Bodikon (ボディコン), or alternatively referred to as “Bubble Queen” style post-Bubble, is a style and increasingly a general aesthetic, that was centered around the distinctive style of dress by the same name, the bodycon, (of which its name is a shortening of the pronunciation of the English words "body conscious"), but was not entirely based around the dress, and would come to include the general female fashion of the Bubble Economy period.
This style was most popular in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s (usually around the period from late 1985 to 1991 at the peak of its popularity). The style was influenced by the Japanese economy at this time, as well as the widespread popularity of dance-based nightlife in Japan in the 1980s and 1990s (especially venues playing Italo Disco, City Pop, Eurobeat, Hyper Techno/TechPara, and later House music). There are also parallels with the mid-1980s Japanese trend of the satirisation and exaggeration of American fashion and lifestyles.
The body-conscious fashion presented by Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa at the 1981 Milan Collection was the first of many experimental dress designs throughout the earlier part of the 1980s to attract attention internationally. By the mid-1980s (especially from the autumn of 1985 onwards following the signing of the Plaza Accord), Japan was reaching its economic peak in what became known as the “Bubble Economy”. The Bubble Economy was a very large economic bubble in Japan focused on asset prices, land prices and the Nikkei 225 stock exchange. It made Japan the 2nd largest economy in the world (after the United States) and the world’s largest creditor nation by 1988. It was caused by the Japanese yen rapidly (and artificially) strengthening against the US Dollar after the signing of the Plaza Accord in September of 1985. In response, the Central Bank of Japan slashed interest rates to 2.5% and held them there, making them the lowest interest rates in the world and also making credit available as never seen before in the history of Japan. Investors, suddenly with huge amounts of money to blow, plowed borrowed money into real estate and stock markets, shooting prices on a rapid upward streak, as well as borrowing against their newly appreciated holdings and buying even more. With both land prices and also salaries soaring in order to balance the real estate surge, by 1988 Japan’s total land value surpassed all of the land in the United States four times over. To highlight the extreme land prices, the total cash value of a single ward in downtown Tokyo (Chiyoda-ku) in 1988 could have purchased all of Canada- and the gardens of the Imperial Palace alone surpassed all of the land value in North America combined. Some of the most extreme land prices were found in Tokyo’s Ginza luxury shopping district- where land was sold for $250,000 (¥30,000,000 at the time) a square meter. The yen had become the world's powerhouse currency, and Japanese businesses also now found they held tremendous buying power overseas. It was widely feared in the West at the time that Japan would overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy by early 1992. Japanese corporations, encouraged by the strong yen, began to develop a strong domestic economy in Japan - while also maintaining high exports of technology and cars to the United States. These Japanese corporations were now outperforming American ones. Now, nine of the world’s top ten banks were Japanese. By early 1989, by market cap, Japan accounted for 45% of the global stock market, far more than the US’ share of 33%, and eight Japanese corporations, five of them banks, were in the top 10 largest companies in the world, ranked by market cap.
Encouraged by the booming economy, the Japanese public were encouraged by the government to spend - and they spent both massively and decadently. $500 cups of morning coffee drank by housewives and sushi were reported to have been sprinkled with gold dust in Nara and Osaka. Ski resorts in Japan were filled to the brink with customers, resulting in very long queues. Imported cars such as BMWs and Mercedes Benz cars, especially left-hand-drive models, surged in popularity. Businessmen entertained each other with $76,000 worth of partying in a single week and bought gold bars as investments. Japan became the largest consumer market of luxury goods and there was even imitation of foreign European cuisines such as Italian food at restaurants around the country, resulting in the birth of “Itameshi” cuisine. The Japanese also went on a huge buying spree abroad - encouraged by the opening of the new Narita Airport, the Bubble causing appreciation of the yen, and plans to double overseas travel from 5 to 10 million Japanese between 1987 to 1992 by the government. The Japanese purchased large investments such as virtually every skyscraper in Los Angeles, a quarter of California’s whole banking market, major American companies (such as the purchase of Columbia Pictures by Sony in September 1989) as well as large properties in places such as Hawaii, Australia, British Hong Kong, the US and all over Europe (particularly in the south of France). There was even large-scale purchase of European art, such as the famous $39,921,750 purchase of van Gogh’s Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers at the Christie’s London auction-house by Japanese insurance magnate Yasuo Goto on March 30th, 1987. At the time this was a record-setting amount for a work of art. Another particularly famous investment was the purchase of the Rockefeller Center in New York by Mitsubishi Group in November 1989- raising fears of the Japanese buying up symbols of American capitalism. At the same time, Japanese tourists, often travelling in organised group-tours, were travelling abroad in increasingly large numbers - the number of Japanese people traveling abroad per year in 1986 (the 2nd year of the Bubble) was about 5.5 million, but four years later, in 1990 (the 5th year of the Bubble), it had swelled to over 10 million people. Particularly in Europe, Japanese tourists became second only to American tourists - and women in particular displayed a huge economic influence. Japanese women began to buy huge numbers of expensive luxury goods in Europe - one woman was reported to have bought an entire jewellery shop while travelling in Italy, while stores such as Gucci, Versace, Burberry, and even Harrods saw long queues of well-dressed Japanese women. Japanese tourists were especially shopping in huge numbers for Louis Vuitton and Gucci handbags, Seville Row and Armani suits, and the finest wines. All of these things made Japan an extremely rich and prosperous nation in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s, with both GDP and GDP per capita soaring to among the highest in the world.
During the Bubble, Japanese companies, suddenly with a large amount of money to spend, were known to give generous budgets to the uniforms of female employees, representing at that point the fact a then-unprecedented number of women had entered the workforce. In some estimates, 1/3 of those women worked as an “Office Lady” or “OL” (オーエル) for short. The OL was usually a young woman, usually around 20-25, who kept care of her appearance, performed secretarial and clerical work (this included cleaning the desks, answering telephones, making tea and greeting clients), and was obedient to her male colleagues. They were by intention meant to represent a beautiful image in order to represent the office, and so were often called an “Office Flower” at the time. Combining with the image-obsessed general feeling of the Bubble period, as well as the boom of the Japanese city of Kobe as a hub of fashionable, wealthy young women (in a style called the “New-Tora”) a strong desire for luxury, sexy, daring and flashy fashion grew amongst Japanese women. Ironically, despite an increasing social progress of feminism, Japan had entered an era in which women were trying to regain their sensual femininity. Additionally, by the 1980s, young women in their 20s had the largest amount of disposable income of any segment of the Japanese population, and as seen by the “City Pop” aesthetic of the early 1980s, had a desire to spend extravagantly. This was only further boosted by the rise of the Bubble Economy from late 1985 onwards.
The Bodikon style as we know it today, while a nationwide phenomenon, first emerged in the city of Osaka in late 1985 and early 1986, arriving in Tokyo and other Japanese cities in October and November of 1985. The general style was an immediate craze amongst young women, especially the OL, and by mid-1986 had become mainstream fashion in Japan - being worn on the street, by OL at work, at formal events, and even (secretly) at school. High school and college students were known to imitate the Bodikon style and the associated “Wanren” hairstyle (discussed later on this page).
A key selling point of the Bubble Queen/Bodikon style was its sexy appeal, enhanced by its brash sexual style of flattering lines to the body (hence why Bodikon stood for “Body Conscious”) and usage of neon, colourful designs- involving usage of neon colours of red, purple, pink or yellow. This followed a general neon trend in 1980s fashion. Additionally, “DC” (an abbreviation for “Designer” and “Character”) brands began to take off from the early 1980s, and their youth-led, Shibuya-based stores began to sell Bodikon clothes from late 1985 onwards, marketed towards the young and affluent workforce that post-war Japan had produced. These affordably priced clothes began to permeate throughout the country and became a cultural staple of how the Japanese perceive the cultural impact of the Bubble Economy. There were also influences of 1950s revival, apparent in the glamorous hairstyles popular amongst Japanese women and usage of furs in coats, bags, and accessories, as well as the briefly-popular “1950s” Bodikon style. This was most likely caused by the re-airing of popular 1950s movies such as “Kimi No Na Wa” (Your Name, 1953) by the Japanese public broadcaster, NHK, in 1985 and 1986.
It is impossible to talk about Bodikon’s history without mentioning the influence of the Japanese nightlife scene of the same period. The Bubble Economy, as previously mentioned, resulted in a “spending boom” by the Japanese- and this was especially reflected in nightlife. At the time, going to the discothéque was popular in Japan, and during the Bubble a plethora of new discothéques opened. These discothéques were high-end, having a “luxurious” feel, and often requiring a dress code for both men and women. The staff would all wear tuxedos and the male customers wore suits. Female customers tended to turn up in Bodikon outfits, but anyone who disrupted the classy atmosphere of these discos was not allowed in. At the time, nightlife was a status symbol and to go to such popular and expensive discothéques was highly fashionable. In Tokyo alone, there were several nightlife “areas” that exploded in popularity - these included Roppongi (arguably the most famous district), Azabu, Aoyama, Shinjuku, Shibaura and Tamachi (the last two started to become increasingly popular in the late 1980s after they had been redeveloped and had large open areas of land left). Even though teenagers were initially excluded from the nightlife in the Roppongi and Azabu areas of Tokyo, whom aimed their nightlife at “classy” working adults, teenagers and students hungry for nightlife would illegally gather in many discos across Tokyo, with teenage girls often caught wearing Bodikon fashion there. These incidences sparked a craze for Bodikon in the teenage girl demographic, but also raised concerns from traditionalists who claimed Japan was losing its sense of morality to the crazes of money and decadence. Famous discothéques of the period included the Maharaja chain of discothéques, the Juliana’s Tokyo discothéque (in the early 1990s, and arguably the most famous discothéque of the time. This disco is mentioned later on this page), and the King & Queen chain of discothéques. Others included the Turia discothéque in Roppongi (which unfortunately had a notorious incident on January 5th, 1988 where a falling light killed 3 people in the newly-opened disco. After this, the first Para-Para dancing wave famously ended).
At the time, discos like the Maharaja chain and later Juliana’s (in the early 1990s) were central meeting areas for those women participating the now-mainstream style. They became places for young women, often of college age (early-to-mid 20s), to let down their hair and have fun. Frustrated by Japan's male-dominated society, Bodikon women were often seeking self-expression, flaunting their sexuality after spending day after day working as OL intended to be obedient and subservient to male colleagues. This resulted in two forms of the Bodikon fashion - a “day-time” variant of 1980s-style, neon designer power suits and neon “conservative bodycon” dresses intended for the workplace and the street, and a nightlife variant of the fashion known as “sexy bodycon” that was a lot more revealing and sometimes had “barely-there” clothing (described later on this page). Late-night TV shows (such as the highly famous “Tonight” (トゥナイト) variety show that ran from 1980 to 1994) often ran TV specials that followed the Bodikon “gals” to discos such as the Maharaja, Juliana’s, and also places like Shibaura’s “Gold” discothéque, interviewing them and videoing them sexily dancing and gyrating on raised catwalk platforms known as the the otachidai (お立ち台)- a kind of platform in the discos satirically named after the palace platform where the Japanese Imperial Family would appear, reflecting how the Bubble customer was expected to be treated like royalty, often driving male crowds crazy with their overtly-sexual dance moves. These TV specials, as well as the Juliana’s own “Juliana’s Live” show from December 1992 onwards that aired weekly to millions of Japanese and was even sponsored by Coca-Cola, sporting presenters such as the then-extremely popular American rapper MC Hammer, often had TV cameramen crouched below the otachidais in order to peep and film at the barely-covered underwear of the Bodikon women dancing - but most Bodikon women seemed to like the public exposure. The TV specials and the “Juliana’s Live” late-night TV show, alongside the Techno CD albums which Juliana’s Tokyo released (as the first disco to mix session CDs in six volumes) became gigantic cultural staples all across Japan - with dozens of high school girls watching the Juliana’s Tokyo dancers, almost all wearing Bodikon fashion, on TV and attempting to emulate their dancing and style. The “Juliana’s Tokyo” albums, released in volumes from 1992 to 1994, were also large cultural staples for Bodikon women all over Japan- having sales of 1 million copies and being a large part of the disco’s profit since the disco itself wasn’t very profitable as a business model despite the huge visitor numbers of 3,000-4,000 a night during its peak.
The cultural impact of discos like Juliana’s Tokyo during the Bubble period was phenomenal. Juliana’s in particular was a major social phenomenon - with people rushing from all over Japan, even from as far away as Kyushu and Hokkaido, to dance there. One woman who had travelled all the way from Okayama to dance in Juliana’s told The Japan Times in May 1991: “I’ve been lining up for more than 50 minutes [to enter the discothéque]”, while another woman who had travelled from Hiroshima stated “I came to Tokyo [just] to dance here.” As a major cultural sensation, these discos promoted the Bodikon fashions that were widely worn amongst Japanese young women of the time on a large scale, however the women who wore the more extreme “nightlife variant” of the Bodikon fashion were never more than a small minority - and more of a subculture that became a symbol of Shibuya and Roppongi. These “Disco Queens” as they became referred to would after work meet their fellow Bodikon friends, go shopping for (often designer/luxury) clothes in Shibuya, and change into their Bodikon clothing.
The “Juliana's Tokyo” discothéque was located in a former warehouse in Shibaura, a bayside area in southern Tokyo that was undergoing redevelopment at the time and was desirable in the early 1990s due to its large plots of empty space, a rare commodity in overcrowded Tokyo. Opened in May 1991 during the height of the Bubble Economy, at a cost of ¥1.5 billion, it was a joint venture by Wembly PLC, the largest leisure service group in the United Kingdom (hence Juliana’s nickname as a “British discothéque”) and Nishho Iwai Corp., a top Japanese trading company. Initially it was to be the flagship disco for a disco chain throughout Japan. The styling of the discothéque reflected its high-class, flagship status. Patrons first were checked at the door for age and dress (this dress code, previously mentioned in this article, being a very common feature of Bubble-era high-class discos), then they were let through the large fractured glass doors where they were greeted by six Japanese women dressed in miniskirts, bowing in unison. From there, the patron entered the large 1200 square meter dance floor. A chandelier made in California hung from the ceiling, which reflected the multicolored laser beams. A stage stood at the front of the room, and raised plexiglass platforms were placed periodically throughout the room where foreign professional dancers would take 15 minute turns dancing to the 26,000 watt sound system playing Techno, House, and Eurobeat. Up to 3000 people at a time could be on the dance-floor and the VIPs could also retreat to lounges.
The Maharaja chain of discothéques was hugely influential on the style. It was here that the fan-waving trend popular in the aesthetic started, when maikos (young Geishas) would go to the local Kyoto branch of Maharaja carrying feathered fans. Increasingly from 1987 onwards, women would dance in synchronised dance routines called “Para-Para” or more often at this point a hyper-Techno form of it, later known as “TechPara”. Wearing their bodikon fashion, women (especially in Juliana’s) would often dance a mixture of freestyle dancing (influenced by the rave scene in the West) and this new Para dancing, on the otachidai (a kind of platform in the club satircally named after the platform where the Imperial Family would appear, reflecting how the Bubble customer was expected to be treated like royalty) often driving male crowds crazy. The Japanese media covered this extravagant partying extensively, angering Traditionalists in the ruling political party, the LDP, and combining with the lax and sexual atmosphere in the Roppongi scene as opposed to other more formal nightlife areas, created a misguided impression of Juliana’s being some kind of strip club and therefore the fashion as that of strippers, ultimately leading to the demise of Juliana’s.
. Also called the “New Rich”, “Executive Woman”, and more commonly nowadays the “Bubble Queen” (a combination of “Bubble Economy” and “Disco Queen”, a notable party subculture amongst young women in the late 1980s around clubs in Tokyo and Osaka) style, the general aesthetic faded quickly after the rapid collapse of the Bubble Economy in early 1992. This was due to a variety of reasons, including the sudden loss of a large leisure income making luxury brands unaffordable, the decline of the optimism surrounding the Japanese economy, the closure of many clubs in the Roppongi area, as well as the decline of the company in the centralisation of Japanese life (as partying such as this was hugely based around company hours and often paid for by the company). Also, by late 1991 the style had become increasingly dated, Juliana’s was getting bad (previously mentioned above) publicity, and it had become so mainstream that it began to be viewed as “tacky” and “trashy” by the new trendsetters emerging from areas such as Harajuku and Shibuya, where the short-lived “Shibuya casual” movement sought to remove the glamour of Bodikon, The style had visibly disappeared from the streets by mid-1992, but was still in some kind of existence, especially in clubs, until early 1994 before finally vanishing. However, the influence of Bubble Queen/Bodikon style can be seen in the late 1990s styles of Gyaru, where the party-influenced culture and sexiness appeal is reflected. Additionally, many of the pioneers of Gyaru originally started out dancing in the Juliana’s discothéque, where lots of influence came from.
Make-up included scarlet lipstick, bushy (or generally thick) eyebrows, and wavy long hair. This could include straight or curled bangs, often sitting at the top of the head. Blue eyeshadow was very popular also, and especially from 1989 onwards there was an increase in pink lipstick. This formed part of what became known as the “Wanren” bodycon look and attracted a lot of attention from onlookers.
With regards to clothing, the iconic Bodycon dress was extremely popular. It was almost always a neon or a generally colourful colour, and a mini dress that emphasized the lines of the body, capturing the femininity of the body. However, it was initially only worn in discotheques and disco halls, before later being popularised as fashion wearable on the steeet. Furs and gold jewellery would be worn alongside Bodycon dresses, often with luxury bags (such as Louis Vuitton) and gold chains. There were numerous styles of Bodycon dresses, including the “Sexy Bodycon” style of string-bikinis and transparent dresses popular in clubs but inappropriate to wear on the street, but by far the most popular style was the One-Line style ( ワンレン・ボディコン), which was a little bit more conservative than Western bodycon, but was intended to be a “mature” and “sophisticated” style with a closely-fitting dress, or a suit-set, that was usually in one bright colour and uniform enough to pass for office-wear.
Other pieces of clothing apart from the signature Bodycon dress that formed part of the aesthetic included the “power suit”, often colourful and with shoulder pads. This was considered a status symbol of business success for women, a highly desirable attribute amidst the success of the Bubble Economy. Sometimes a picture pattern, such as a pattern of Tokyo’s neon lights, would be worn on a power suit, but it was not super common. Power suits were worn nearly everywhere in daily life, from job interviews to nightlife to housework.
Miniskirts were also popular, though usually paired with long stockings and gold chains.
Both “collection” brands and the DC brands in the relatively easy-to-purchase price range became popular due to the demand in the student disco party and office scene. In particular, Pinky & Diane was worn by so many people that it was called the "pin-die phenomenon." Reflecting the new-found wealth of the Japanese, luxury goods and their brands were a key part of the aesthetic. At one point, any foreign brand was popular. Often, Japanese women would go to European countries and America, and sometimes Hong Kong if they were “poorer” (by Bubble Economy standards) to shop for luxury goods to wear. These included things from handbags, to necklaces, to even makeup, to the dresses themselves.
- Alpha Cubic
- Junko Shimada
- Pinky & Diane
- Azzedine Alaia
- Louis Vuitton
- ”DC” brands (often these were independent stores and chains)