The Modern Girls of Japan



For Erdem’s Resort 2017 show, designer channeled a fashion subculture that changed Japan. Before the era defining Harajuku style that hit the country, the Moga (Modan Gaaru or Modern Girl) used Western fashion as a way to display their independence in conservative Japan.


Similar to America’s flapper, the age of the Moga occurred shortly after World War I and ended at the start of World War II. It was the beginning of sexual equality, known as the Taisho Era, with a growing number of women in Japan’s workforce and cities. The country began to embrace Western Modernism and Art Deco, and started to yearn for the fun times that was occurring in dance halls in the West.

What They Wore

Mogas were spotted on the streets for their Western appearance, which greatly differed from the kimono wearing housewife archetype. Clothing was tighter, flashier, and exposed more skin. During the heyday, Mogas were photographed wearing incredibly stylish garments, such as day dresses in eye catching prints and colors, daywear pajamas, and even bathing suits. To complete their looks, many Mogas styled their hair in marcel waves or chin length pageboy bobs and cupid bow lips. According to Alluring Faces: Beauty Standards in Japanese Society Through the Ages, makeup was kept pale with a small shaped small and crescent-shaped eyebrows, similar to the American animated character Betty Boop.

Although being a Moga was popular with young urban women, it was still controversial. Many of the country’s older, male voices felt the women were being frivolous, selfish and too Western. As seen throughout history, and still today, being an independent woman who dresses the way she wants can have some backlash.

In Media

The representation of Mogas have been immortalized in art, with one of the most popular being the Kobayakawa Kiyoshi print, “Tipsy.” Depicted is a young fashionable woman with cropped hair, spit-curl, and red lips. She is holding a cigarette and posing as if she is either seducing or talking with the viewer. She wears a sleeveless, multi-colored dress with an array of jewelry, which looks like it could’ve come from a flapper’s wardrobe.

Another example serves in “Mrs. T”, a painting of by Wada Seika. The “Mrs.” in the painting is dressed in Western clothing, a slim fitting calf-length dress and fur lined coat. Similar to an American flapper, this woman accessorizes her look with a string of pearls, T-strapped heels, and marcel waved hair. Aside from the woman’s appearance, the attitude the woman portrays is characteristic of the new identity Japanese women held.

Beginning as a street wear movement, the Moga movement was also seen in advertisements, literature, and on the nation’s most popular actresses. They were depicted as enjoying nightlife, casual sex, and as consumers. However, as Japanese nationalism, the Great Depression, and a military coup hit the country, Mogas became a rare sight after the mid-1930s. Instead, many women returned to the “good wife, wise mother” ideal.


Mogas have been remembered through countless articles, the occasional fashion show, and a museum exhibit. They have also influenced popular culture, the famous 1924 novel Naomi is focused around a Moga as was a 1970s anime.

Although this craze is over eighty years old, these Mogas’ style and attitude are still incredibly modern.



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