In 1992, the idea of filming strangers living together in a house was a radical postmodern revolution. MTV’s The Real World would change the course of television history, essentially catalyzing the creation of a new Warholian genre, now somewhat ironically known as reality TV. Almost 30 years later, as producers struggle to spin reality TV into something fresh, it turns out that going back to the basics was what the medium needed all along. Terrace House, a Japanese reality TV program co-produced by Netflix, returns the genre to its roots with its endearingly minimalist conceit.
The Impeccably Clean Japanese Streetwear of Netflix's 'Terrace House'
Modern Reality TV Style
Terrace House and The Real World are almost identical in premise—what happens when people from different backgrounds are forced to cohabitate?—but while most Western reality television focuses on bombastic conflict and spectacular explosions of emotions, Terrace House offers the quieter moments of contemplation and serenity. Instead of fighting, the characters spend most of their time making small talk, cooking together, planning friendly outings and sometimes falling in love.
There’s a hypnotic dullness to the show for sure—Refinery29 writer Cory Stieg even compared its soothing qualities to ASMR—but there’s something compellingly predictable about how perfectly boring the program can be. And the emotional payoff is often devastatingly heart-wrenching: Viewers have been blindsided by the sincere romances that, although often banal, through gorgeously shot cinematography are rendered as existential parables of the human condition.
Terrace House has been almost universally critically acclaimed, but in all the reviews of the show, I couldn’t help but notice that one aspect was starkly under-examined: How the hell is everyone on it dressed so well? Nylon and Jezebel have covered the delightfully eccentric womenswear of the commentary panel (Japanese television shows often have a group of hosts dissecting the action between scenes), but the topic of Terrace House menswear is wildly under-examined.
The topic of Terrace House menswear is wildly under-examined.
Fashion Brands on Netflix's 'Terrace House'
The oversight is a shame because Western streetwear aficionados would do well to study the shockingly clean and often starkly simple fashion choices of the Terrace House roommates. Because the show takes place largely inside their bizarrely brutalist living space, much of what the cast is seen sporting is cozy and comfortable loungewear—and the omnipresence of sleek athleisure also reflects Tokyo’s growing fitness fanaticism and the city’s specific obsession with cardio workouts. Although clothes are seldom the topic of conversation for the characters, it’s stunning how unequivocally put-together everyone looks at any given moment.
Adidas, Louis Vuitton, Nike and Supreme are the brands that are most often on display in the show. Still, the mixing and matching of labels are consistently depicted with a kind of effortless cool that Americans (who tend toward flashier forms of conspicuous consumption than Japanese fashionistas) have trouble approximating. Muted color palettes (most of the outfit choices don’t venture beyond white, black, beige and gray) keep these expensive labels from seeming too ostentatious.
Indeed, Japan has become one of the largest markets for luxury brands in the world. “Over half of local luxury executives surveyed by McKinsey viewing Japan, which accounts for as much as 30 to 40 percent of some global brands’ profitability, as a growth engine and profit generator,” concludes Business of Fashion writer Kati Chitrakorn. This trend is apparent not only in the cast’s clothing but in the rather chic ready-to-wear of almost every civilian in the background as well.
Where Terrace House cast members excel is in both emotional and sartorial restraint. Whereas American style gurus often bask in power-clashing, color-blocking and excess, Terrace House members are wise enough to pick only one statement piece per outfit—usually a smart jacket or hoodie or dashing hats and berets with slightly louder sneakers. Unlike in the United States, ill-fitting or boxy loungewear seems rare—even their joggers are mostly slim fit. And on the infrequent occasions in the show where formal wear is appropriate, the group’s men prefer skinnier cuts and streamlined silhouettes. Boldly patterned button-downs with splashes of brighter colors—the kinds the Queer Eye men are such unfortunate proponents of—in general, are avoided.
Influences on Japanese Menswear
One big influence on Japanese menswear seems to be skateboarding, snowboarding and surfer culture, the ubiquity of which was a surprise to me in the series. Western urbanites have certainly become fixated on the trendiness of brands like Thrasher and Stüssy, and the fad has rubbed off on the cosmopolitan men of Tokyo, as evident in the well designed graphic imagery of even non-branded items (although without the sometimes Satanic imagery).
Gaijin tend to put a lot of misplaced emphasis on utility, as evidenced in perpetually sloppily dressed cities like Boston and Philly, who excuse their bad fashion by pointing toward neverending inclement weather and their slavish devotion to local sports teams. Japan’s more temperate climate allows for more exploration in terms of functional outerwear—but what Terrace House teaches us is that there’s plenty of ways to stay comfortable while still looking stylish.