A Guide to Classic Menswear Shopping in Japan

Because of my passion for clothing, every one of my vacations tends to turn into a menswear trip at some point or another. This is most likely due to the fact that there are only a few classic menswear spots in Los Angeles, leading me to feel a bit starved with a healthy dose of FOMO from many of my friends and colleagues.  It’s always a fun game, tip toeing between family time, seeing cultural sites, and getting to go to some of the amazing stores you’ve only seen pictures of. After practicing during previous trips to London and Paris (and smaller stuff like NYC or SF), I was prepared to tackle my 10 day trip to Japan. And boy, it became one of the best experiences of my life.

Paraboots at Komehyo

I’ve always wanted to go to Japan.  When I got started in vintage menswear all those years ago, I always heard that Japanese collectors always picked the best of the best and that their reproductions were consistently better than anything here. Then of course classic menswear soon followed (along with my love for ivy style), and I finally saw that Japanese menswear as a whole is an awesome combination of elements from all over the world (from Americana/ivy to Neapolitan tailoring) in a way that trades a historied past for great attention and a unique perspective. W. David Marx’s Ametoria is a good read for that phenomenon.

I spent 2 days in Kyoto and about 6 days in Tokyo and I was in awe the whole time. The first thing I noticed was the level of formality, as almost every adult man was in business attire.  It could just be my bias, but I noticed a lot more interesting details like soft shoulders, 3-roll-2, button-down collars (with generous roll), and repp ties. The colors were “boring” (mainly navy, grey, or pinstripe) but I found it quite charming.   It was such a contrast to what I’ve seen in LA, where almost everything is still very padded with two buttons, point collars, and skinny ties. It appears that inherent good taste results in a classic/timeless look.

This style preference was present in some of the common menswear stores I looked into like The Suit Company (which I surmised to be their version of Menswear House).  There were racks and racks of suits, all done to that 3-roll-2, soft shoulder, ivy-Italian look! Obviously somewhere made of stretch or poly-blends to be affordable, but there were quite a few made of decent wools; I was also surprised to see the amount of glen checks and windowpanes available in both suits and sportcoats. You’d be hard-pressed to find those at your local J. Crew or Banana Republic.

Vintage store in Koenji

These ideas were iterated with more character in a few more specialized menswear shops.  Beams Plus in Harajuku was definitely one of my favorites, being the more ivy-leaning/vintage-inspired arm of Beams. I think that the portrait I took of the staff shows off the stores offering well: prep, ivy, and militaria all in one place!  Of course, then you had the more traditional trad pieces from Kent Shop (which looks frozen in time), the Italian/contemporary leaning Ring Jacket, and unique vintage-meets-contemporary charm of Bryceland’s Co. However, I thought that some smaller stores like B.R Shop and Kamakura were interesting: they still had that soft construction, but their jackets were all two-button, most likely done to stand out among the more common 3-roll-2.

Overall, the street style was really fantastic, and not just from the people shopping at the aforementioned stores. Minimalism, ivy/prep, americana, and varying degrees of streetwear were seen everywhere I went! I loved that most guys were in chore coats/overshirts (both vintage and modern), as they really are a stylish utilitarian garment.  Something I also noticed was that everyone had a tote bag, which has personally replaced my camera/laptop messenger bag as my carrier of choice. On a separate note, even the attendees at Disneyland were dressed well; none of that athletic clothing to be found there!

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the second-hand.  First off, there weren’t any thrift stores, just curated second-hand stores like Second St. or Komehyo. The selection there was incredible, with shoes by Alden and Crockett & Jones to great jackets from United Arrows and Lardini to name a few.  It’s such a contrast to consignment stores like Wasteland or Crossroads where menswear is H&M or J. Crew (if you’re lucky). Even the outlet stores outshine anything in the USA. One of my tours ended at the Gotemba Premium outlets which had a United Arrows store;  I found Sovereign label tailoring, one of which was an epic solaro DB with double pleated, side adjuster trousers.

Solaro suit – United Arrows outlet

Vintage was also next level. Unfortunately, I was only able to stop by Koenji, but that was plenty for me!  It really is true; Japanese pickers get the best stuff from the states and bring it there, putting almost every LA vintage store to shame. Gurkha style shorts were incredibly common, found amongst vintage 50s khakis and 60’s olive chinos, not to mention all the sport shirts, alohas, and OCBDs.  Rugged casual wear is probably the name of the game as I didn’t find much in the tailoring world. This probably makes sense, as their everyday suits and jackets approximate good vintage in most cases.

In the end, I didn’t buy much vintage, simply because my tastes have changed.  I used this amazing opportunity to try some brands that I haven’t tried before, namely Ring Jacket and United Arrows Sovereign (through the outlet). I even got a chance to try on the new sport ivy OCBDs from Kamakura, as they’re a great workhorse oxford at a great price (when bought in Japan).   I’m sure that I would’ve bought everything if I had unlimited money. That just means I need to find time to go back!

It really was a fantastic trip filled with great menswear.  I even had the chance to meet some of my idols, like Ethan Newton and Yuhei Yamamoto-san, which really made the trip one of the best experiences of my life.  If you want to read more about it in more detail and a bit more of a personal touch, feel free to check out the series on Japan on my blog!

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Ethan Wong
Ethan Wong lives right in the middle: he’s too modern for the vintage scene and yet too vintage for classic menswear. When not at work, he spends his time writing and taking pictures for his blog, Street x Sprezza, which is all about bringing vintage style into the modern day. With a large collection of thrifted vintage and contemporary clothing, he often wonders when his closet will finally implode.
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Ethan Wong

About Ethan Wong

Ethan Wong lives right in the middle: he’s too modern for the vintage scene and yet too vintage for classic menswear. When not at work, he spends his time writing and taking pictures for his blog, Street x Sprezza, which is all about bringing vintage style into the modern day. With a large collection of thrifted vintage and contemporary clothing, he often wonders when his closet will finally implode.

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