Inspiration In Print: Japanese Menswear Magazines

In this piece, we take an in-depth look at Japanese menswear print publications, a huge source of inspiration for us over the years.

Here we’re looking to Japan as a contrast to themes within western magazines and highlighting the ways we feel set them apart. 

All photos below are from an edit of our collection.

 Japanese magazine stack


Focus on everyday people and sub-cultures vs. well-known celebrities and athletes

The main difference we see within western menswear magazines and Japanese publications is the west’s consistent focus on well-known celebrities or athletes to serve as the face of aspirational clothing and trends.

When western magazines do feature less prominent figures, it seems they can't help but put them in clothing you would never find them on the street wearing. The focus shifts from the personality they're featuring to the premium clothes. 

For us, it completely puts the feature out of context, removes its authenticity and the person's characteristic voice. 

There is a real refreshing approach in many Japanese fashion magazines, where models are often unrecognizable, or they feature personalities relevant to particular sub-cultures: menswear guys, indie musicians, shop owners, and artists.

The key differentiator is the focus on relevance to the culture over top of mind mass awareness.


Clutch over coat style 

Popeye magazine street style


Effortless rejection of “aspirational” brands and clothing 

Speaking on aspirational clothing, Japan’s more relevant publications seem to reject this category all together.

Opening up a Popeye, Clutch, Free & Easy, Hail Mary, or Ollie, you will see brands that range from everyday workwear and sportswear, to skateboarding and streetwear. Brands featured are items you could pick up anywhere like a Carhart WIP jacket, Red Wing boots, Champion hoodies, Stussy and so forth.

Again, this serves as inspiration for the everyday person, focuses on styling, and removes the modern day pressure of trying to attain the best of the season’s trend from (insert fashion house here).

Why does this matter? Aspirational styling of famous people showcases that style is synonymous with fame and luxury, with luxury clothing being the main vehicle to upward mobility.

This puts us out of the context of what is stylish, what can I borrow, how I can I be inspired by this, to the mentality that we need $1,000 coats to put our best foot forward. 

Red Wing Style


Style extending to more than just clothing

Many of Japan’s publications follow a re-occurring theme of featuring more than just clothing. Take for example Popeye’s re-occurring feature on the apartment living styles of creatives all over the world, or Free & Easy's popular Dad's Style and Ivy Style issues. 

Bringing that down a level further, magazines like Lightning have one focus and one focus only. They are unapologetically obsessed. They will devote an entire magazine to just leather jackets, work boots, or vintage Nike sneakers.

It's as good as it sounds.

Lightning Aging of Leather Jacket

Relentless passion for time tested goods 

The Japanese celebrate wear and the ability of a thing to age gracefully. This permeates their culture and the wabi- sabi of an item is intrinsic to the value, often more than it’s price. While workwear and sportswear are obvious examples of this, classic watches from heritage brands are coveted as much for their patina as their rarity.


Free & Easy Ivy Style  

We all pick up magazines for different reasons and the point is not to judge or to admonish the current state of fashion magazines. This is an attempt to justify our own interest in Japan's approach to goods, textiles, and merchandising and hopefully demonstrate that authentic spirit with the clothes we make and the art we produce. 

The concept is simple: things should be useful, cherished, and get better with age. If you're going to be interested in something, devote some time, learn the history and dive in head first.  

Shop our shirting with fabric sourced from Japan here and here.