For the last four years, I have felt that the gears of Japanese fashion cycles have ground to a rusty halt, but now it is spelled out for all to see: the November issue of Vingtaine boasts the headline article 「３年後でもおしゃれな服」”Clothes that will still be fashionable three-years later.” Back when the Japanese economy kept expanding and incomes were high across the board, it was almost a virtue to spend money on things that would be absolutely unusable in one year’s time. 「消費は美徳」(“Consumption is a virtue!”) they used to say — directly mixing national plans for economic growth with Confucian morality. The whole fun of o-share was keeping up perfectly with artificial trends invented by our style superiors.
The misleadingly-titled Vingtaine is actually read by women in their late 30s, although the magazine’s young foreign models make it look a bit younger. If anybody has money to burn in Japan these days, it must be fashionable women in their late 30s, who either have decent jobs or are married to men with decent salaries. But how optimistic about their economic future could they be if they are requesting clothing that is “trendy” yet a middle-term investment.
To a certain extent, trend cycles have become so fast in the 21st century that they have exceeded the threshold of relevancy. But this desire for permanently-chic apparel seems to be a head on the same Hydra that brought us the rationalistic obsession with Louis Vuitton bags — $2000 is not so bad if the leather bags never break, never go out of style, and can be worn daily. If one is to buy fancy things in Japan now, they must not be frivolous purchases for the moment, but a step in building up a base of belongings to be used over a lifetime. Blouses and skirts are pianos, not toothbrushes. Data shows that the Japanese economy is now “in the longest post-war expansion,” but this does not translate into optimism on the Japanese Street.
Update: Vingtaine folded in 2007.