Introducing Mori Kei

Bold colours, chunky accessories, kawaii cuteness by the bucketload, Japanese street fashion is known for it’s colourful, busy, eclectic, anything-goes space-age youthful vibe. It’s often bright, new and modern, often borrows from traditional Japanese garb but also incorporates a cartoon-like version of 1980’s New York hiphop streetwear in bright sherbet and citrus colour palettes.

So what a surprise when a style called mori kei burst on the scene – it seemed like a direct antithesis to all that plastic and neon and evolved more out of the cute girly Lolita style. Flowy, billowy layers of lace and natural fabrics created a soft and feminine look that was graceful, natural, hippie-like and anchored in a nostalgic and wistful pastoralism, using smock-like dresses and loosely layered skirts, ponchos or cardigans. Earthy and pastel-coloured natural fabrics such as textured lace, linen and crochet, often thrifted, were complimented by vintage jewellery. The style was so popular that it has since gone international and is still growing in popularity.

WALK ON THE WILD SIDE: Mori Kei gets natural.
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE: Mori Kei gets natural.

However, beneath the whimsy, there’s an odd strictness to this subculture – it’s probably the only one we’ve heard of that actually has written rules! Just over a decade ago, a girl named Choco, writing on Japan’s facebook equivalent Mixi, created 62 ‘official’ rules to qualify for being an archetypal mori girl. That seems somewhat excessive and specific, I hear you say. Especially as fashion is meant to be a fluid language and also very personal.

But mori kei endures. And, taken from its unlikely urban roots in the Tokyo megatropolis (mori means forest and kei menas fashion in Japanese), it has become not only about fashion but also lifestyle and there are now mori ‘communities’ in places as diverse as Minnesota USA and is especially popular in Scandinavia.

These days, the doctrinaire rigidity of mori kei has been loosened by people of all sexes that are mixing it with all kinds of other styles such as gothic, cosplay, fae style and hippy and that, in turn, has influenced new fashions such as strega “witch” fashion, dark mori and pastel goth.

Being attracted to this trend is about lessons we need to learn – about feeling free to look into a country’s past, collect old things, feel a simplicity, an innocence and connection to the land and to cherish your grandmother’s accessories.

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Check out Altshop’s Pinterest collection of beautiful mori kei outfits