Where Did The Japanese School Girl Sailor Style Uniform Come From?

The Origins Of The Japanese School Girl Sailor Style Uniform

Girls of school age in Japanese schools are often seen wearing a school uniform that looks to be inspired by sailor aesthetics. This school uniform very clearly takes a lot of inspiration from European naval uniforms.

Students in Japan have been wearing some type of school uniform when in junior high or high school for over 150 years. 

This sailor-style uniform emerged in the 19th century and was inspired by the style of the times. Japan was starting to become influenced by Western culture, and that included fashion, where the sailor aesthetic was in style at the time. 

In Europe, it was common for young children of wealthy families to wear sailor-style suits, so Japan saw this as a status symbol of sorts. Furthermore, military uniforms were evolving during the Meiji period in Japan. These two types of dress were combined to inspire the sailor-style uniform.

What The School Girl Sailor Style Uniform Consists Of 

There are some variations of the school girl sailor-style uniforms that have existed over the years in Japan. The uniform was usually either navy or black, with a sailor collar that often featured a white stripe. There would usually be a white tie at the collar as well. 

The skirt was a simple A-line skirt of the same color, and the outfit would look very similar to a sailor suit. The shirt was usually long-sleeved to accommodate colder weather and would have white stripes on the sleeves as well. 

A more modern interpretation of this uniform is a white blouse with a sailor collar, often in a different color to contrast the white. The skirt is often pleated and is usually a dark color such as navy or black. 

What Girls Wore To School In Japan Before Sailor Style Uniforms 

Before uniforms in school became a staple in Japanese culture, young women would wear kimonos to school.

While kimonos were standard dress in Japan at the time, they were fairly inhibitory and could be uncomfortable for young girls to play or enjoy activities in school. 

Eventually, young girls were able to start wearing hakamas to school; these were looser-style dresses that weren’t as constraining. Afterward, the sailor-style uniform became the standard. 


Seifuku is the Japanese term for sailor-style school uniform. This uniform aesthetic has also inspired fashion trends within Japan and outside of Japan.

While this term is mostly associated with the school girl’s uniform, it is also sometimes used as a general term for school uniforms in Japan. 

Are School Girl Sailor Style Uniforms Still Worn?

This uniform is still worn in school settings, including private and public schools. Male students are also expected to wear uniforms, but they follow their particular expectations regarding how they dress.

Many students will also wear hakama dresses to formal school events such as graduation. 

Not all schools in Japan still expect this particular uniform in school. Catholic school uniforms have influenced a lot of the more modern uniforms worn in schools today, with girls being able to wear culottes or skirts. Boys will usually wear some type of dress shirt, pants, and a tie, and may also wear a jacket. 

Kogal Subculture: Inspired By Japanese School Uniforms

The Japanese schoolgirl aesthetic has been one to inspire fashion worldwide and is known as kogal. The style of dress usually features a pleated skirt that is shorter than a conventional uniform and a white button-up shirt. The button-up is typically untucked, worn with some buttons opened, and looser fitting than a typical uniform. 

Sometimes, a blazer will be worn over the outfit as well. These blazers mimic the uniform blazers that boys wear to school, sometimes with crests or gold buttons that are similar to uniform blazers.

These outfits are often paired with knee-high socks and either black boots or dress shoes. 

Outside of the kogal fashion subculture, the sailor-style uniforms also inspired a variety of Japanese biker gangs to create their own standard form of dress. Some students are also inspired to play with their everyday school uniforms to make them unique, thanks to the kogal subculture. 

Japanology Plus Takes A Look At School Uniforms

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.