The Truth About Visual Kei Fashion? w/ cybr.grl & Taka Todora

It’s been awhile since I posted about a video. Kristina aka cybr.grl invited me to speak about visual kei on her YouTube channel! I had the pleasure of speaking about visual kei along with Taka Todora, who I’ve been following on Instagram for awhile.

J-Fashion Mythbusters

This video is part of her J-Fashion Mythbusters series where Kristina debunks common misconceptions about different styles of Japanese alternative street fashion. For every episode, Kristina invites two seasoned individuals who have been wearing the respective style to speak about the history, how to get into the style, and current state of the scene. Previously, she’s covered fairy kei, lolita fashion, gyaru, decora, menhera, jirai kei, cult party kei, and now visual kei.

Watch the video for the full response for sure. Below I’ve written a summarized version of my responses.

When did you find out about visual kei & how long have you been wearing it? 

I got into visual kei when I was in high school. As a young weeb, I somehow learned about visual kei through anime. My gateway band was Versailles -Philharmonic Quintet- and I discovered them when they collaborated with lolita fashion brand Alice and the Pirates.

visual kei band Versailles promo image for their single Prince and Princess.
Versailles promo image for Prince & Princess

What is visual kei? Is it more of a movement, musical genre, fashion, aesthetic, or a broad term that is a mix of many things?

Overall, visual kei is a movement in Japanese music scene where the looks of a band are equally as important as the music. It was a trend that has turned into something lasting to this day.

Music is equally as important to the visual aspects. Since I am not a musical artist, I would say that my outfits take inspiration from VK, not that I am VK.

There was a little debate for a while on social media regarding whether you can call an outfit v-kei. What are your thoughts on it?

[We were given two TikToks as a reference for the debate: one, two]

If you want to be a term purist, then no you can’t call an outfit visual kei since VK encompasses many different styles that musicians are wearing on stage.  

In a modern context, it’s fine if you want to label yourself as visual kei. It makes finding people in the community easier, but I also think sometimes it’s detrimental to cling too much to labels.

What is the history of visual kei? How and when did it start?

Visual kei takes influence from Western punk, glam, and hair metal bands from the 1970s and 1980s. You can see that the early pioneers of visual kei took influence from bands such as KISS, David Bowie, Motley Crue, etc. Not only as a visual reference, but you can hear the influence in the dramatic rock of early Japanese visual kei bands as well. Some early visual kei bands in Japan include X Japan, Luna Sea, and GLAY. The music of visual kei was a made in contrast to pop music.

In the 1990s, visual kei became a point of mainstream interest in Japan. Guitarist Mana who is considered a big name in the scene used to appear on mainstream variety shows. He used to show up and say not a single word. Nowadays visual kei bands rarely make an appearance in mainstream media. 

I consider the popularity peak to be in the 1990s and early 2000s in Japan. There’s still a scene for it these days, but it is no longer the same phenomenon today. A lot of bands from the early and golden era actually tried to distance themselves from visual kei; some of these musicians being L’Arc-en-Ciel, Dir en Grey, and Miyavi (though Dir en Grey went back to labeling themselves as VK). 

America got the visual kei boom in the 2000s through two channels: Hot Topic and anime cons. Hot Topic used to sell CURE magazine, a visual kei-centric publication, and CDs. Visual kei bands would come play at a lot of cons; my guess is partially because they were cheap to book because it was still niche/indie in comparison to J-pop acts like Koda Kumi or Utada Hikaru who were popular around the same time. From what I’ve heard, Texas has a disproportionately large VK fan base. YouTube also started in 2005 and fans started (illegally) uploading PVs (music videos).

How would you differentiate between v-kei and other dark fashions and music genres like punk, goth, metal, emo, etc.?

The number one determining factor if a band is visual kei is if they call themselves VK. Visual kei is not a musical genre per se; visual kei is a combination of the looks and music together. Many visual kei bands do play metal, rock, and emo music and tour with Western metal, rock, and emo bands overseas. It’s not that harsh of a distinction and there is a lot of overlap between genres and fashion.

Big hair, bold makeup, and drama/attitude are basic components of an outfit. It’s similar to gyaru where the overall styling of hair and makeup can really make or break a look; it’s not just about the clothing. 

What is the difference between visual kei and oshare/osare kei? Are there other substyles?

Visual kei is the overall umbrella term. Oshare kei is more of a branch of VK. Oshare kei is probably the most distinct visually. It caught the eye of a lot of Western fans with the bright visuals and more poppy music. 

There are a lot of other sub-genres that I personally do not keep up with because they’re not used very much in Western conversations.

Substyles can be defined through two factors: the visual aesthetic or type of music they play. In Japan, you’ll probably find a lot more substyles, but we don’t really use them in English.

Are there any other misconceptions or misinformation about visual kei that you would like to dispel?

When we talk about VK as a “fashion style”, it is important to remember that these are stage costumes for bands. Bands have these costumes custom-made for them, often out of bulky materials, and a lot of it is not practical for day-to-day wear. Because a lot of bands are dressing for stage, it’s not practical to wear what they wear all the time; and not everyone wants to emulate their favorite artists.

We focus a lot on what bands wear, but we don’t usually talk about what VK fans, known as bangya, wear. Bangya wear all sorts of things to concerts. For example some people who like Mana, wear his brand Moi-meme-Moitie or other gothic lolita/EGA styles to their concerts. Some bangya wear a mix of casual punk and gothic stuff, but also just band shirts or cute normal clothes. 

Mana-sama standing in front of 4 clothed mannequins.
Mana and Moi-meme-Moitie

If someone wants to try wearing this style, how should they start? Is there a community for people to find others who wear the style too & can connect with them?

Look at your oshi (favorite band/member). Do you like what they wear? If yes, copy that. 

There are some fashion brands that musicians collaborate and/or buy from, but it doesn’t mean you have to buy from those same brands to be the visual kei look. 

There used to be band-specific communities on LJ, but I don’t know where people go now. Best bet is probably somewhere on  twitter or discord. I personally stick to gothic lolita communities since there is some overlap between VK and lolita, and gothic lolita is the general style I’m interested in.

What are some places and/or brands people can find clothing and accessories for visual kei?

I just made a list of visual kei adjacent fashion brands!

A Big List of Visual Kei Fashion Brands

Any last words or things to promote?

One, stan Matenrou Opera.

Two, the last thing I want to say is that while labels like VK can be helpful in conversation, you do not need put yourself in a box to be easily packaged and consumed. Sometimes labels can create community, but sometimes they can just over complicate things. Don’t worry so much about meeting anyone’s expectations and just be yourself. That’s the true punk way. 

A big thanks to Kristina for inviting me to speak in this video! I loved watching the previous J-Fashion Mythbusters videos, so it was exciting to be a part of one. Even though I never considered myself to be a part of the visual kei community per se, I’ve taken huge parts of it and incorporated it into my overall style. I was so nervous since I’m not great at public speaking, but it worked out. I’ve met Kristina at a few Texas anime cons and snapped her outfits a few times. She’s always a joy to see!

Follow Taka

Follow cybr.grl

@cybr.grl Visual Kei in 50 seconds 🖤 You can check out the full 40 minute video on my YouTube channel cybr.grl 💖 #vkei #visualkei #jfashion #v系 #altfashion ♬ original sound – 💖🌈 cybr.grl 🌈💖

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