Decoding the Decora Girls: A Japanese Youth Subculture


A society is composed of people who share a common culture. This culture is composed of a set of common beliefs, conventions and ideological values and acts as the binding force within the society. To be accepted by society one must conform and follow the set culture. A culture is shared by people within a large defined territory and encompasses various subcultures within it. A subculture typically holds values and beliefs at variance with that of the parent culture. One such subculture within the framework of the Japanese or more precisely the Harajuku culture would be the “Decora” subculture.

Decora fashion, originated in Harajuku in the late 1990’s and gained recognition when acclaimed Japanese photographer, Shoichi Aoki, documented the Tokyo street fashion in his magazine FRUiTS and STREET. Harajuku is rife with some of the most eccentric fashion trends in the world and Decora is one of them. It has also come around to be known as the “FRUiT –style”.

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Decora followers express their style by wearing truckloads of colorful hair clips and accessories (Claire’s being their go-to store), cartoonish band-aids across the bridge of their nose, slinging soft-toys around their necks, creating lots of layers in their outfits and mish-mashing prints and textures. Though their style of dressing is very “kawaii” or cute, there is nothing elegant or delicate about this style. It is bright, loud and BOOM ‘in-your-face’! The name Decora says it all, doesn’t it? It’s all about Decoration! As long as it screams Kawaii, anything goes.

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A Decora look can usually take upto 2-3 hours to coalesce. The Decora girls go about pairing up kilos of accessories and adding layers to their outfits, according to their mood, till they feel like they can add no more. Less is more, is a concept unknown and unheard off for them.

Decora exudes a sense of innocence, playfulness and it’s all about channeling your inner child. The clothes are simple in terms of prints and silhouettes but the trick lies in layering them up. Their staple outfits consist of baby-doll dresses, cardigans, t-shirts, sweatshirts, tutus and colorful stockings all paired up together. The outfits have prints inspired by 80’s cartoon characters like the Care Bears, Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, Smurfs and the ubiquitous Hello Kitty. Their hair is usually made up in two ponytails, braids or curls and dyed pink, auburn or blonde. They accessorize their hair with bows, hair bands and crazy amounts of hair clips. Their make-up is minimal as Decora is about exuding a child-like innocence, which cannot be achieved with tons of make-up on. Their make up consists of cute star and smiley face stickers under the eyes and body jewels.


In a place like Tokyo, which is known for order and discipline, and where there is a uniform for pretty much every social activity, there are those who seek to break these rules. Decora fashion is fun-fashion and the followers perhaps, dress the way they do, to not be a part of their societies rigid social order and break free from it. For them Decora is a lifestyle, its what makes life more fun and livable for them.

You might find Decora girls walking down the streets of Harajuku with glitter stickers under their eyes and a bevy of colorful accessories, but mind you, they are not outcasts or loners. Take Kurebayashi for example who has more than half a million followers on social media. She is one of the most famous Decora girls and has been dressing in this fashion for the last 6-7 years. According to her, Decora is not a mask that they use to hide behind, but a medium of self-expression. Just because they decorate every inch of their body does not mean that they are trying to hide, but just the contrary. It’s their way of having fun and being themselves in a society governed by cultural reticence.

According to Shoichi Aoki, the reason why Decora girls have started taking this fashion to an extreme level is because it stays within their group. Since Japanese culture values the group over the individual to maintain social order, Decora is in a way still staying within the framework of what is accepted.


Thus, to conclude, Decora is not an elaborate costume, but an inner form of expression. Even though it is extreme and childish, the Decora followers believe it’s what makes it fun for them. They feel uplifted when they do Decora. It’s empowering in a way, as it helps them break free from their societies prerequisite mould of acceptance. Decora is all about the freedom of expression, and what better medium to express that through than fashion?! Decora is celebrating who you are and not being afraid of anyone or anything.


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