Gen Z High Schoolers Reject Former Fashion of Unkempt School Uniforms

Courtesy of Eastboy Co.
Fashion items that look like school uniforms from Eastboy. The latest trend is adding a backpack to an outfit.

Girls wore extremely short skirts, baggy socks and oversize cardigans. Boys wore sagging pants. This was the fashion for high school students in the latter half of the 1990s.

Compared with that time, high school students today wear their school uniforms very formally. Why do the students of today not style their school uniforms to look unkempt anymore?

A 17-year-old student at a high school in Tokyo always wears her school blazer and ribbon-shaped tie neatly. Her skirt is relatively long, only showing her knees. Her school bag is not ratty.

This is totally opposite from the trend of about 20 years ago, when many high school girls saw worn-out bags as fashionable and attached a lot of key chains and other items to them.

She said: “I place importance on comfortableness and cleanliness. Wearing my school uniform in an untidy way? I’ve never considered it – it would be a pain if I got warnings [at school].”

Looking at high school students on the streets of Shibuya in Tokyo, there wasn’t a single uniform worn in an unconventional way.

Schoolteachers often ordering students to strictly comply with school rules and tut-tutting about them wearing their uniforms sloppily seem to be scenes of the past.

High school students’ aspiration now seems to be wearing uniforms very properly. A website of Eastboy Co., a Tokyo-based company making and selling fashion items that look like school uniforms, is using such words as “classy” and “basic” to promote styles for spring.

The company said that combining a blazer with a check-pattern skirt is especially popular. A spokesperson for the company said, “It has taken root as a standard outfit with a neat image.”

Prof. Izumi Yonezawa, an expert in fashion culture at Konan Women’s University, said, “Since the 2010s, we’ve stopped seeing students wearing school uniforms sloppily.”

As a reason for this, she noted that an increasing number of uniforms have become cute, and more and more of them are well designed.

For example, some have been designed by famous fashion designers, or schools have offered several kinds of blouses and ribbon ties for students to choose from.

Courtesy of Satoimoya
An illustration that amateur illustrator Satoimoya posted on her Twitter account (@petit_flare). It attracted great attention online as it compares typical fashion for high school girls in 2007 and 2017.

Yonezawa also said, “Because of the huge popularity of [famous pop idol group] AKB48 wearing uniform-like costumes, uniforms have come to be valued more.”

Making too much effort to style one’s uniform, such as by combining a miniskirt and baggy socks, does not match the latest fashion trend of not trying too hard.

Yonezawa thinks “wearing school uniforms untidily was also an expression of self-assertiveness.” In this age of social media, students have other tools for expressing themselves.

Hiroshi Maruyama of Z Soken, a think tank studying Generation Z, also found that social media has been affecting how school uniforms are worn. Generation Z refers to those who were born between the latter half of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

“If they wear very eye-catching fashion, it is possible that they will be the target of bullying via Line groups. They may be afraid of feeling uncomfortable with their friends.”

He added that today’s high school students avoid breaking school rules, and enjoy making minor adjustments with small items, such as adding sports-brand socks.

Styling school uniforms in non-standard ways was also a way to brighten up the time after school.

However, with the advance of social media, there is not as much need to meet others in person so there are fewer opportunities for high school students to dress in the height of fashion and wander around busy districts with friends.

Tetsuo Kobayashi, an education journalist who authored the book “Gakko Seifuku towa Nanika” (What are school uniforms?), said that the change is partly due to the increase in admission office methods for university entrance exams.

AO entrance exams evaluate applicants from multiple facets by interviewing them or allowing them to submit documents to demonstrate who they are.

According to statistics from the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the highest-ever number of state-run and local government-run universities used AO methods for those who enrolled in fiscal 2020.

“High school students tend to believe that the shortcut to enrolling in university is being model students,” Kobayashi said.

They are therefore highly conscious of complying with school rules, and an increasing number of high school students are quite docile, he said.

Kobayashi worries about this trend.

“Uniforms are provided by others. If they have no doubts and become excessively passive, they may stop using their brains. Not only about school uniforms and rules but also other affairs. I want them to foster a habit of thinking for themselves,” he said.