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Japan's Genderless Kei fashion trend rejects gender identities, but it's not cross dressing

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TOYKO (Circa) - A lot of cutting edge, envelope-pushing fashion trends have been born in Japan and migrated to the west. The latest? Genderless Kei.

It is kind of like how it sounds - fashion that is genderless. But it’s a lot more than just unisex clothing, and it’s not cross dressing either. We visited one of the most popular Genderless Kei stores, Yellow House, in the Harajuku neighborhood, where store employees Yutaro and Muyua explained the trend to us.

"Well, I just wear whatever I like. Here in Harajuku there are so many guys wearing cute girls’ clothes.” Yutaro explained. “I don’t know why but there are many people who enjoy fashion and make-up without considering gender. I think they want to look cool or cute, so that’s why they wear pink, big-sized clothes.”

I wasn’t grasping the concept at first. To me, it sounded like unisex clothing: designed neither for men or women. But when they explained to me that it actually is clothing that was originally designed for men or women, but repurposed and sold to both genders, it started to sound like cross-dressing to me. But it’s not. Yutaro explained it further.

“I enjoy fashion as a guy. I don’t care if my fashion is attractive for guys or girls, the most important thing is to wear what I like. I wear both guys’ and girls’ clothes, so we have both clothes.”

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An important distinction is Genderless Kei has absolutely nothing to do with sexuality. Straight men can and do wear women’s clothing, and vice versa. Yutaro and Muyua are both social media stars in this realm, with hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram that come to the store just to see them and have them personally pick outfits.

“Many friends and fans are coming to see me. If they ask me about fashion related question, I’d love to answer, but actually I usually don’t talk about clothing with them. We usually have small talk.” said Muyua.

They’re gaining in popularity as individuals, and the fashion movement is taking off in Tokyo, for more than just the aesthetic. Yutaro explained that it’s helping young Japanese people to have greater self acceptance, someone he discovered when he picked up the trend.

“I hated myself before I started to be interested in fashion and make-up. I didn’t even want to go out. But there were people who wanted to take pictures with me, praised my fashion, and came to see me. The number of those people increased and that started to make me confident. I thought even I can be a fashion icon wearing what I like; the number of people who think my fashion is cool increased, that really made me confident.”

Japan is notorious for their very strict societal norms and expectations. One man we interviewed in Tokyo told us that Japanese people have a hard time letting loose and enjoying themselves, and it causes a lot of unhappiness amongst the general population. It seems the Genderless Kei trend is less about making waves in fashion, and more about making a statement about accepting oneself whichever way you see fit. Be it an oversized pink sweater, makeup, or light blue gym shorts - anything goes, and it’s all good.

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Check out more from our time in Tokyo. You'll want to start with the cherry blossoms, because oh-my-god. Take your sushi to the next level with a special ingredient called Milt. Or, compare ramen across the seas. Oichi!

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