40s. Despite being out of the general age range for onee-kei (which generally stops in the mid-twenties), the glossy still has the same visual aesthetic, just more work (and luxury) focused.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

Domani demonstrates how a look can go from casual to pulled together with simple accessories, or perhaps a change of shoe. This is helpful to those of us inclined to be non creative with our daily wardrobes. Especially, if you're like me and unemployment/working from home/working in a casual environment means you tend to forget how to dress when you need to go somewhere.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

The look books often take a trend - like the no collar jacket, and provide ideas on multiple ways to incorporate the style.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

Accessories are often given full focus, like the studded leggings that make a plain dark gray top and denim shorts more visually stimulating.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

The moderate but unusual pairings are a good reminder to try being less conservative with both clothes and accessories: A leopard print shoe would work with a variety of looks.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

Another reason to love J-fashion mags? The freebies, which are often bundled into the magazine. (I am currently wearing the star socks shown.) Over the years S Cawaii has also gifted me a tote bag which says "I heart Moussy" and a small red pouch with black skulls on it that I use as a makeup bag.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

"Thou shalt be fly" is the onee-kei philosophy when it comes to fingernails - they are often an artistic extension of your outfit. Interested in recreating these in the U.S.? It will be tough, I warn you. But if you really like these nail designs, the best way to get them (and keep costs down, lest you find yourself with a $100 manicure) follow on the next slide.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

(1) Embrace the two finger design. Pick whichever art you like the most and ask for that on two fingers, with a more basic complementing design. (2) Bring a picture and look for a nail tech who is interested in learning the design. (I sometimes sweeten the deal by offering to let them see all the designs in the book. Scanning color copies also works.) (3) Have your own tools on hand - most places do not stock much beyond colors and rhinestones. Nail accessories can be found in specialty stores, online, and in craft stores (some of the designs you see on nails are actually stencils or small charms. (4) Tip well.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

With a little patience and skill, some designs are achievable at home, with some effort.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

While some magazines prefer to dazzle with designers, S Cawaii lets you know there is no shame in going faux. They even announce the "fake wool coat" the model is wearing.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

Sure, these glossies focus a lot on attainable fashion, but they occasionally build in fantastic images. The nod to Alice in Wonderland is fabulous, yet the elements of the outfit are surprisingly wearable.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

This isn't my style at all, but it's cute.


Fun With Fashion: Onee-Kei Is Cute, Not Costumey

Unfortunately, as time goes on, the onee-kei magazines are absorbing more and more American style. Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, Kate Moss, Lindsay Lohan and Lauren Conrad are taking up page space (in keeping with onee gal style, which places a heavy focus on celebrity) and twelve dollars is a lot to pay for fashion I see for free.