Welcome to the delightful world of Kawaii style, an enchanting Japanese fashion trend that has captivated style enthusiasts across the globe.
If you’re drawn to cute, playful, and unique fashion, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, I’ll introduce you to the essence of Kawaii via 12 style variations, including Decora, Lolita, Shibu, Ero, Yume, Kimo, Busu, Guro, and more.
By knowing these captivating substyles, you’ll become a connoisseur of this adorable trend and able to express individuality through Kawaii fashion.
Time to explore the irresistible charm of Kawaii fashion and transform your wardrobe with these must-know style variations.
What is Kawaii Style?
Translating as “cute” or “adorable” in Japanese, Kawaii is a Japanese fashion movement that originated in Japan during the 1980s.
As such, the Kawaii style depicts innocence and youthfulness, cuteness, and playfulness.
Over the years, classic Kawaii evolved into several substyles, such as Decora, with layered clothes and kaleidoscopic accessories, and Lolita, with a Victorian-inspired, doll-like look.
However, each substyle retains the cuteness and innocence of core Kawaii while expressing unique flavors and interpretations.
Kawaii Aesthetic and Visual Elements
Baby pink, lavender, mint green, deep purple, neon yellow, and electric blue are some of the most popular colors in the Kawaii aesthetic.
Hearts, stars, and rainbows motifs are also used to depict cuteness, innocence, and youthfulness.
There are also polka dots, stripes, and cute cartoon character prints matched with hair bows, ribbons, patterned socks, and cute bags.
Time to explore Kawaii’s main substyles, unique aesthetics, visual components, and meanings.
12 Types of Kawaii Styles
Over the years, the Kawaii style has developed into a diverse and multifaceted fashion trend of various substyles, each with its own aesthetics and visual elements.
In this comprehensive article, I’ll introduce you to the 12 most popular types of Kawaii styles you need to know to create your cute Japanese look.
1. Decora Kawaii (Decorated)
Decora Kawaii is a substyle of Kawaii fashion that emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Harajuku, a district in Tokyo, Japan.
Clothes in hot pink, neon green, and electric blue and accessories like hearts, stars, or famous Japanese anime characters define Decora Kawaii.
Over the years, Decora has been influenced by other subcultures and fashion movements, such as Punk, Goth, and streetwear.
Modern decora-style outfits include layered and oversized T-shirts, hoodies, patterned leggings, and tutu skirts in multiple textures and materials like denim, tulle, and lace.
Kawaii-themed accessories like hair clips, bracelets, necklaces, socks, leg warmers, and face masks play a central role in the Decora substyle.
Footwear ranges from chunky platform shoes to colorful sneakers.
2. Lolita Kawaii (Victorian)
First seen in late 1990s fashion, Lolita Kawaii is a unique blend of Victorian and Rococo fashion with Japanese kawaii culture.
The look consists mainly of knee-length dresses with full skirts supported by petticoats to create a voluminous silhouette.
Focusing on craftsmanship, the Lolita style showcases elegant garments with floral patterns, delicate stripes, intricate lace, ribbons, and ruffles in classic European motifs like toile or damask.
The most popular Kawaii Lolita colors are pastel pink, lavender, and baby blue, but also ivory, burgundy, and navy.
Blouses with lace-trimmed collars and sleeves, knee-high socks or tights, and Mary Jane shoes or Victorian-style boots are stapling elements of the style.
Bonnets, head bows, lace gloves, and ornate jewelry are also included for an extra Victorian effect.
Over time, the Lolita style has branched into various subgenres, including Sweet Lolita, Gothic Lolita, and Classic Lolita.
Yet, each subgenre retains Kawaii Lolita’s distinctive colors, thematic elements, and essential accessories.
3. Shibu Kawaii (Casual)
Combining the charm of Kawaii with toned-down, casual, everyday wear, the Shibu Kawaii is a subtle version of Kawaii fashion.
Shibu Kawaii emerged in the 2010s as a response to the growing popularity of minimalist fashion and the desire for a more understated approach to Kawaii style.
Nowadays, Shibu Kawaii integrates elements from the Mori Girl style, which emphasizes a natural, forest-inspired aesthetic, and Larme Kei, which focuses on a girly, romantic look.
As such, Shibu Kawaii combines soft and muted colors such as beige and light gray with pale pink and off-white to create a subdued and harmonious look.
Shibu Kawaii patterns are minimal – subtle polka dots, gentle stripes, and small motifs of animals or nature combined with delicate lace trims and small bows for a touch of cuteness.
4. Ero Kawaii (Erotic)
The Ero Kawaii emerged in the early 2000s fashion in Japan as a response to the growing interest in combining cuteness with elements of mature, feminine style.
The term “ero” is derived from “erotic,” but in the context of Ero Kawaii, it denotes a subtle touch of elegance, sensuality, and flirtatious appeal rather than overt sexuality.
In a unique fusion of Kawaii style with a touch of sensuality and allure, Ero Kawaii uses baby pink, lilac, powder blue, burgundy, black, and deep purple hues.
The Ero Kawaii patterns blend cute bows, and animal-ear motifs, with off-shoulder tops, short skirts, fitted dresses, corsets, intricate lacing, and garter belts.
It also uses clothes with suggestive prints highlighting the wearer’s femininity and creating a sense of allure.
Accessories essential to the Ero Kawaii style include chokers, sheer thigh-high socks, satin stockings, and lace-trimmed gloves.
As Ero Kawaii fashion evolved, it blended with other substyles like Gothic Lolita, which draws from Goth fashion style and emphasizes darker, more dramatic aesthetics, and Agejo, a glamorous, Gyaru-inspired style.
5. Yume Kawaii (Dreamy)
As the name suggests – in Japanese, ‘yume’ means dream – the Yume Kawaii style has a dreamy, ethereal aesthetic.
The look showcases floaty dresses, tulle skirts, and oversized sweaters adorned with cute, otherworldly prints in pastel colors such as lavender, baby blue, and pale pink and iridescent, holographic magical motifs for a touch of nostalgia and a whimsical, fairytale-like feel.
Similar to the dreamcore aesthetic, Celestial themes like stars, moons, and clouds and magical motifs like unicorns, mermaids, and butterflies are also part of the style’s aesthetic.
Materials like chiffon, lace, and velvet contribute to the ethereal feel, while ruffles and frills add a touch of romantic charm.
Yume Kawaii includes elements from Fairy Kei, which emphasizes a vintage, 80s-inspired aesthetic, and Mahou Shoujo (Magical Girl), which takes inspiration from magical girl anime and manga.
4. Kimo Kawaii (Creepy and Gross)
Kimo Kawaii, also known as “creepy cute” in Japanese, has a unique look by combining Kawaii aesthetics with stylistic elements of horror and macabre.
The mix of soft pastels like lavender, baby pink, and mint green, juxtaposed with darker hues such as black, deep purple, and blood red, give it a cute but darker, unsettling vibe.
In a spooky twist, the Kimo Kawaii style blends ghosts, skulls, bones, and other sinister patterns with traditional Kawaii patterns like bows, hearts, and cute anime characters.
The primary materials are lace, tulle, and velvet, combined with creepy-cute hats with bats and spiders and horror character bags, conferring the overall aesthetic with depth and contrast.
Over time, Kimo Kawaii has evolved to incorporate influences from other substyles like Gothic Lolita, which emphasizes a darker, more dramatic aesthetic, and Yami Kawaii, which explores mental health and vulnerability themes.
5. Busu Kawaii (Ugly)
By embracing imperfections and challenging conventional beauty standards, Busu Kawaii – “busu” means “ugly” in Japanese – is a quirky but playful approach to Kawaii style.
Busu Kawaii emerged in the early 2010s in Japan as a reaction to the polished, perfectionist nature of mainstream Kawaii style and a desire to explore the idea of cuteness in novel, unorthodox ways.
The style blends mustard yellow, olive green, and burnt orange with traditional Kawaii pastels like bubblegum pink, soft lavender, and sky blue in faux fur, chunky knits, and rough denim.
Busu Kawaii style uses asymmetrical designs and irregular geometric shapes with quirky patterns like misshapen fruits, mismatched socks and buttons, oversized sweaters, and dresses with uneven hemlines.
Creepy accessories like googly eyes and broken hearts are applied to bags, shoes, and headbands to create a refreshing perspective on Kawaii’s concept of cuteness.
6. Guro Kawaii (Gore and Horror)
Guro Kawaii, with “guro” derived from the Japanese pronunciation of “grotesque,” is a daring and provocative Kawaii style that blends cuteness with horror and gore aesthetics.
Guro Kawaii emerged in the late 2000s following the young generation’s growing fascination with macabre and grotesque aesthetics.
Pushing the boundaries of Kawaii style, Guro combines baby pink, powder blue, and lilac with crimson, deep purple, and black in a twisted, eerie edge.
Guro Kawaii outfits comprise bloodstained dresses, bandage-inspired leggings, oversized sweaters with macabre illustrations, blood-splattered accessories, bandages, and medical instruments.
Equally, bags, shoes, headbands, hair clips, and jewelry feature macabre embellishments like syringes, bones, or faux blood drops.
Over time, in an audacious fusion of cuteness and horror, Guro Kawaii has incorporated dramatic features from Gothic Lolita and creepy details from Kimo Kawaii.
7. Yami Kawaii (Dark and Alternative)
Yami Kawaii emerged in the mid-2010s to express inner struggles and raise awareness about mental health issues through fashion.
Meaning “dark” in Japanese, the Yami Kawaii style is a thought-provoking approach to the classic Kawaii style by emphasizing themes of mental health, vulnerability, and emotional darkness.
Alongside the familiar Kawaii theme of cuteness, the Yami Kawaii style uses black, deep purple, and gray colors on teardrops, broken hearts, pill capsules, and other melancholic motifs.
Yami Kawaii outfits – such as tops with tearful illustrations, dresses with broken heart prints, or skirts adorned with pill-themed patterns – convey a sense of emotional darkness and a sorrowful, distressed feel.
As Yami Kawaii intersects with other Kawaii styles, such as Kimo Kawaii and Guro Kawaii, it includes creepy, horror, and gore aesthetics.
8. Doku Kawaii (Toxic)
By introducing hazardous and toxic aesthetics to express a darker and more daring side of Kawaii, Doku Kawaii delivers an edgy and rebellious approach to the classic Kawaii style.
As “doku” translates as “poison,” the Doku Kawaii features neon green, bubblegum pink, and electric blue colors contrasted with darker oranges and deep purple.
Dokukawaii patterns revolve around dripping poisons, biohazard symbols, skulls and crossbones, caution signs, and gas masks, alongside cute Kawaii characters depicted with a mischievous or sinister twist.
The Doku Kawaii overlaps with Kimo Kawaii by using creepy elements, and even Yami Kawaii, regarding mental health and vulnerability.
9. Kakko Kawaii (Boyish)
“Kakko” means “boyish” in Japanese, and the Kakko Kawaii style emerged in the early 2010s as a way of challenging traditional gender norms and expressing a more fluid, unisex take on the original Kawaii style.
Kakko Kawaii mixes neutral colors like beige, gray, and navy with baby pink, powder blue, and mint green over stripes, plaids, and polka dot patterns.
Kakko Kawaii conveys a sense of androgyny and gender fluidity via oversized shirts, tailored blazers, and masculine-cut denim or tweed trousers adorned with subtle Kawaii patterns.
Textures like knitwear and gender-neutral accessories like hats, scarves, and jewelry with minimalist geometric designs are also incorporated, adding depth and variety to the overall aesthetic.
Kakko Kawaii intersects with Harajuku’s emphasis on streetwear-inspired elements and Neo Kawaii’s futuristic influences.
10. Fuwa Kawaii (Fluffy)
Fuwa Kawaii, inspired by the Japanese word “fuwa” (fluffy), focuses on soft textures and plush fabrics, offering a cozy, comforting Kawaii aesthetic.
Emerging in the late 2000s, Fuwa Kawaii blends gentle pastel shades like baby pink and powder blue with warmer hues like cream and beige.
Key patterns include soothing motifs like clouds, stars, and teddy bears.
Fuwa Kawaii style prioritizes warmth and comfort, featuring oversized sweaters, fluffy cardigans, and plush dresses with cute patterns.
Textures like faux fur, shearling, and soft knits add tactile appeal to the overall look.
Accessories, such as scarves, earmuffs, and pom-pom jewelry, reinforce further the style’s plush aesthetic.
Over time, Fuwa Kawaii has overlapped with other Kawaii styles like Yume and Harajuku, offering a unique, heartwarming interpretation of Kawaii fashion that emphasizes coziness and comfort.
11. Harajuku Kawaii (Street)
Harajuku Kawaii, originating from Tokyo’s fashion-forward Harajuku district in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is a bold, streetwear-inspired Kawaii aesthetic.
The Harajuku Kawaii style combines hot pink and electric blue with classic softer pastels and patterns such as polka dots and plaids with pop-culture references and urban graphics.
Key Harajuku Kawaii outfit elements include tees with inventive graphics, layered skirts, and oversized denim jackets with distinctive prints.
Accessories like bags, platform shoes, bold jewelry, and even colorful wigs are vital to this style.
As it evolved, Harajuku Kawaii has influenced and intersected with other Kawaii substyles like Decora, Lolita, and Fuwa Kawaii, continuing to represent creativity and self-expression in Kawaii fashion.
12. Neo Kawaii (New and Modern)
Neo Kawaii is a modern, futuristic take on Kawaii fashion that emerged in the late 2010s in Japan.
Neo Kawaii combines deep purple and electric blue with metallic finishes in silver and gold, reflective surfaces, holographic prints, geometric shapes, and digital-inspired graphics to confer an innovative overall feel.
By focusing on asymmetrical designs and tech-inspired fabrics, the Neo Kawaii outfits showcase modernity, sleek silhouettes, and a cutting-edge style.
Accessories in Neo Kawaii fashion include futuristic sunglasses, LED-illuminated jewelry, and avant-garde headpieces.
The substyle intersects with others like Harajuku and Yami Kawaii, encouraging experimentation with new materials, designs, and technologies to redefine the Kawaii style for the modern age.
With various substyles such as Decora, Lolita, Shibu, Ero, Yume, Kimo, Busu, Guro, Yami, Dokukawaii, Kakko, Fuwakawaii, Harajuku, and Neo Kawaii, Kawaii fashion is a diverse and dynamic world of self-expression.
Each substyle offers a unique interpretation of the concept of cuteness, allowing fashion enthusiasts to find their perfect match and explore their creativity.
Now that you’re familiar with these 12 Kawaii styles, it’s time to dive into the enchanting world of Kawaii fashion and showcase your style.
Experiment with different colors, patterns, textures, and accessories to create a look that truly reflects your personality and embodies the spirit of Kawaii.
Remember, Kawaii fashion is all about having fun and embracing your inner cuteness, so don’t be afraid to push the boundaries and make a statement.
Happy Kawaii styling!
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Now it’s your turn…
Which one of these Kawaii styles is your favorite, and why?
Which types of Kawaii style do you think we’ve missed and should include in our next article update?
Please leave your comments below; we always appreciate your comments and use them to learn, improve, and update these articles.
A University of Oxford graduate in Design History, Katherine Saxon is researching arising TikTok cultures from a consumer psychology perspective while covering emerging aesthetics in fashion and beauty for TheVOU, Forbes, Business Insider, and more.