What I Wore (& Learned) in Japan

I'm back from Japan, and I'm already trying to figure out when I can go again! Three weeks is a long trip—long enough to get sick of living in a hotel room. I loved Tokyo, though, and I'm happy to report that my packing list worked pretty well for me! Not perfectly, though... so today I'm sharing:

  • my favorite outfits from the trip
  • what I bought!
  • what I learned about my style and travel packing
  • my Japan trip wear count
  • and what I'd do differently next time!
at Fushimi Inari in clyde pants and white tee

Favorite Outfits

My favorite outfits on this trip, hands down, were the "fitted bottom, with a boxy, oversized top" proportions. My cream skirt got a ton of wear, and outfits featuring it were by far the dreamiest.

  1. top left My Clyde pants and this airy, loose cotton boxy tee I bought in Daikanyama. I'll have to feature it in the future; it's great! I wore a lot of variations on this, with my white and black tees as well.
  2. top right A fancy dinner date look with my skirt and linen Linn tee. The boots made this feel dressy, but I also had plenty of room, which was great for the huge meal I'm smiling about.
  3. bottom left One of the few days it was cold enough for my hoodie. I loved this; it felt streetwear plus dressy, and I was super comfy. (Also peep that ugly fancy carpet in my hotel!)
  4. bottom right Probably my number one fave. It's just my black tee, flat sneakers, and skirt. But the socks and beret made it feel very Tokyo.

What I bought

Shopping was pretty tough — more about sizing further on in the post — but I did find a couple great pieces to bring home. I promised myself before my trip that I could only buy items that were made in Japan. There's a lot of fast fashion to be had, and I wanted to stick to my guns and buy nice stuff that I know I'll wear.

I ended up with a beautiful, loose, super drapey, organic cotton cream tee, a pair of made-in-Japan straight leg jeans, and finally, the perfect beret.

I've had a beret on my wishlist for ages, and I've never found the right one. They're always too big, too small, too structured, too floppy. This one somehow was the right size for my tiny head, in a midweight wool, and it just fits. I wore it probably 5 times, and it goes with everything!

This top was a lucky find at a store in Daikanyama, and I fell in love instantly. I confess part of it was my frustration with my fitted tops and the weather, and I was grateful to have another option. This got instant wear, too. It's an organic cotton, and it breathes incredibly well. I know this shape will work great in Texas summers.

Lastly, these jeans... ahh. I didn't really need another pair of jeans. I'm just perpetually on the hunt for a jean that actually looks straight leg on me. I don't know how these managed to do it, but I was hooked. They're made in Japan, from Japanese denim, and while they're 100% cotton they're actually soft and flexible. I even wore them on the plane! I need the waist taken in a touch but they're plenty high rise in the back. I can't get enough of the front "seam" detail that's actually just where they were pressed while dying! You won't see these for a bit since I'm taking them to the tailor, but I'm sure they'll get a ton of wear.

I otherwise didn't do a lot of shopping — read on and I'll talk about why, and how it helped with style envy!

Keeping my style in mind

When I first posted on my Instagram that I was going to Japan, Emily @shmemcloset sent me her post about her Japan packing experience. She's titled it, "I spent a month planning a capsule wardrobe for a 2 week trip in Asia that I gave up on after 4 days." (Insert scream emoji!) She wrote:

I did not expect, nor could I have predicted, how much the local fashion would interest and influence me. ... So I ended up wearing only my favorite outfits the rest of the trip instead of the rest of what I packed that didn't excite me after seeing local fashion so on point.

That was the point in her post where I internally scoffed a bit. Psh, I know my style so well, I know what I like. I'm making a great plan based on my style plus what's popular there! I've done this successfully before on other trips!

Well, Emily... you told me so. Not only was I pretty far off base about what's common style in Tokyo, but it took me completely by surprise how much I wanted to change my outfits to match.

Tokyo style was a lot more classically feminine than I had anticipated. My idea of a more modern, cosmopolitan style didn't really fit in with what I was seeing once I got there. We definitely saw some lolita girls, some very goth looks, and lots of over the top vintage/80s-90s styles in Harajuku — but the majority of women, especially during the workweek and areas I stayed in, were in very classic styles. Think straight midi skirts, slouchy sweaters, silk bow blouses, and tailored coats. Lots of plaids, checks, and deep, elegant colors, like emerald green, navy, and mustard. And they almost all wore very plain, modest, 2-3" heels! So while I didn't see all suits (like you read about when you search "japanese business wear"), I also wasn't seeing any skinny jeans, very few all/mostly black outfits, or athleisure/streetwear styles. I was also really surprised to see virtually no jumpsuits!

Erikodayo28 and Ayumis55 on wear.jp much more accurately reflect the styles I saw there.

The other thing that surprised me was how many people were wearing sweaters. Even on a mid-60's sunny day, easily half the people (men and women!) I saw were in sweaters, coats, or both. I'd be in a light shirt and my silk trench, and I would be warm! I'm pretty sweaty by nature, so there's no way I could wear a sweater in those temps, but damn if I didn't want to.

Admire, don't envy.

Conformity is strangely seductive — and distracting. I loved so many of the looks I saw, and I constantly wanted my outfits to "feel right". This was as much about not being obviously a tourist (impossible, given that I'm white and blonde), and also just the sheer seductiveness of fitting in. It surprised me how much I felt pressure—from myself, not others!—to do so. I don't really experience that at home, and the intensity of the value of conformity surprised me. Keeping in mind my personal style when I had outfit envy and was feeling that pressure was tough. So my lesson to myself is this: it's okay to admire an outfit or a style, but you don't have to be envious. I'd find myself being frustrated that I couldn't wear a certain look, but that frustration was all borne from the pressure to conform and the idea that I was missing out. Not missing out — just a style I plan to admire, not wear.

Incorporate, don't copy.

Shopping was so frustrating that it actually worked in my favor. Sizing and the popular styles in Japan just don't work for me. Sizing is tiny, appallingly tiny. In many stores, the largest size pant was a 27"! It's hard to find a full size range in the US, and I can't imagine how impossible it is there. Additionally, I'm not shaped like an average Japanese woman; I have a lot more hip. So many of the styles I was envying don't really work for me.

To be clear, I am not saying that you can't wear what you want, or you can't wear certain things depending on your size. It's more that the look that I wanted doesn't look that way on me, because it relies on a certain body shape that is more straight up and down. It's not size so much as proportion. On me, those midi skirts were a lot more dramatic and sexy, instead of feeling slouchy, straight, or modest. So even in the right clothes, it didn't have the effect I wanted.

So I have to find a way to incorporate the looks I like in my own style!

What I learned about travel packing

My ability to pack a light suitcase has gone from nonexistent to "not bad". I find I still have a pretty full bag, and I'd love to pare down even more in the future. Here's some things I'll be sure to keep in mind next time.

Boxy shirts and travel crossbody bags can be a difficult combo.

I love my Elizabeth Suzann Linn tee, but it and shirts like it don't pair well with crossbody bags, like the sling bag I took. The boxy, wide shirt hem always got caught in my bag's strap, and I didn't like the way it hiked up the shirt or distorted the neckline. The Linn tee is great for sightseeing days, because it's versatile in style but breezy, and the linen is great in hot or cool temps. For traveling, though, a useful bag took precedence. Carrying my phone, money, wallet/passport, wifi device, battery charger, chapstick, and so on, was more valuable than a cute top.

with my sweet friend Shirley in Omotesando, with my shirt and bag doing a weird thing!

Three weeks and fluctuating temperatures means doing laundry!

This might sound obvious, but I was down to my last shirt and clean pair of pants, and the jeans I wore on the flight home weren't the freshest! I was prepared to wash undies, and I did, but I wish I had taken the time to wash some of my clothes — or paid the exorbitant hotel laundry fee! I was expecting the cooler temps to mean I was less sweaty and I could get more re-wears, but many restaurants and our office conference rooms had no or poor AC. Combine that with a few trips out to restaurants or bars that allowed smoking inside, and I had quite a few days of 2 or even 3 outfit changes! Next time, I'm bringing refresher spray and doing laundry.

You never wear the most statement-y items you bring.

Is this just me? I always think, oh, this will be a perfect location/event for my [insert item I never wear], and that's just never true. Unless I'm attending a wedding or event, I like to wear the same stuff I wear at home. My total inability to control my internal body temp and my tendency to be sweaty — those aren't different just because I'm traveling! My refusal to be miserable in uncomfortable shoes — still true! Due to the aforementioned poor AC in the office, some of the outfits I was really excited about didn't get much use, like my mocknecks and sleeveless turtleneck. Anything that showed sweat or was too warm was out most days! Next time, I'd leave those behind, and stick with foolproof, sweatproof, multi-wear items only.

Wear Count

In my original post, I made some wear predictions. I wrote:

"For a trip of this length, I'm expecting to wear each pair of bottoms 3-4 times, except perhaps my shorts and leggings. With 9 tops, that means each will have to get worn twice. Realistically, some will get worn a lot more (looking at you, white crop tee and Linn tees) and some less, like my grey merino, unless it's quite chilly all day. I ended up bringing more items than I might have, mostly to make sure that I would have a sufficient range for the weather and any activities we do! With only three pairs of shoes, I'll get a week's worth of wear out of each of them — a quarter of the way to 30 wears!"

Let's see how I did.

Tokyo packing list wear count

Each pair of bottoms 3-4x — success! With the exception of my skinny jeans, all of my bottoms got at least 3 full wears, and many of them a lot more! I wore my cotton and linen Clydes pretty evenly, and lots of wear out of my skirt.

Less wears: shorts, leggings — check. I wore my leggings around the hotel and on the plane, but not out. I only wore my shorts once, on a warm day in Kyoto. Same with my henley dress and silk Linn tee; it was just slightly too cool for those to be comfortable.

Each top 2x — success! I thought I'd wear my white tee, black tee, Linn tee and more — 7, 8, and 5 wears respectively — and that I'd get less wears out of cool weather items like my grey turtleneck. That part was expected. I did think I'd get more wears out of my fitted tops, but I didn't.

Each pair of shoes: 7x — definitely! Although I wore my boots less (that's weekend sightseeing days), I loved having them.

Most Worn

  • My knit cream midi skirt is definitely the MVP of this trip. It got a TON of wear, mostly because it felt the most "Tokyo" vibes to me. It went with all my tops, and it was perfectly balanced between temperature, comfort, and style.
  • Silk trench coat. The weather was most often sunny, 60's, with a cool breeze. This jacket was a nice barrier to the coolness, a loose layer over my more fitted items, but not too heavy or hot.
  • Clyde pants. Again, they just go with everything, and those pockets are so convenient!
  • Freda Salvador 'Sleek' Chelsea boots. These turned out to be a great fit, and stylistically worked really well. Not great for the long sightseeing days (I was glad to have sneakers) but made all my outfits feel way cooler.

Least Worn

  • Kit+Ace sleeveless turtleneck and my Outdoor Voices merino long sleeve — just wasn't quite cold enough.
  • Conversely, my silk Linn tee and henley dress weren't quite warm enough for me most Tokyo days.
  • Fitted shirts, especially my green mock neck. I wanted to wear it, and it was perfect outside for it, with a jacket. But inside the office and restaurants it was super warm, and I was often sweaty, which meant I was reaching for my looser shirts more.

Of Note

  • I sent home my skinny jeans, henley dress, shorts, and blue v-neck long sleeve with Jeffrey, my husband, when he traveled home about 1.5 weeks into my stay. They just didn't feel right, and I didn't miss them.
  • I was glad to have both pairs of Clydes. It was chilly enough some nights I was glad to have the cotton ones, and having an extra pair of pants worked out in my favor re: the laundry situation. Still, it was redundant.
  • My shoes worked great, although if I was packing again, I'd bring my white sneakers, which would have fit right in!
  • I also wish I had packed wide leg pants. I opted for what I felt like was easier-to-wear straighter skinny legs but there, everyone who wasn't wearing a midi skirt was in lovely straight or wide legs, and I missed mine.

Next Time

I'm hoping I'll get to go back to Tokyo for work sometime soon, and I think my packing list will look pretty different!

Next time I'll be bringing:

  • a lot more color and a lot less black
  • wide leg pants and more than one skirt
  • drapier, longer tops
  • softer, less structured coats
  • a white sneaker

That green beret will definitely be making the trip back with me!

Here's to Tokyo trip 2019!