Japan introduced school uniforms in the late 19th century. Today, school uniforms are almost universal in the public and private school systems. They are also used in some women’s colleges. The Japanese word for uniform is seifuku (制服).
In the majority of elementary schools, students are not required to wear a uniform to school. Where uniforms are required, many boys wear white shirts, short pants, and caps. Young boys often dress more formally in their class pictures than they do other days of the school year. Girls’ uniforms might include a gray pleated skirt and white blouse. Occasionally the sailor outfit is used for girls. The uniform codes may vary by season to work with the environment and occasion. It is common for both boys and girls to wear brightly colored caps to prevent traffic accidents. Also, it is normal for uniforms to be worn outside of school areas. This is going out of fashion and many students are wearing casual dress.
The Japanese junior- and senior-high-school uniform traditionally consists of a military style uniform for boys and a sailor outfit for girls. These uniforms are based on Meiji era formal military dress, themselves modeled on European-style naval uniforms. The sailor outfit replace the undividedhakama (andon bakama 行灯袴) designed by Utako Shimoda between 1920–30. While this style of uniform is still in use, many schools have moved to more Western-pattern parochial school uniform styles. These uniforms consist of a white shirt, tie, blazer or sweater vest with school crest, and tailored trousers (often not of the same color as the blazer or sweater vest) for boys and a white blouse, tie, blazer with school crest, and tartanskirt for girls.
Much like the male uniform, the gakuran, the sailor outfit bears a similarity to various military styled naval uniforms. The uniform generally consists of a blouse attached with a sailor-style collar and a pleated skirt. There are seasonal variations for summer and winter: sleeve length and fabric are adjusted accordingly. A ribbon is tied in the front and laced through a loop attached to the blouse. Several variations on the ribbon include neckties, bolo ties, neckerchiefs, and bows. Common colors are navy blue, white, grey, light green and black.
Shoes, socks, and other accessories are sometimes included as part of the uniform. These socks are typically navy or white. The shoes are typically brown or black penny loafers. Although not part of the prescribed uniform, alternate forms of legwear (such as loose socks, knee-length stockings, or similar) are also commonly matched by more fashionable girls with their sailor outfits.
Regardless of what type of uniform any particular school assigns its students, all schools have a summer version of the uniform (usually consisting of just a white dress shirt and the uniform slacks for boys and a reduced-weight traditional uniform or blouse and tartan skirt with tie for girls) and a sports-activity uniform (a polyester track suit for year-round use and a t-shirt and short pants for summer activities). Depending on the discipline level of any particular school, students may often wear different seasonal and activity uniforms within the same classroom during the day. Individual students may attempt to subvert the system of uniforms by wearing their uniforms incorrectly or by adding prohibited elements such as large loose socks or badges. Girls may shorten their skirts; boys may wear trousers about the hips, omit ties, or keep their shirts unbuttoned.
Because school uniforms are a popular fetish item, second-hand sailor outfits and other items of school wear are brokered through underground establishments known as burusera, although changes to Japanese law have made such practices difficult. The pop group Onyanko Club had a provocative song called “Don’t Strip Off the Sailor Suit!” Sailor outfits, along with other styles of school uniform, play an undeniably large role inotaku culture as evidenced by the large amount of anime, manga, and dōjinshi featuring characters in uniform, Sailor Moon being one of the most popular examples.