In Japanese manga and anime, dramas and films, schoolgirls in sailor-style uniforms are an ubiquitous cliche.
According to Japan’s largest uniform manufacturer, Tombow Co., about 50 percent of junior high schools choose sailor-style uniforms, but only 20 percent of high schools do so. Those familiar navy blue, skirted sailor suits are no longer the majority.
The decline of the sailor suit began in the early 1980s when troubled teens caused havoc at schools, giving rise to the “sukeban (female gang)” style. Sukeban aficionados shortened the tops of the uniforms, and wore their skirts extra-long creating a tough look. Weary of these modifications, many schools switched to blazers, which were simpler in construction, and harder to dress down.
So, how did the sailor suit—a uniform originally worn by seamen from Western nations—become a standard schoolgirls’ uniform in Japan?
“In Europe, (scaled down sailor suits) were worn by children of royal families," said a Tombow official. "In Japan, they were probably seen as adorable Western-style children’s outfits, rather than navy gear.”