It’s been a long time since I last posted anything on Japanese street fashion, and of all the fashion-focused articles I have posted here on Otaku Lounge, all but one of them have been concerned primarily with women. After all, the vast majority of Japanese street fashions and subcultures have traditionally been dominated by female-centric styles: lolita, gyaru, mori girl, and plenty of others. Genderless kei – whose male participants have been gaining the lion’s share of media and fan attention – is changing that landscape.
In a nutshell, genderless kei is exactly what it sounds like; a style that incorporates both stereotypically male and female fashions in order to achieve an ultimately androgynous look. Styles vary greatly, but so far the emphasis has largely been on the kawaii side of things, with slim-figured, cute-faced boys showing off dewy white skin, wide-eyed colour contact lenses, pouting cherry lips, brightly-painted nails, and cutesy clothing and accessories. Sometimes this is all at once, sometimes it’s just splashes of flamboyant pinks and a pair of platform shoes to complete an otherwise relatively normal ensemble.
Genderless kei is a fairly new Japanese street fashion style, first noticeably appearing on the public scene in 2016 in response to the previous year’s Tokyo Girls Collection show. A semi-annual fashion festival showcasing streetwear by domestic brands, the Autumn/Winter 2015 event featured several influential male models dressed in the likes of fringed jumpsuits, pussy-bow blouses, and in one case even a wedding gown. One of these models was Genking, now an unofficial spokesman for the genderless kei trend. An Instagram icon turned model and TV personality, Genking said in an interview in 2015 that he wanted to create a new kind of fashion platform, in which he could be both a men’s as well as a ladies’ model.
Although Genking himself identifies as gay and has talked openly on TV about his relationships with other men, it’s important to note that genderless kei is not a movement directly relating to gender or sexuality. While most adherents to the style are thought to be heterosexual, cisgender males, genderless kei isn’t about attempting to either ‘pass’ as a woman or make a statement about being gay or straight. Instead, it’s simply a fashion choice which rejects the notion that clothing itself must have a gender.
Having said that, genderless kei certainly pushes the boundaries of what constitutes traditional gender norms, particularly in Japan. Hardly known for its progressive attitudes towards gender or sexual identity despite a long history of crossdressing, Japan in many respects remains a deeply traditional and patriarchal society, where conformity is still expected to take precedence over individual expression. When viewed from this angle, genderless kei is a lot more than just pretty men in make-up – it’s a conscious choice to challenge the gender binary and create a new standard of male beauty.
Whether this trend will, like so many others before it, eventually fade into obscurity once initial fan interest and media coverage wanes, or whether it will have a more genuine and long-lasting impact, remains to be seen. As yet, it’s simply too early to tell. For some, it seems to be a small but significant move towards a more contemporary and post-gender world, while for others, it’s just another briefly glowing spark in Japan’s ever-evolving street fashion scene. Regardless, genderless kei seems intent on bending the rules of fashion by bringing male and female together in new and eye-popping ways.
Question of the post: What are your thoughts on genderless kei? Is it something you’d be excited to see more of in the mainstream fashion world, or do you think it should remain a street fashion subculture?