Kawaii Minus Gender: Genderless Kei

It’s been a long time since I last posted anything on Japanese street fashion, and of all the fashion-focused articles I have posted here on Otaku Lounge, all but one of them have been concerned primarily with women. After all, the vast majority of Japanese street fashions and subcultures have traditionally been dominated by female-centric styles: lolita, gyaru, mori girl, and plenty of others. Genderless kei – whose male participants have been gaining the lion’s share of media and fan attention – is changing that landscape.

In a nutshell, genderless kei is exactly what it sounds like; a style that incorporates both stereotypically male and female fashions in order to achieve an ultimately androgynous look. Styles vary greatly, but so far the emphasis has largely been on the kawaii side of things, with slim-figured, cute-faced boys showing off dewy white skin, wide-eyed colour contact lenses, pouting cherry lips, brightly-painted nails, and cutesy clothing and accessories. Sometimes this is all at once, sometimes it’s just splashes of flamboyant pinks and a pair of platform shoes to complete an otherwise relatively normal ensemble.

Genderless kei is a fairly new Japanese street fashion style, first noticeably appearing on the public scene in 2016 in response to the previous year’s Tokyo Girls Collection show. A semi-annual fashion festival showcasing streetwear by domestic brands, the Autumn/Winter 2015 event featured several influential male models dressed in the likes of fringed jumpsuits, pussy-bow blouses, and in one case even a wedding gown. One of these models was Genking, now an unofficial spokesman for the genderless kei trend. An Instagram icon turned model and TV personality, Genking said in an interview in 2015 that he wanted to create a new kind of fashion platform, in which he could be both a men’s as well as a ladies’ model.

Although Genking himself identifies as gay and has talked openly on TV about his relationships with other men, it’s important to note that genderless kei is not a movement directly relating to gender or sexuality. While most adherents to the style are thought to be heterosexual, cisgender males, genderless kei isn’t about attempting to either ‘pass’ as a woman or make a statement about being gay or straight. Instead, it’s simply a fashion choice which rejects the notion that clothing itself must have a gender.

Having said that, genderless kei certainly pushes the boundaries of what constitutes traditional gender norms, particularly in Japan. Hardly known for its progressive attitudes towards gender or sexual identity despite a long history of crossdressing, Japan in many respects remains a deeply traditional and patriarchal society, where conformity is still expected to take precedence over individual expression. When viewed from this angle, genderless kei is a lot more than just pretty men in make-up – it’s a conscious choice to challenge the gender binary and create a new standard of male beauty.

Whether this trend will, like so many others before it, eventually fade into obscurity once initial fan interest and media coverage wanes, or whether it will have a more genuine and long-lasting impact, remains to be seen. As yet, it’s simply too early to tell. For some, it seems to be a small but significant move towards a more contemporary and post-gender world, while for others, it’s just another briefly glowing spark in Japan’s ever-evolving street fashion scene. Regardless, genderless kei seems intent on bending the rules of fashion by bringing male and female together in new and eye-popping ways.

Question of the post: What are your thoughts on genderless kei? Is it something you’d be excited to see more of in the mainstream fashion world, or do you think it should remain a street fashion subculture?

19 thoughts on “Kawaii Minus Gender: Genderless Kei

  1. Oh gosh, where to begin?
    I do like the general idea, I do a bit of it myself in a less girly way (just image-search my name; I’m the only Ged Maybury in the world. Oh, and add the word ‘pink’), but in the images I’m seeing (image search again), it really does remain ‘gendered’ to my eyes – as in the boys are lurching wildly into the world of trad female colours, fabrics and shapes, incl makeup and skirts.
    Which is fine. I do it too insofar as creating all-pink or mostly-pink ensembles, but my work sticks mostly to trad male-gendered styles (cut) and items like top-hat and tails, spats, ruffles …
    But I’m always with the trousers, unless you count the time I rocked that bustle-skirt for a few hours at Supanova Gold Coast.
    (And the Haruhi Suzumiya mis-adventure. Look up ‘Steampunk Haruhi’)
    So yeah – CELEBRATION that dudes are getting into this and really experimenting, but QUIBBLE about it being ‘genderless’. The dudes are going very feminine! (Can’t blame them either, da girls get all the good stuff: shapes, fabrics, colours, but even better – support, encouragement, freedom to totally indulge.)
    So yeah, put me in Tokyo, take 40 years off me, and I’d totally be into this!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s true, for a lot of genderless kei devotees, it’d be easy to argue that they trend more towards the stereotypically feminine than being ‘genderless’ per se. That being said, one could also argue that a) primarily the more ‘girly’ genderless kei styles are receiving all the attention because, well, it’s deemed a lot more photo-worthy, and b) just because they’re stereotypically worn by girls doesn’t make the clothes feminine in and of themselves. If boys want to wear skirts and a ton of white, pastels, and neon pink, who I am to argue that those things are necessarily ‘girly’? I imagine at least some of the boys going in for the genderless kei look are attempting to make the statement that they can just as rightly claim these sorts of clothes as their own.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Some of the photos do show a very genderless appearance, so it is possible, but probably not getting the attention of the camera the way the more ‘noticeable’ stuff does.
        And something that needs to be acknowledged is my bias – 6+ decades of conditioning into what is (and isn’t) ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. Hell: *any* effort by men to find a middle ground is going to move noticeably towards what is currently viewed as feminine. Yer standard men’s clothing, currently on sale, is all ghastly!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I love the idea that this is a bold step towards a social order that looks beyond gender but first, I’d like to see if it lasts or is just as passing trend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that’s the biggest potential issue I see with it too. Lasting and impactful movement, or just a passing trend like so many other street fashion subcultures before it? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree that it’s kinda wait and see right now. I personally am ALL on board for clothing being, ya know, CLOTHING and not an indicator of gender or sexual preferences. I find such thinking pretty ridiculous in this day and age (not to mention restricting and often extremely misleading). But, yeah, I’m not sure if this will have the strength to be more than a passing fad… Especially if only one side of the participating demographic is getting air time

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d /like for this to be more than passing fad, but if I was a betting sort of girl, my money would be on it coming and going much like any other Japanese street fashion thing. It sure would be nice to be wrong, though…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This looks more feminine than genderless. When I think of genderless clothing, my mind moves towards utilitarian clothes like military working uniforms. These hardly count as stylish! The way most fashions work is by making the wearer look more attractive, which relies on highlighting sex appeal. The most fashionable clothing will always have a masculine or feminine angle, while truly genderless clothing will ever be relegated to the boring and utilitarian side of the spectrum. So, genderless clothing may be said to already be here, but it can’t win fashion awards.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have to disagree with this comment, or at least part of it. Do I personally like a lot of these kinds of styles? No, not particularly. But being stylish in and of itself is a different matter – to me, that’s about how much time, effort, and expertise has gone into the style. And while I do think it’s true that a lot of the genderless kei styles are more towards the traditionally feminine side, I certainly don’t think fashion has to necessarily be about making the wearer look more attractive or highlighting sex appeal. In fact, if there’s one thing Japanese street fashion in general has told me, the very opposite can be true, for example ganguro.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I know I’m late to the party, but I only just found this, and I love it and want an update on whether it’s still going. ^^;

    I also feel like some people are missing the point… Clothes aren’t “masculine” or “feminine”. They can be traditionally associated with these things, but those associations vary between cultures and even generations within the same culture — so saying that these styles are ‘more feminine instead of genderless’ just because they’re pink/pastel/ruffles/’girly’ is doing the exact thing this sort of trend is trying to fight against. Genderless just means anyone can wear anything regardless of its traditional associations. That’s exactly what I see here and on the few other blogs I’ve just checked out. Insisting on calling it ‘more feminine’ because of the colours and details irks me because that’s like calling unisex hoodies ‘more masculine’ just because the sides are cut straight instead of curved.

    Sorry, mini rant over. ^^;;; I’m a queer with a thing against gendering clothes because the meanings attributed to them can be different for every person. I grew up knowing how hurtful that sort of gendering by others can be even when comments were supposedly well-intentioned, so maybe it’s something I feel a bit overly passionate about, but… yeah. I dunno. I like that similar movements are happening in multiple countries. I hope this is still going — I’ve seen some pics of similar outfits posted recently, so I’m actually hoping it’s evolved (evolving?) beyond the trend phase, but I guess we’ll need to wait a few more years to see.


    1. Hey, rant away – they’re good points, and if you feel you have something to say, you should definitely say it. All are welcome to comment on this blog. 🙂

      Like most street fashions originating in and around Harajuku (or for that matter, I guess anywhere in the world at all), the trends are constantly evolving – even genderless kei, only a couple of years old, is no longer the same as it once was. I haven’t been to Harajuku in a while myself, but online I’ve personally noticed a shift towards a more ‘urban’ genderless kei style, with skinny jeans and “male” crop tops being worn a lot more recently.



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