Japanese Working Class Fashion - Designs Originated from the Construction Sites of Japan

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Some fashion came from runways, others came from the streets, still others came from the construction sites of Japan. In Japan, an occupation as a construction worker is widely regarded as a “3k” job; kitanai (dirty), kiken (dangerous), and kitsui (demanding). However, in today’s article we will be introducing you to the hidden 4th “k” in the life of a construction worker, which is kakkoii, cool.

Fashion is found in all walks of life, and construction workers are no exception. Originally an imitation of the knickerbockers, as their uniform Japanese workers wear what’s called a Tobi pant, which is a balloon shaped, wide on the thigh and tight on the hem silhouette that complements the everyday physical activities of the workers. At first glance, the Tobi pants are just another pair of wide trousers that allow the wearer to move freely; however, the functionality of the design actually lies in how it can interact with the wind. The balloon shape of the trousers makes them extra sensitive to the wind, so in case the worker is operating at a high altitude, they can immediately tell which way the wind is blowing and be cautious of the aero currents to avoid danger.

Some even claim that the Tobi pants can effectively reduce damage from falling from a high place as the shape of the trousers imitate the wing structure of a flying squirrel. Either way, the distinctive shape of the Tobi pants quickly became a trademark look for the construction workers. Nowadays, we can see the Tobi trousers being reimagined as stables in fashion, with brands like Yohji Yamamoto popularizing the balloon-shaped trousers, replacing the worker’s pant’s thick cotton material with tranquil, soft, flowy fabrics.

The other staple in a construction worker’s uniform is the Jikatabi, also known as the Tabi Shoes. The Jikatabi is basically a pair of rubber sole ninja shoes with split toes. In contrast to the chunky and protective metal toe derbies that are widely popular amongst modern-day construction workers in most western countries, the Jikatabi is very light and the body of the shoe is quite soft. Nonetheless, some Japanese construction workers today still prefer the traditional Tabi over the newly developed metal derbies. They believe that not only does the Tabi offer better agility with its light material -which works in favor of the daily physical labor-, they are also significantly more in style.

In fact, Maison Margiela, a Parisian fashion brand, has brought back the Tabi boots and sneakers from their early 90s archives in recent years. The brand put the Tabi shoes in the spotlight of fashion for the first time in almost a decade of absence, in agreement with the construction worker’s taste in fashion.

Last but not least, we look at the item that broke the internet in 2019, the item that shed the most light on Japanese construction wear in recent years, one truly amazing achievement in the history of apparel, the air conditioning suit. Originally known as the Kuchofuku, which quite literally means “the air-conditioned cooling jacket” in Japanese, it is a jacket that features multiple fans on the inside that function similar to air conditioners. As wild as it sounds, an air conditioning suit usually comes with 2 motors on the back, each powered by one or two portable batteries, capable of producing fresh cold air directly into the wearer’s body, and saving the worker from the excruciating heat of a summer's day. In 2019, uniform experiment, BURTLE, and fragment, 3 clothing labels from Japan put together a collaborative capsule collection where it featured the fan-cooled jacket, which shocked the fashion world as such technology was generally unprecedented in the western world. The collection evoked a lot of interest from all around the world towards Japanese worker wear, and granted Japanese construction workers fashion its well deserved spotlight in the fashion world.

Even before the Kuchofuku became a thing, Japanese construction workers were distinctive in their outwear game. The classic Sagyofuku riders’ jacket is the base of the formerly mentioned air-conditioned jacket, which is a Tobi-styled, slightly utilitarian cropped worker jacket with 2 chest pockets; it is a signature feature within the Japanese construction worker uniform. Torachi, a clothing brand dedicated to producing clothes for Japanese construction workers, portrays their jackets similar to fashion products by putting out numerous series and seasons of Tobi-styled uniforms each offering different fabrics, cuts, and even colorways, responding to the Japanese workers’ passion in dressing up. Also, due to the Sagyofuku riders’ jacket’s very contemporary silhouette, nowadays we’re able to see these clothes floating around fashion-oriented communities like Grailed and more, repurposing the functional uniforms of the working class.

To sum up, despite the lack of intention to become fashionable in the first place, over time the utilitarian clothing of the Japanese working class has developed into a distinctive style and have managed to inspire many remarkable designs.

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