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What is Visual Kei Fashion - Guide From Japan

Visual kei was and still is one of Japan's most notable street styles. Let's see how this fashion and music started, its characteristics and substyles, where you can buy Visual Kei fashion, and, most importantly, how you can incorporate Visual Kei in your style today.

Visual Kei is a Japanese fashion style influenced by gothic, punk, glam rock, and traditional Japanese clothing. Also known as V-Kei, the Visual Kei style emerged at the Japanese underground scene in the early 1980s. The movement's pioneers were bands like X Japan, Dead End, and Buck-Tick.

Visual Kei gained global popularity thanks to Japanese anime, and its fans are mainly from Germany, Poland, the United States, Brazil, and Russia. Since there are few fashion rules to follow and Visual Kei brands, your imagination is the only limit!


What does Kei Mean in Japanese Fashion?

In Japanese fashion, Kei means style (with the Kei pronounced as K), system, type, or class, so Visual Kei means visual style or visual system. 

The name is said to be coined by X Japan; more specifically, the term was: "PSYCHEDELIC VIOLENCE CRIME OF VISUAL SHOCK." Seiichi Hoshiko first used the term in the SHOXX magazine in 1992.

Other terms used were "Vijuaru Shokku Kei" (visual shock style) or "okeshou Kei" (makeup style).


Is Visual Kei Goth?

Visual Kei includes outrageous costumes, big flamboyant hair, lots of makeup, and androgynous looks. You can determine whether or not the band is Visual Kei by looking at the band's photos. However, you cannot determine whether the band is Visual Kei just by listening to it, as the sound ranges from metal to electronic to J-pop. Icons like David Bowie and KISS started influencing Japanese music and fashion, borrowing hard rock, heavy metal, and punk elements.

Visual Kei has goth elements but should not be confused with J-goth, including lolita fashion. Although Visual Kei also focuses on fashion and music, the style is drastic enough to be considered its own category.

Visual Kei goth also includes different styles such as punk, goth, steampunk, and cyberpunk. Visual Kei is all about mixing different styles that make you happy. 

Gothic is also visually styled music that originated from glam rock and punk. So the question remains, how can we characterize one band as "glam," another one "goth," and another one "Visual Kei," when they are all doing the same thing.

Some claim that the difference between goth and Visual Kei is that Visual Kei fans are primarily girls who dress up when they go to shows but otherwise dress pretty casual, while gothic is more of a lifestyle choice. 


How Do You Dress Visual Kei?

Because Visual Kei has been based around many bands, this style includes no actual rules or even Visual Kei brands. It's all about the freedom of expression through fashion and individuality. The most popular look would be the androgynous look worn by David Bowie (also known as Kote Kote Kei), but other looks can be seen too. 

When dressing Visual Kei, you need to start minimalistic since there aren't many stores that cater to this style, especially in the West. So if you want to start dressing up as your favorite Japanese rock band member, keep reading.

To get the Visual Kei look, you can find the Visual Kei shops overseas, or you can mix and match what you already have in your closet and what you can buy at local stores. Some clothing items can even be made by tearing up your old clothes. 

Depending on the Visual Kei style that you like, you can look for pins, gloves, glasses, goggles, rags, cuffs, arm warmers, ties, biker chains, straps, and buckles. Take a look at what your favorite J-rock bands are wearing, and start from there. 

Although Visual Kei may have started as an underground trend, it is still popular today in Japan and the West. 

So how do you dress Visual Kei?


Find a store online that sells Visual Kei clothes or find an alternative shop near you, such as Hot Topic. 


Start with dark clothes. Generally, Visual Kei features darker colors, such as black, blue, red, or purple, but neon colors can also be seen. However, Visual Kei is considered to be a monochromatic style. 

Although many band members wear neon colors, it's always safe to start with black and add a splash of blue, red, or purple. For beginners who don't want to experiment too much, black always looks elegant and put together.

Popular patterns are plaid, skulls, stripes, lace, and cobwebs. However, keep in mind that in Visual Kei, pretty much anything goes, as long as you keep the look punk and cool. Plaid skirts and plaid patches are popular for a cute girly look that is still edgy. Stripy tops, either vertical or horizontal, are a wardrobe staple that goes well with everything, so you need to have one. Lace may be more characteristic for the lolita style, but it can still add an interesting texture to a Visual Kei outfit, as long as it doesn't look cheap. 


Of course, you don't have to limit yourself to these prints and patterns because cobwebs, skulls, crowns, and crosses also go very well with this outfit. Everything grotesque, creepy or spooky, should work.

Bondage wear and leather are also popular. Some bands wear anime-inspired outfits, and some even wear costumes on stage. French rococo-inspired Visual Kei style often features ball gowns. Even more toned-down Visual Kei looks include graphic tees and skinny jeans, with perhaps a jacket or a frock coat over them. 

VK is an androgynous style that emphasizes shock value, aesthetic appeal, and artistic freedom. Male artists are usually slim, and it's not uncommon for them to look like women have long locks and feminine dresses. On the other hand, we have bands like The GazettE that go for a more aggressive style, including a more punk image with dark clothes, spiked hair, and pale makeup. 


Some bands wear more westernized clothes, such as suits and military uniforms. Like Dir En Grey, some more extreme bands have entirely dropped the striking look and go for rugged, distressed clothing, similar to western black metal or death metal fans. 

It is a general rule that the clothes match the band's musical style. This is observable in the bands who have been on the scene for long enough - they change their look to match their current musical style.

Make sure your clothes are loose enough. Although skinny jeans will always be a part of the Visual Kei fashion, make sure you wear loose enough clothes so you can dance. Or if you do wear skinny jeans, don't wear a tight top, and vice versa. 

Don't be afraid to mix different styles. Don't be scared to mix and match if you are into goth or lolita or some other fashion. For example, you can wear a puffy knee-length lolita skirt with a distressed punk top. 




Accessories make the outfit. Clothes are important, but the accessories will make your outfit stand out! Don't be afraid to add chains, bracelets, necklaces, arm warmers, ties, and more for a striking look! If you're in a hurry, you can at least put on a studded belt and some rings.


The shoes. Any shoes that are not too pretty or casual will go with your Visual Kei outfit. Doctor Martens, winklepickers, creepers, or platform boots - anything goes. You can even tie a chain around your ankle if you're feeling a bit extra. 


The hair. Dyed hair always looks great, but it doesn't have to be dyed an unnatural color. Ash blond, silver, black and dark brown are also good options, just as neon pink or blue. But if you really can't decide, why not split your hair with two different colors, such as black and silver, black and pink, or a similar color combination.

Visual Kei always focuses on prominent hairstyles. Teased hair straightened with iron and heavily layered is a standard, and some form of this hairstyle can be seen almost across all styles.

Many VK musicians have dyed hair - often in red, blue, or purple. They usually go for straightened hair, as it allows for more hairstyles. Layered cuts are also the norm, as they allow for more accessible care. The hair is usually flippy or molded into spikes, often teased to make sure that the hair will stay in shape, even while headbanging. 

Some VK artists also go for extensions. Punk hairstyles are also popular, such as mohawks and liberty spikes, especially among old-school bands like Buck-Tick and X Japan. More mainstream bands go for a more natural look, such as emo bangs. Some VK artists have dreadlocks, while some do not style their hair, letting it fall freely. 


The makeup. The makeup is the essential part of the style, but if you're a female and want a more androgynous look, you can always go for matte foundation and eyeliner; however, make sure your outfit is eye-catching! For different makeup styles, you can check out the images of your favorite musicians and Visual Kei makeup Youtube tutorials

Intense makeup is popular with Visual Kei styles, but it's not meant to be overwhelming. Usually, a light foundation is applied across the face, with dark makeup focused around the eyes. In Visual Kei, both men and women wear makeup, and they look just isn't complete without it. Some substyles take it a bit further with white shironuri-like makeup, but it's generally not a rule.


Piercings. You will rarely see a Visual Kei musician without any piercings. Nose, lips, eyebrows, and all ear piercings are cool, but if you don't want to get real ones, you can always buy fake piercings. 

The thing that ties all Visual Kei looks together is the polished but distressed look. The most important thing to know is that the outfit must always look pulled together and well-coordinated no matter what you wear. It has to look put together even if the clothes are distressed and ripped - that's what sets it apart from other styles such as punk or emo. Although the style features many ripped garments, the final result should always be clean and purposeful, not messy. 

If you're not good at coordinating different pieces, start from the basics - a plaid skirt or skinny jeans, a t-shirt, and a few accessories. Build the outfit up slowly until you're confident with a more complicated combination. If you can't be bothered to do your hair and makeup every day, just get a low-maintenance haircut and keep up a good skincare routine. 


Visual Kei Brands

Although there are no official Visual Kei brands, some stores have become known for selling Visual Kei clothes. Some of these stores are Sex Pot Revenge, h.Naoto, and Hellcatpunks.


Visual Kei Substyles

Each Visual Kei substyles is distinct, but don't feel like you have to choose just one. Like all the other "rules" in Visual Kei, there's no right way to wear this fashion. 


Visual Kei 

Visual Kei is a broad term that describes fashion inspired by Visual kei and J-rock bands. It is a very androgynous and eccentric style. Some examples are the Gazette, Miyavi, and Naitomea.


Angura Kei

Angura Kei is a traditional version of Visual Kei, with kimonos and other traditional wear. It is also similar to Ero Guro and gothic, with big hair and dark clothing. The makeup is usually also heavy and dark and usually consists of shironuri. Aside from kimonos, the style also includes Japanese school uniforms. Motifs are centered around occult and post-war Japan.

Colors are mainly black but can also include jewel tones and pastel colors. The hair and makeup are similar to classic Visual Kei styles, with teased and dyed hair in blue or red. Spikes and chains are popular accessories and traditional Japanese elements, like flowers in the hair. A good example is Kagrra.


Oshare Kei

Oshare Kei is more colorful than Visual Kei but still follows the basic hair and makeup rules. When wearing this style, wear as much color and black as possible. Some examples are Bou, Miku, and Kanon of An Café.


Kote Kote Kei

Kote Kote Kei is the older version of Visual Kei, back when it began. It's very elaborate and usually includes blood, crosses, and roses. You can use any darker colors. It's also a good idea to look for vintage store finds. Some examples are Dir en Grey and Malice Mizer when they first began. 


Ero Guro Kei 

Ero Guro Kei looks like something straight out of a horror movie! The name signifies the grotesque and erotic nature of this look. It usually includes restriction-inspired items and lots of fake blood. Some examples are Cali=Gari and MUCC Merry. 


Casual Kei 

Casual Kei is an informal interpretation of the Visual Key style. It is very subtle and includes a more natural look with skinny jeans and a t-shirt. This creates a more toned-down, everyday look. Good examples that represent Casual Kei are Plastic Tree and Alice Nine. 



Although Visual Kei isn't as popular as it used to be in the 90s and early 2000s, it still lives on as one of the most creative Japanese street styles and will be there as long as there is freedom of expression in music and fashion.



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Article| 25/03/2022 | Fashion


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