Office ladies shedding the uniform look

April 9th, 2010 by Felicity Hughes

Office ladies light up the stage

Office ladies light up the stage

With fast fashion growing at an exponential rate recently, it’s surprising to see a new store that stocks mid-range quality items opening up 10 new stores across the country in the last few months. Targeting Japan’s workforce of OLs (literally office lady) Brilliantstage sells stylish gear that can be worn both in the office and out on the town.

With many new graduates starting their first job, Brilliantstage is counting on the fact that many young ladies aren’t attracted by the traditional stuffy suits available. They’re also hoping that workers will see buying a basic daily item such as a suit as an investment. While fast-fashion companies like Uniqlo stock a range of affordable and stylish suits – a jacket and pants set from Brilliantstage costs around ¥20,000, while Uniqlo’s goes for only ¥6,000 – buying these less durable items might be a false economy.

Just as many salarymen have been freed during the summer months from the constraints of wearing a jacket and tie with Koizumi’s popular “CoolBiz” campaign, recent years have seen OLs get more stylish as the stricter dress codes of the past give way to allow women more freedom. The biggest difference being that, according to a 2006 study by Macromill, in 1996 52 percent of office ladies were obliged to wear a uniform, while 10 years later that figure had fallen to 22.7 percent. The number of offices that have a dress code had gone up from 15.5 percent in 1996 to 31.7 percent in 2006. However, offices with no uniform and no dress code had risen from 31.1 percent to 43.7 percent. For a look at just how casual OLs can get, check out this slideshow from Naver Matome.

It appears from this research that the OL uniform is vanishing from Japanese offices, which will be a disappointment for some men: OLs in uniforms are often a popular subject in the porn movies here. For those who are interested in taking a less lewd look at what these uniforms look like, there’s a good post on Danny Choo’s blog.

While it’s great news that many OL now have more freedom to choose their own wardrobes, not all Japanese companies are moving with the times. A damning article in The Wall Street Journal revealed that newly hired women at Nomura Holdings, including a Harvard graduate, were separated from their male coworkers and taught how to “wear their hair, serve tea and choose their wardrobes according to the season.”

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