Japanese people are on average a little bit smaller than your typical Westerner. Although this is an often-exaggerated cultural stereotype, there is some truth in it – try finding a pair of size 12 shoes in Japan! Therefore, as you might expect, clothing made for the Japanese domestic market tends to reflect this. The difference in average body shape between nations can be seen in this interesting graphic below.
On the other hand, much Japanese high-end designer clothing is made with an eye towards the Western market. Furthermore, just to complicate matters, many of the top Japanese designers are renowned for experimentation with innovative cuts and over-sizing. All of this makes purchasing Japanese-made fashion a bit of a minefield, especially when buying online. However, have no fear – we at Nippon Couture are here to help!
Japanese couture fashion houses such as Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Comme des Garçons, utilize two main sizing systems, although scales differ brand-to-brand.
Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake both alternate between a Japanese number-based system and the Western S/M/L/XL/XXL scale. Older pieces from both designers almost always utilize the the Western system, with more recent items more often than not using the numberemical system. This number-based format has sizes scaled between 1–6 (although 6s are quite rare). Very roughly speaking, Size 1 equates to XS, Size 2 – S, Size 3 – M, Size 4 – L, Size 5 – XL and Size 6 – XXL.
Comme des Garçons have blessfully kept things simple and tend to just use the Western alphabet-based system, although the scale is not necessarily the same. For example, a Japanese M can fit a little more like a Western S, although it really does vary, depending on how the designer envisaged the piece being worn and where it was made to be sold. For example, Comme des Garçons Homme is a line predominantly sold in Japan, whereas Comme des Garçons Homme Plus and associated lines are aimed more at an international market.
What does this all mean? Well, when buying Japanese clothing online – or any clothing for that matter – it’s absolutely crucial to check measurements to ensure the piece will fit as desired. Comparing measurements to an item which you own that you know fits well is always a good idea.
If you’re buying new from an online shop, most provide a sizing guide, although these can be a little misleading, as these are often based on some fairly rough comparisons. eBay-based sellers like us generally offer some measurements too, but measuring methods do vary and it’s not always clear how a seller has measured-up an item. At Nippon Couture items are always measured in inches, laid flat, seam to seam, and unstretched. See below for diagrams of how our items are measured.
If there is ever any spare fabric to let out the waist or hems of trousers, we will always give an estimate (if there are heavy pressing marks on hems we consider this like there is no spare fabric).
Many couture designers (especially the Japanese early avante-guard) are known for exploring the way in which we wear clothes, often experimenting with over-sized designs. In what could be seen as a rejection of highly tailored clothing, designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, have all experimented with clothing design that subverts conventional sizing.
I’ve previously made the mistake of having over-sized garments altered to fit. One piece – a dark grey Spring/Autumn Issey Miayke Men jacket – had extra-long sleeves. I loved the look, but the sleeves went over my hands. Without pausing for thought, I had a tailor alter the sleeves to where I usually like my cuffs to come down to (just above the thumb with straight arms). Only on reflection did I contemplate why the jacket’s cuffs were buttonless and how lovely the lining on the sleeves was. I realized that this jacket would have looked great with the sleeves rolled up! Whist I could technically still do this, it would never be quite right. I still love the piece, but I wish I’d had greater faith in the designer’s intentions.
It can be a little daunting to wear over-sized clothing. Baggy trousers, big billowing coats, long-cut tees, all require a certain degree of confidence to pull-off. However, for the sartorial dresser, subverting the norm can provide a perverse pleasure.