Gender-neutral sailor school uniform 

Japanese schools have started to relook at having students wear gender-coded uniforms in recent years. Yet while many schools now allow girls to wear slacks, most have yet to allow boys to wear skirts. 

Enter Kei Hirabayashi, a fashion designer who aims to redefine borders in fashion. He’s sparked conversations by designing a gender-neutral version of the sailor school uniform.

Inclusive revamp of Japan’s iconic uniform

Inspired by the lack of diversity in boys’ school uniforms, Kei Hirabayashi created a gender-neutral version of the iconic sailor school uniform that “even boys could wear easily”.

Sailor School Uniform - gender-neutral skirt
Image credit: @KeiHirabayashi

In his Tweet, he shared that he felt uneasy about the fact that the move towards gender-neutral uniforms hasn’t seen much variation in choices for male students. He also attached an image of a male model dressed in a dark-blue-and-white full-length skirt. 

Sailor School Uniform - so cool!
Image adapted from: @tanukipokopok

The tweet was met with overwhelmingly positive responses, with many exclaiming that “it looks so cool”! 

Sailor School Uniform - as if there's magic involved
Image adapted from: @katuyuki481210

Some netizens, such as user @katuyuki481210, even suggested that “somehow, it looks like there’s magic involved” in the creation of this outfit. 

Sailor School Uniform - Touken Ranbu & Quincy vibes
Mikazuki Munechika from Touken Ranbu (left) & Quincy from Bleach (right).
Image adapted from: NITRO PLUS, Pierrot Co.,Ltd.

Interesting comments also drew parallels between the model’s outfit to that of a Japanese swordsman, a knight, and even a Quincy (滅却師; monks of destruction) from the anime Bleach

Sailor School Uniform - the designer
Image credit: @KeiHirabayashi

In his follow-up tweet, Hirabayashi attached a photo where he poses proudly in one of the gender-neutral skirts he designed. He paired the photo with a personal story of once being asked, “Aren’t mini-skirts for men a bit harsh?” 

His response: “Depending on how you match it, men can look cool in [mini-skirts] too. Even Brad Pitt wore a mini-skirt.” Hirabayashi also hopes that “borderless fashion will become the norm in the future”. 

Sailor School Uniform - the inspired fans
Image credit: @Akinor88622598R

And perhaps the future is closer than we think. User @Akinor88622598R also posted a photo of himself wearing a denim ensemble with a skirt, with the caption, “No problem”, in reply to Hirabayashi’s tweet. Kakkoii! 

Future of School Uniforms Project

Hirabayashi’s design is not just an individual effort. The gender-neutral sailor school uniform he designed is part of the Future of School Uniforms Project (ミライの制服プロジェクト; mirai no seifuku purojekuto). This collaboration combines designs from the Japan Persons with Disabilities Fashion Association and inputs from the Hyogo University of Teacher Education. 

Sailor School Uniform - the Future of School Uniforms Project team
Image credit: Hyogo University of Teacher Education

Interestingly, Hyogo Prefecture also happens to be the home to one of the only schools in Japan which allows boys to wear skirts: Sanyo Junior High School in Himeji.

Sailor School Uniform - Hyogo Prefecture uniform reform
Image credit: The Jiji Press, Ltd.

In Hibarayashi’s words, while gender isn’t the only consideration, it’s an important factor in the ideation process. Hirabayashi focused on the skirt’s length and amount of pleating for ease of movement, combining form with function. 

Sailor School Uniform - clean and strong
Image adapted from: @gattenda1976

His efforts definitely translated well, as user @gattenda1976 pointed out that “it gives a clean impression, but also looks strong, somehow”.

Championing for borderless fashion

Sailor School Uniform - bottom'all design 1
Image credit: Japan Disabled Fashion Association (JPFA)

Beyond the Future of School Uniforms Project, Hirabayashi aims to design pieces that can be worn by everyone regardless of disability, age, or gender. In particular, he aims to break down barriers between able-bodied people and people with disabilities through innovative and aesthetic clothing.

Sailor School Uniform - bottom'all team
Image credit: Japan Disabled Fashion Association (JPFA)

He’s the president of the Japan Persons with Disabilities Fashion Association and co-founder of bottom’all, a fashion brand that designs stylish, accessible and inclusive fashion. Their signature design is a medium-length wrap-around skirt that is convenient to wear even for wheelchair users. 

Sailor School Uniform - bottom'all design 2
Image credit: Japan Disabled Fashion Association (JPFA)

In an interview with NHK World-Japan, Hirabayashi recounted his inspiration for bottom’all. He said that a conversation with an elderly wheelchair user who gave up on being fashionable motivated him to spread the message: don’t repress the desire to dress fashionably. 

Hirabayashi’s designs were even showcased at Paris Fashion Week this year. The collection, titled NextUD (the next generation of universal design), had models in wheelchairs showcasing the outfits on the runway.

WFR (Wheelchair Fashion Row Paris Fashion Week Spring-Summer 2023 Project )
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WFR (Wheelchair Fashion Row Paris Fashion Week Spring-Summer 2023 Project )

 Video credit: Japan Persons with disability Fashion association

Inclusive fashion with the ungendered sailor school uniform 

The gender-neutral sailor school uniform is but one piece of clothing amidst the wider trend of redefining fashion in Japan, but it’s making waves of its own. We hope that the popularity of Hirabayashi’s design will spark a change not only in conventional notions of gendered school uniforms but also everyone’s #OOTD too.

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Cover image adapted from: @KeiHirabayashi, @KeiHirabayashi

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