Sailor Fuku

The Japanese high-school uniform for girls

Anyone familiar with modern-day Japan may have noticed the uniqueness of the uniforms worn by middle or high school girls in comparison to those sported all around the world.

Such style for female students began in the early 20th century as a part of the modernization process started in the Meiji era — a time when Japan started to open the world after two centuries of isolation. At the time they became the standard for the country, and are still used nowadays in many schools for these education levels.

From now on, this page will focus only and deeply in the sailor fuku, which has been the traditional girl’s uniform in Japan since those days to the present time.  For the traditional boy’s uniform, called a gakuran, you can visit its specific page here. For a general view about the education and uniform use of Japan, you can visit our main article here.

Traits and anatomy of a Sailor Fuku uniform

The essential parts of a sailor fuku outfit consist of a knee-length pleated skirt and a sailor-neck blouse, the latter usually adorned with a laced ribbon in the chest area. The most frequently seen colors in the current day are black, white, gray and blue, while the ribbon normally features a color contrasting with the dominant one — such as red; though others can be seen, as the color scheme of this attire depends entirely on the specific school. Some will even require their students to wear white / navy ankle or knee socks, but most of them don’t regulate these particular pieces of clothing, allowing non-official legwear, the most popular being loose socks or even knee-length stockings.

There is also a summer version of this uniform, which consists of a skirt and a blouse with shorter sleeves, both made of a lighter fabric.

As with any uniform, illegal modifications are not unheard of. Shortening of the skirt by fashion-conscious students or its lengthening by members of biker gangs are the most prominent examples, but the the removal of the ribbon or the addition of badges and patches beneath the collar can also be seen. Naturally, many measures have been taken to avoid these practices, but most of them have fallen short of stopping rebellious girls.

Origins of the Sailor Fuku

To fully understand what created the uniqueness of the sailor fuku, some facts must be taken into account.

First of all, adopting new styles for school uniforms was an attempt to modernize the clothing styles of Japan also for students, something previously done with uniforms for some official jobs. In a social context of more frequent interaction with western countries, such modernity was understood as imitating their styles.

Yet, instead of replacing the traditional undivided hakama, known as andon bakama, with western typical school uniforms, the new female uniform was inspired by the United Kingdom’s Navy uniforms. Some evident advantages of this choice were that they had a similar construction to other clothes usually made at that time in Japan and were simple enough to be easy to sew, mass-produce and wear.

The name for this new uniform, sailor fuku (セーラー服), is composed by the Japanese words seeraa (セーラー) — a transliteration of sailor; and fuku (服), which means clothes or suit, particularly those from the West. So, the complete name means “sailor suit“, with a hint to its western origin.

About Sailor Fuku use in current days

In spite of the aforementioned qualities and its distinctiveness, the before ubiquitous sailor fuku has decreased in use nowadays. To understand this tendency, some contextual factors must be taken into account.

Sailor fuku is almost universally seen as a symbol of adolescence’s innocence and growing into maturity. This fact has produced a increasing preference in high school students for western-styled uniforms, as a way to reinforce their image of being grown-ups. All of this has been enhanced further because sailor fuku has become a quite popular fetish item for some social groups, even to the point of having second-hand clothing of this kind sold in the black market. Moreover, schools have seen both trends as a chance to solve the problem of illegal modifications, by changing the standard uniform, at least for the time being.

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