Japanese fashion has always been extremely trendy overseas. You just have to look at US pop starlets like Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry to see the influence of Japanese fashion on the rest of the world.

But few people know that this has been going on for a long time, and isn’t limited to the super-traditional and Harajuku fashions.

In fact, Japan is the birthplace of what many consider to be the modern fasion bible: Take Ivy.

The Gospel of Ishizu

In 1965 Kensuke Ishizu, founder of the Japanese fashion company VAN JACKET wanted to learn more about American fashions. What better way than to go to the source?

Like an anthropologist documenting a new tribe, Ishizu sent a Japanese photographer and a band of writers to descend upon Ivy League campuses in the US, snapping pictures of trust fund babies and future members of the Illuminati (Skull and Crossbones! OoOoOoOo!).

When they returned to Japan, they compiled the photographs into a book. They decided to name it Take Ivy after the iconic jazz hit of the era, the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s song Take Five.

VAN JACKET and its preppy fashions became incredibly popular in Japan, due in part to Take Ivy. Fashion writer and Japan blogger Marxy claims that “Ishizu essentially acted as the godfather of men’s fashion” during the 1960s.

Reportedly, young Japanese people would go so far as to add VAN stickers onto the sides of shopping bags to make it seem like they shopped there. In a way, Japan became an incubator for American fashion. As the preppy style fell out of fashion in the US, it thrived in Japan.

Take Ivy’s Incredible Influence

Even after VAN JACKET went bankrupt and the preppy trend passed into the fashion nightmare of the 1970s, Take Ivy’s influence kept on going. Over the years, Take Ivy became a bible for fashionistas interested in the preppy looks of Ivy League schools.

The New York Times described Take Ivy as “the nearly unattainable center of a passionate cult,” and it’s not far off. Copies of Take Ivy became increasingly rare. Desperate, and living in an era before the internet, people often relied on photocopied pages from the book if they couldn’t get their own.

Those who wanted the raw, uncut stuff had to empty their wallets for it. At the peak of Take Ivy’s popularity, decades after publication, original copies went for as much as $2,000 on auction.

People who were able to get their hands on a copy cherished it. The current creative director of J. Crew says that he was inspired by Take Ivy and “was always obsessed with that book.”

Fortunately, Take Ivy was republished a few years ago; so instead of shelling out thousands of dollars, you only have to drop about fifteen bucks to get your hands on the Japanese fashion bible.

After being revered in Japan for decades, this kind of preppy fashion has seen a resurgence in popularity, as the clothing of J. Crew and Ralph Lauren prove. Some stores even started selling Take Ivy when it was reprinted a few years back.

It’s really interesting how Japan seems to be able to import something and almost make it better than the original. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal published an article called “Made Better In Japan” that made the argument that the Japanese do just that, whether it’s with American clothing, Italian coffee, or Spanish tapas.

What do you think? Do the Japanese really do it better?

Read more: Prep, Forward and Back, The Man Who Brought Ivy To Japan

  • vivianlostinseoul

    I don’t know. I’m torn about Japanese fashion. It has two sides: one side which is very unique- anything goes, it’s eclectic, and people dress how they like regardless of trends even though it’s very calculated. The other side, is well, that fashion look they sell, which all 90% of the girls wear, and which makes me nauseated with the overload of frills and polka dots and oversized tops and generic heels. Japan, you can do better.

  • vivianlostinseoul

    By the way, great post about the Take Ivy book, which I wasn’t aware of and which is not related to my rant about generic Japan fashion :) Great research, kudos.

  • 佐藤 一 (Peter)

    Great article Hashi!
    I’ve been following Japanese fashion/style for quite a long while now, researching the various brands and companies that encompass the Japanese clothing market. (Brands such as VISVIM, Undercoverism, UNITED ARROWS, etc..)

    And I’ve got to say that of course there is a large spectrum of how style is taken in Japan. Whether it be the American Ivy-League Style, to American Punk Style, to the eccentric looks that come from Harajuku, Shinjuku, etc…

    I think when it comes to Japanese clothing, the designers take their inspiration and stick to what they believe their aesthetic to be. And of course, others pick up on this. It’s through the many buyers and style-enthusiasts that these designers wish to bring out quality clothing.

  • averygoodgame10

    Genius idea to put the YouTube link to Take Five near the beginning. Amazing background music for reading your great articles :D
    Edit: Oh, and I beg to differ about the Japanese importing things and making them better.

  • testyal1

    The only things I know about Japanese fashion are kimono and yukata.

  • FoxiBiri

    pizza is not better in japan and neither is cheese tt_tt

  • ZXNova

    That’s not really fashion. That’s traditional clothing, and people seldom wear those in Japan except for special occasions.

  • Hashi

    Glad you liked it! It’s a great song, I love the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

  • Kathryn OHalloran

    100% agreed. I get so annoyed when people rave about “Japanese” fashion or “Tokyo” fashion when they mean Harajuku kids who pretty much are semi-professional at dressing up!!! All that beige and pastel pink… blerk!

  • Kathryn OHalloran

    That book sounds interesting but I think the Wall Street Journal article is so misleading. One very upmarket coffee shop in sea of Starbucks and Starbucks rip offs! Maybe if you are some Richie Rich, you go to these places but for what most people can afford, I’d say Japanese coffee and Western food isn’t that great.

    The bars are awesome though :)

  • Shollum

    Ugh… You mean people actually want to look preppy? They attempt to look like snotty brats from wealthy families that are always out to make everyone else want to die?
    I’ll stick to functional and comfortable clothing.

    Anyway, the Illuminati and the Skull and Crossbones are separate entities. One creates powerful people and the other only allows powerful people. Both are out to rule the world though, so don’t turn your back on them.

  • Emi

    I will only appreciate Japanese fashion
    when the Japanese are wearing it. I don’t care for “celebrity trends”
    and those trying to dress a culture purely to look “cool”.

  • lolcari

    The Japanese students that come to my city for schooling are always so stylish. They look absolutely wonderful, the boys I find put more effort in then the girls. The girls favor a lazier Lolita look. But I have noticed the preppy look is back and very hot.

  • kitsuki

    lol it’s especially funny because almost all the people who hangout in harajuku on sundays are not even from tokyo.

  • pinkcatmints

    Go to the source, take pictures, make fashion bible — interesting idea. Those styles are certainly alive today. I like how the Japanese designers often use these styles, but replace the more uniform and duller prints with plaids, polka dots, rarely-used-in-American-clothing colors, etc. I find the more general male fashion to be classy (taking style from this book it sounds like), but bright, cheerful, and different with the various materials and small stylistic changes. Great post!