Carly, I need your help! I have a job interview for a teaching position in Japan for next year, and one of the school’s American teachers told me I need to go and buy clothes that are stylish, professional, and designer but I’m such a tight budget I can only spend a few hundred on work clothes and fun clothes. Suddenly everything I own (even my street clothes) seems not trendy or awesome enough for Japan! Where do you suggest shopping in the US?
Well, first of all, it goes without saying DO NOT GO AND BUY ANYTHING UNTIL YOU HAVE THE JOB!!! Please!! Save your money until it is certain.
Secondly, are you going to be there for an entire year without returning to the US at all in the interim? Will you be able to go there, see what the dress code is, and return to the US to shop? Do you have someone stateside to ship you boxes of clothing or shop for you once you’re gone? (Unfortunately now there is no Sea Mail anymore – so sending boxes to Japan is horribly expensive…but perhaps a necessity if you end up going and needing something sent afterwards. Believe me, I’ve done that more times than I care to count!)
If you do get the job, first of all I’d recommend having enough undergarments in your size. Unless you have an Asian body – you’re going to run into fit issues, even if you are slim and petite enough to fit into Japanese sizes. (Bras constructed for the Asian market are made to fit bodies that are flatter, with the breasts spaced further apart on the ribcage and a higher armscye – a fact that PeachJohn [the equivalent of Victoria's Secret in Japan] boasts on their catalog pages/website addressing why Japanese girls should buy their products instead of those made by Western companies.) Victoria’s Secret does sell in Japan – but the prices and shipping are more expensive than in the U.S.
Also, trends and fads come and go in Japan like that. If you can fit into Japanese sizes, I’d highly recommend you shop there after you arrive to purchase things you feel are trendy, chic, work-appropriate, and fit into your budget. I’m not sure where you’ll be living, but if you’re in Tokyo, my favorite places for trendy stuff is Shibuya-109 and Free’s Mart in Jiyuugaoka; and LaForet Harajuku, Marui City, and beams (Shibuya) for more upscale chic items. Office attire (like suits) can be amazingly expensive but can also be bought at any department store – like Marui – and they do offer tailoring services.
If you do not fit into Japanese sizes (i.e., you’re taller than 5’4″ and larger than a 4/6) – then I think the most cautious approach (so you don’t use up all your hard-earned money) is to find out the dress code from a future colleague or the teachers’ liaison at the school. (Not the person who told you to wear only designer – though I can’t speak to that particular school’s dress code, if that’s a recommendation of what you have to wear in Japan to look “professional” in general, then that person doesn’t know squat!) Bah. You can wear any type of clothing, any style – and look fine! (You’ll probably be surprised at what looks “professional” depending on the profession and the workplace.) As a foreigner you’re automatically in a class by yourself and are thus quite exempt from stranger’s judgments on how you dress. (Within reason.) The only question is dressing appropriately for the job – in which case I think only the people working there will be able to enlighten you as to what works.
Button-down cotton shirt, $60
Paul Costelloe Boiled Wool Wrap Jacket, Charcoal, M, 59 GBP
Product: Tahari by ASL 2-Piece Skirted Suit, $139
Banana Republic Pinstripe Trouser, $80
Pink Studio Rowley Satchel, $72
Easy Spirit Women’s Kimbra Pump, $75
Many online stores will ship to Japan (though for a hefty fee) if you’d feel more comfortable shopping after you arrive. At the very least, if no one can offer advice (though I’m not sure what type of teaching job it is or where), I would arm myself with one skirt suit, just in case (I like ones from Victoria’s Secret, J. Crew, Spiegel, Newport-News, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor; department stores like Nordstroms, Dillard’s, Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, Burlington Coat Factory, and Macy’s will also have some great, affordable choices); a button-down shirt in a solid feminine color; low-heeled, extremely comfortable shoes for the TONS of walking you will do there (and any extra shoes if you do not fit into a 23.5 – 24.5 regular width shoe…i.e, size 6.5 – 7.5 which are the standard sizes routinely available in Japan); a comfortable dress (maybe a low-key print?) and a cardigan to go over it – i.e., no bare shoulders!; a bag with multiple compartments that you can lug around all day; and a pair of crease-front pants in a neutral color. (For all I know you may be teaching at a completely casual place where the teachers show up in polo-shirts and shorts!!) Nothing has to be designer; pick black and you can’t go wrong; stay away from busy, bright prints or loud colors; have a good coat to last you through the winter…and everything else can be bought there. (Hose; handkerchief; gloves; scarf – even shoes etc.)
Hope that helps and best of luck!
imgs in compostie from magicaljapan.co.jp; breakthroughlearninganddevelopment.com; luggage.com; composited by me