Lifestyle

The Japanese-Style High School(JK) Uniform Has Become a Fashion Symbol Among Chinese Graduated Women

It’s a strange title, but that’s how it is. 

In the past few years, Japanese-style high school uniforms have become popular among some female consumers in China, even if they have graduated from colleges. 

In 2020, this trend broke out. The number of people who pay attention to Japanese-style high school uniforms even exceeds those who focus on Hanfu and Lolita style skirts. 

Why on earth is this? Let’s explain this phenomenon in this article.

What is a JK uniform? How popular is it in China?

JK is the abbreviation of the Roman sound of “female high school student”(女子高生, Joshi Kōsei) in Japanese, and it is also used to refer to Japanese female high school students directly in Japanese and Chinese.

It is worth noting that when the Chinese use the word JK, it is only used to refer to Japanese female high school students and their school uniforms. The Chinese will not use JK to refer to their own female high school students.

Generally speaking, JK uniforms can be divided into sailor suits and Western-style uniforms.

Among them, sailor suits are related to different collar types, such as Kanto collar, Kansai collar and so on. A Western-style uniform is more complex, including shirts, suits, pleated skirts, sweaters and coats in autumn and winter, as well as small accessories such as ties, ribons, shoes and socks.

“Gentle Knife”(温柔一刀), A JK skirt that sells 300,000 pieces in half an hour


On April 15, 2020, a limited edition skirt from a well-known Chinese brand JK sold 300,000 dresses in less than half an hour, making JK uniforms became Weibo Trending.

In the past few years, there have been three niche fashion trends in China: Hanfu, Lolita skirts and JK uniforms. The first two are ancient Chinese clothing and ancient European clothing. There is no denying that both types of clothes are visually superior to JK uniforms, but they also mean that they are more difficult to wear as everyday clothes.

When wearing Hanfu suit and Lolita skirt, you may even need to match complicated wigs and makeup. But it doesn’t take so much trouble to wear JK uniforms.

In addition, the price of JK uniforms is much lower than Hanfu and Lolita skirts. The price of a Chinese-made JK uniform is about 100 to 300 yuan(about $15-30 ) , while some suits made of Japanese fabric cost about 500 yuan(about $76). And a set of Hanfu costs at least 1000 yuan(about $152). 

It is cheap, beautiful and can be used as everyday clothing, which constitutes the prerequisites for the sudden outbreak of JK uniforms this year.

According to statistics from the Chinese media JK Daily, more than 1,000 new JK uniform stores were opened on Taobao in 2020, although this figure has not been officially verified. 

On May 8, 2020, a Chinese JK uniform brand posted a post on Weibo soliciting comments on its replica products, and the Weibo received 52000 comments. 

In October 2020, a Chinese brand of JK uniforms sold its own limited edition products in an offline store, which triggered the queuing phenomenon.

The one in the red circle is the uniform store. You will notice that many people in line are wearing JK uniforms.

On any social network in China, you can often see beautiful pictures of young Chinese women in JK uniforms. In the past year, the number of these photos seems to far exceed the other two styles of clothing that are popular among Chinese women: hanfu and Lolita skirts. 

In contrast to JK, DK is a Japanese acronym for “male high school student”. Sales of DK in China have also increased due to the popularity of JK uniforms. After all, if your girlfriend wears a JK uniform, you may need a DK uniform when you take a picture with her. 

It is worth noting that most of these young Chinese female consumers who buy JK uniforms are not high school students. Because high schools in China, like Japan, require students to wear their own school uniforms, in fact, Chinese high school students are not allowed to wear Japanese uniforms.

JK saves a garment factory in Wuhan

I assume you don’t use Chinese social networks, so you may still fail to understand how popular JK uniforms are in China.

According to the report, Xiang Jingyan, 45, founded her own clothing factory in Wuhan three years ago. In 2019, the annual operating income of the factory reached 30 million yuan. But as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic in early 2020, its capital flow was cut off and they were on the verge of bankruptcy. 

There were no COVID-19 cases in Wuhan in May, but business still did not fully recover. At this time, someone asked Xiang on the Internet: “Can you produce JK?”

 She didn’t even know what JK meant at the time, so she searched “JK” on Weibo and China’s wholesale e-commerce platform 1688. She was surprised to find that the number of buyers of Japanese-style female high school uniforms in China is growing rapidly.

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Her daughter, who obviously knows pop culture very well, told her mother: this kind of uniform is very popular among young girls in China. We should produce JK uniforms. 

Xiang’s clothing factory has previously produced Chinese high school uniforms, and she has conducted some research with several employees and found that they can meet this new demand by making minor changes to products they have previously produced. 

The first order came from Sichuan and bought 1,000 sets of JK uniforms from them at a time. Subsequently, the order volume became larger and larger. By September 2020, they will produce 1,000 uniforms a day to meet market demand.

There is not only one competitor to Jingyan in the market. According to the above-mentioned wholesale platform 1688, the number of enquiries for JK uniforms has increased by 300% month by month since August this year; in this year’s Singles’11 online shopping festival, the combined turnover of JK, Hanfu and Lolita skirts has increased by 1.26 times as much as women’s shirts.

The popularity of JK uniforms as a Fashion Icon

The popularity of JK uniforms is directly related to the influence of Japanese culture. 

It is divided into two parts, one is Japanese ACG culture, the other is Japanese idol culture. 

There is nothing to say about ACG culture. As we have said in previous articles, China is the largest consumer of Nijigen cultural goods after Japan. Since most Japanese anime protagonists are high school students, Chinese young people actually have no strangeness to the clothes of Japanese high school students. 

The other is Japanese idol culture. 

In the past few years, Chinese video website giants Tencent Video, iQiyi and Youku have launched many Reality Show programs respectively. These Reality Show programs are not like America’s Got Talent, but like online versions of the AKB48 in Japan. 

The official costume of all the members of iqiyi’s Youth With You 2 is a JK-like gray uniform to create an atmosphere of “classmates” among competitors.

In these programs that mimic Japanese idol theaters, young female idols in many scenes sing and dance in Japanese uniforms. Chinese who do not watch Japanese animations or comics have also begun to pay attention to the existence of such uniforms, which has significantly increased the audience of such uniforms in China.

As mentioned above, there are three very major interest groups among young female consumers in China. It is made up of Hanfu, Lolita skirt and JK uniform enthusiasts respectively. 

Among them, the popularity of JK uniforms started the latest, but now it is the most prosperous. “In 2014, no more than 10 stores on Taobao sold JK uniforms,” the founder of a well-known Chinese JK uniform brand said in an interview

But now that number has expanded 100-fold. 

With the expansion of the scale of enthusiasts, the whole community has become more lively, followed by the issue of self-identity and community boundaries. 

According to Japanese regulations, uniform designs still used by Japanese schools cannot be sold to non-student consumers. But some Chinese merchants will buy obsolete designs from companies in related industries in Japan.

The JK uniform made with this design is the pinnacle of the food chain, and people wearing such uniforms can despise all other players. Then came the uniforms designed by the Chinese merchants themselves. And then there are those who fake Japanese-designed uniforms. Finally, there are those who copy Chinese-designed uniforms, and wearing such JK uniforms will be despised by enthusiasts. 

Although if you just want to be beautiful and wear JK uniforms as everyday clothes, all uniforms are fine. But if you post an official photo of a fake designer JK uniform on a social network, you may be criticized by enthusiasts. 

The JK uniform interest community in China uses this way to distinguish between real enthusiasts or just bandwagoner. 

Controversy as a cultural symbol

But sometimes this self-identity is not a good thing. 

A female cosplayer in a JK uniform is shouted at by onlookers at a comic-con in Shanghai on July 25, 2020 for posing inappropriately. The whole process was recorded on video and caused a stir on Chinese social media. It turned out to be a misunderstanding, as the Cosplayer was just unaware of the view from the back when he was lying prone on the ground.

The controversial pose looks fine from the front. But a video shot from the back was widely circulated online, misleading netizens that she was deliberately showing some parts that should not be shown.

If you know anything about Japanese culture, you will know a word called JK business. It refers to the phenomenon in Japan of some female high school students offering their services to adult men for a fee. Some of these services involve just chatting or walking, but some involve sexual relationships.

Female high school students are also featured in many of the pornography sold in Japan.

In the long run, JK uniforms has gradually become a kind of clothing with sexual implication. Especially if the person wearing the uniform is not herself a Japanese high school girl, the implication seems to be more obvious.

Although the popularity of JK uniforms in China is indeed influenced by Japanese ACG culture and idol culture to some extent. But the Chinese girls, who are keen to buy JK uniforms, do not approve of the business, and they are not trying to make sexual insinuations to others by wearing JK uniforms.

Instead, they are actually troubled by the stereotype. Some people have taken to the Internet to complain that they are more likely to be approached by male strangers after wearing the JK uniform.

In a report, a Chinese JK enthusiast said her college head teacher contacted her parents to warn her that “dressing like this is not dignified enough”.

In another report, a Chinese working in Japan said she had rarely worn JK uniforms since coming to Japan. Because in Japan, only real female high school students will wear school uniforms, there are no Japanese who have the same hobbies.

Although sexual harassment and slut shaming of women have long been a social phenomenon that needs to be erased. But in the short term, China’s JK uniform enthusiasts group is looking for ways to solve the problem through its own changes.

The aforementioned JK uniform has been revived with an innovative JK uniform that includes safety leggings. This can effectively prevent wardrobe malfunction.

The idea came from Xiang herself, as her daughter also likes to wear JK uniforms, which any mother would care about.

References(in Chinese):
[1] 下单后等半年,这条万人疯抢的“女团裙”到底火在哪?_制服
[2] 靠软色情博出位?20分钟赚3000万,揭秘JK制服的隐秘与疯狂
[3] 新深度 | JK制服:从二次元走向市级产业
[4] 从校服到时装,JK制服的中国进化史
[5] 防走光JK裙卖爆,这群武汉妈妈救活了自己的工厂

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