What the hell is ‘Amekaji’?

メカジ (Amekaji): A style that is heavily inspired by Americana; its name can be directly translated to American casual. It is usually a very bright, fun, flamboyant and generally multi-colored style. Inspired by fictionalized images of America the clothes are generally looser than most of the other styles. They usually have many layers that overlap each other. It mostly involves sweaters, bomber-jackets from the early 2000’s and coats such as Letterman jackets.


Did you know the term Amekaji comes from the early 90’s where Japanese women known as “Gyaru” would wear obnoxiously dramatized version of the typical American woman they saw in movies or television? The way it’s looked at is; it was a fashion movement for some young Japanese women at the time (and still is to this day for some) as a way, in a society where it’s abnormal for women to be strong-willed or forward with their sexuality, to find a way to show their strong personalities by dressing fun and being more expressive with their emotions. These loud costume-like personas were fun for them and gave them the confidence they were looking for.

Gyaru girls from the Japanese fashion magazine ‘Fruits’

This is quite the stepping stone I’d say, for something that has been completely flipped around for the opposite sex, mostly. If you’re in this niche community and you know the word Amekaji you probably don’t think of those Gyaru ladies with teased colorful or blonde hair and heavily tanned skin. You think of something more approachable, something more classic, something familiar, like Steve McQueen in his wide fit chino and cutoff sweatshirt, or your favorite vintage-head Instagrammer rocking some old Levi’s and a MA-1 Bomber jacket. But today we’ll be doin’ some learnin’ and find out what exactly the hell Amekaji is – well… for us, at the least.

Steve McQueen
credit to the Real McCoy’s for the photo

What does ‘Amekaji’ mean to you?

This is a question I was sitting with for awhile. Because of the nature of the term I was curious as to what my kind and knowledgeable internet friends thought of it themselves considering some may even consider their personal style Amekaji, so I reached out to some of those well-recognized voices in the heritage wear community and asked their opinions on the term or what it meant to them.

Jake (@almostvintagestyle / https://almostvintagestyle.com/)

‘To me, Amekaji is the most accurate way to describe the clothing that people such as you and myself wear. It does not capture everything perfectly, but I think it is much more accurate than “workwear” or “heritage menswear.” In truth, what we are all wearing is the Japanese interpretation of American casual clothing from the early to mid 20th century. Yes, even if you are only wearing American made brands. It is highly probable that this clothing scene would not exist at all if it were not for the Japanese, at least not in the way it actually exists today. I am sure there would still be some vintage enthusiasts, but this clothing scene would not exist in the way it does without the Japanese. Even if we were to say that American denim and boot brands would exist without the Japanese revival of the clothing style a few decades ago, what we wear in this clothing scene is still an interpretation or a reimagining of what American casual, work wear, and military clothing was back in the day. Even if you wear actual vintage pieces, you’re still wearing them in the modern day so at the very least, this clothing hobby we are a part of is some sort of recontextualization of (mostly) American clothing from the early to mid 20th century. That’s sort of what Amekaji is. It’s the Japanese interpretation of American casual clothing and for the most part, that’s what we are wearing. If you want to know more, I would highly suggest reading W. David Marx’s book ‘Ametora.’

Kai (@kai_hayano from Usonian Goods Store Japan)

‘For the style it’s self, I don’t hate or love AMEKAJI in general (denim with sweaters, new balance etc.), but what I do feel is that American style/products has become such deeply related with Japanese fashion, any Japanese interested in fashion can’t get away without being influenced by AMEKAJI. Even if one’s not into it.

Nowadays, I hardly encounter anyone dressing in the typical AMEKAJI outfit in Tokyo. Though I see particles of AMEKAJI here and there, despite the age, gender, style.

To me, as a Japanese raised in the states, typical AMEKAJI does look a bit odd to me, since I do not consider it as “stylish”. But who knows, I may look super AMEKAJI to someone’s eye!’

Paul (@partial2vintage / generally a cool dude)

‘Amekaji… to me it recognizes the contribution of Japanese people and culture to American fashion… particularly that inspired from (the) 50s and 60s’

Illya (@illcutz / owner of @hattersanonymous / @actualorigins / co-host of @sonsofselvedge)

‘What does Amekaji mean to me?

It’s a junction of 20th century American styles (Ivy, workwear, militaria, etc) which has been reinterpreted by the curious youth of Post war Japan as they came to terms of Westernisation and modernisation of their own culture, which over time has become a cocktail of the best parts of each style.

Just as Hip Hop DJ’s in the early 80’s found the best ‘breakdowns’ of a record and fused them together to make longer and more potent versions of a new songs; cool hunters and style aficionados found ways to mix the best of all the “Amekaji” genres into new fresh ways of dressing.

So to me “Amekaji” is an expression of style through the use of borrowed elements of defined menswear styles.’

I find it very inspiring to hear from so many educated voices on the subject. It’s interesting to me how everyone can view the term and what it envelops differently. I think that’s kind of the magic of the word. Amekaji isn’t one thing – it’s a lot! It started out as something completely different, perhaps even completely foreign from most of the world, but it’s slowly merged into the world of denim, the world of heritage wear, trad / ivy, etc. Amekaji is something entirely different, yet is still the same as what it started as. It’s now a term that completely reached out of the Japanese barrier and has come to form new communities and traditions. Amekaji was originally birthed from American clothing becoming a hit in Japan, especially with their younger generation. W. David Marx’s book ‘Ametora’ encapsulated this history extremely well – if you haven’t heard his name or of the book Ametora I’d recommend you have some serious reading to do. So I don’t butcher it myself, to summarize the subject of the book here’s a quote from Mr. Marx himself – Ametora is a cultural history covering the Japanese assimilation of American fashion over the past hundred and fifty years — Ivy, hippie, outdoor, rock ‘n’ roll, preppy, street fashion, and vintage — showing how Japanese trendsetters and entrepreneurs mimicked, adapted, imported, and ultimately perfected American style. Ametora is more than a story about Japanese fashion — it’s a vivid case study on how trends form, why some fads become traditions, and how globalization really works.

The word ‘Ametora’ means American traditional. While it shares close ties with Amekaji, it can also be very different.

Referenced in Marx’s Ametora was one of the original ‘bibles’ of the Japanese youth (or not youth, too, I guess) the Made in USA catalog that showed the great MiUSA goods to quite a bit of young men at the time. Apparently this could be one of the first examples of our modern Amekaji.

Made in USA catalog 1975

This legendary magazine was basically the precursor to the esteemed ‘Popeye’ fashion (and more) magazines, and many others as well. This catalog of sorts shows an almost fetishistic and highly organized grouping of Made in US goods anywhere from guitars to camping gear, and of course denim, Red Wing boots and the sorts. Now obviously nearly impossible to find, it’s almost a memory of the past, maybe even something you’d sell your least favorite toe for, but also now an absolute grail for collectors of such things. To flip through this would almost seem weird for the average American, but for someone who knows what it is or is aware of the items contained within, maybe you could get a glimpse of what those young Japanese denim heads were thinking when they saw inside the world of heritage US-made goods for the first time. Maybe even the first glimpse into what formed to be Amekaji style – the beautiful marriage of Japanese and American heritage wear over the span of many many years.

All this to be said, Amekaji being a love child of two cultures and transforming into what it is now may mean a lot of different things to different people, but ultimately if you’re into this niche community, you most likely have a good idea of what it means to you.

Published by indigo amateur

Just a guy who likes to talk about clothes.

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