Sound and Style: Our Favorite Idol Costumes of the 2020s
With the help from our friends, Idol Watch covers some of the best idol costumes of the 2020s so far
This feature is part of Idol Watch #14. You can return to the main column here.
The visual component of idol plays into the identity of a group as heavily as the music. The look of a group lets a potential fan in on what their music might sound like, and the chosen theme of their fashion establishes the unit’s worldview and personality before one hits play. If the costume is striking enough, it can immortalize a certain period of history. The styling of an idol group is an essential piece to the puzzle, and so we decided to dedicate this space of the column to discuss some of the best idol costumes out there. We narrowed our choices from the 2020s, but it still provided a wealth of options. Here are six of them that we love:
Migma Shelter, ALICE (2020)
Idol concepts based on Alice in Wonderland are nothing new. For as long as idols have existed, there have been groups doing their own versions of the classic fantasy novel. So when MIGMA SHELTER announced that their first full release was going to be based on the book, it was exciting to see how the trance idol group’s own take on the concept was going to be. The album was excellent on its own, but the visuals and costumes that were used to promote it were just as amazing.
Styled by kinokopink, the ALICE costumes have the staples of what you’d think Alice In Wonderland-based costumes should have: clocks, capes, Victorian-style silhouettes, etc. Instead of the light blue one has come to associate with Alice, the costumes use MIGMA SHELTER’s signature color to its fullest, with a deep-green base accentuated only by ribbons representing each of the member’s individual colors in true idol-group fashion.
Migma Shelter’s costumes have always played with symmetry, and this time is no different. With the six-member lineup, the costumes were split into two types of costumes: Mimimiyu, Tamane and Brazil are donning pairs of shorts and short-sleeved costumes while Yubune, Rere and Nananara are using a more classical version with long sleeves and longer skirts. There are capes present in both types of costumes, but the ones used with the short outfits seem more flowing and longer. I’d like to think this symmetry was used to reflect each of the members' personalities on stage, the more feisty members using the shorter costumes while the other half uses a more toned-down, a little bit more traditional version of it. —Myrna
Myrna is an avid music fan that focuses mostly on underground idols and K-pop. She constantly blabbers about it on Twitter. She previously collaborated with us for The Conversation: Bellring Shojo Heart.
Momoiro Clover Z, Weekly Young Jump Volume 26 (2020)
Stylist: Shihomi Seki
The idols of Momoiro Clover Z have now aged into the latter half of their twenties, but they’ve yet to retire the flashy choices of wear when it comes to their stage get-up—they are performers after all. Even if time comes for them to dress it down, though, you can rely on the future outfits for Kanako Momota, Shiori Tamai, Ayaka Sasaki and Reni Takagi to adhere accordingly to their image colors of red, yellow, pink and purple, respectively. The styling for the photoshoot of their spread in a 2020 issue of Weekly Young Jump magazine is a case in point: no matter how casual their wardrobe, their precious colors will follow into the inspiration.
Image colors as a traditional practice has yet to die out. You will see a couple groups in this list alone who don a series of monochromatic costumes. It’s hard to mistake a performer as anything other than an idol when she’s dressed in this specific styling, but this same distinct look can also establish a certain image to the group, likely one that’s bubbly and naive in personality. A want to assume an alternative identity that subverts the traditional image is partly why a group like MIGMA SHELTER, above in this list, might decide to bend the trope and include the concept more subtly into their costumes.
Momoiro Clover Z’s embrace of their colors, meanwhile, display a sense of pride in their roots as an idol. The dressier wear in the Young Jump photoshoot suggests that they still want to act their age, with their day-job uniforms hung up as they throw their own party. But even in off mode, they’re recognizable as the idols we all know through the chosen color palette. The idea stays consistent to their teenage years that found them in sentai-like color-coded costumes. The execution of current-day outfits for Momoiro Clover Z show the four have aged gracefully as idols, their identities staying intact no matter the styling. —Ryo
Dempagumi.inc, “Princess Dempa Power! Shine On!” (2021)
Designer: Mikio Sakabe
Designed and styled by Mikio Sakabe, and revealed during the performance that saw the five newest members join the group, the “Princess Dempa Power Shine On!” costumes bring two main ideas to the center: group hierarchy and each new member’s uniqueness. Upon first glance, it becomes noticeable that, while every girl is donning a gallant look that highlights her signature color (as expected of idol costumes), there is also a pattern that groups the girls according to their time and their hierarchy within the group.
Mirin and Risa wear a more regal combination of long dresses and vests that visually place them as the most tenured members of the group, with the more detailed and textured materials giving Risa a slightly more elegant flair that contrast with the shinier fabrics and floral accents of Mirin’s that shows her on a softer light. Pinky, Perorin and Nagi wear vibrant, matching sailor suits—likely a deliberate callback to what has become the group's go-to ensemble for live performances—which signal that at this point, the three of them had not only become equals but also playful comrades with great synergy.
As for the third batch of costumes, these all introduce and highlight what each of the new members brings to the group. Ria’s white gown with pink accents presents her in a soft but regal light, an immediate contrast to Rito’s dark ensemble that shows her as a fresh, edgier addition to the group. As for Hina, her puffy gown (a reference to the traditional idol aesthetic) in a pastel orange matches her lively, energetic disposition. The costume for the mood maker Aozora showcases a more playful style: the toy-like layers of the skirt contrast with the softness of the sailor shirt and the red ribbon, which emphasize Aozora being amongst the more lighthearted new princesses. Rounding up this group is Kozue, whose bright green costume—a callback to both her days as a member of ENGAG.ING and to the sailor suit either referenced or worn by other members—places her under a more gentle and comfortable light but still ready for the stage.
Looking into these costumes, one thing becomes clear: If Dempagumi.inc has reached the point of being its own idol dynasty, it’s a relief that, from the moment she debuts at her dream ball, every princess of this kingdom gets a fair chance to show fans who she is within the group. —Bacci
Bacci is a hobby writer mainly focused on music reviews and analyzing visual narratives. They also shared much less streamlined thoughts on Twitter. They previously contributed to This Side of Japan: Issue #37, Idol Watch’s Flipped Issue #9: July/August and more for This Side of Japan.
Designer: Naoki Matsuda
When Ryo invited me to share my favorite idol costumes from the ongoing decade, a difficult task had been made easy for me. Indeed, a few months ago, I had the chance of encountering Kitokano at a taiban (multi-group show) and as they stepped on the stage, I was transfixed. If someone had tried to conceptualize costumes specifically catering to my taste, I don’t think they could have done a better job. This led to an obsession with the group that started with the first notes of their set and lasts to this very day.
The designer behind these masterpieces is Naoki Matsuda of nisaitoyou, a brand that makes one-of-a-kind clothes with a theme of romance. Most of their pieces are remade from vintage clothing. In line with the brand’s style, every outfit features a mix of textures and prints in an array of tones corresponding to each member’s color. When I was researching the designer of these masterpieces, I found posts by the designer saying that the concept of the costumes also included that pieces from former members’ costumes would be recycled and used in subsequent new members’ costumes. Not only is this compelling from a sustainable fashion perspective, I also love the idea that the legacy of the whole group will carry on in a physical fashion. After Yada Nano’s graduation, they introduced Shinonome Shino and Shinai Naru, with descriptions of the member’s costume concepts such as “the lazy maid that works in the back rooms” and “a maidenly frilly one-piece that’s also an oversize shirt.”
In addition to the richness of the patchwork and my affinity for the conceptual dimension of the costumes, another absolute win for me is how many alternatives the members have when they wear them. While each costume has a specific headdress to fit it, members have changed the headdresses, hair pieces and their hairstyles at some concerts. Rasesai Inoru, the green member, has a longer white petticoat she can add to her dress but take off in warmer weather in order to have a knee-length dress. Futatabi Ao’s giant blouse has long sleeves with openings in them, revealing a lace undershirt. The openings also allow her to wear her costume with short sleeves and have the long sleeves coalesce with the mass of the oversize dress she wears. I think this is very compelling both for the idols and the fans; the former gets comfort in varying weathers and the latter gets to see something simultaneously familiar and a little surprising at every show.
The group, produced by NOiZ, recently changed the group’s name from Kitto Dareka No Himitsu Heiki to Kitokano at their first one-man live show. It took place on the same day as their first anniversary live. They have released four digital singles so far and have a couple of yet unreleased songs I hope they’ll get to record someday. I highly encourage you to check out this charming, nostalgic group if you have a chance. —Papermaiden
Papermaiden also writes for Homicidols. She previously contributed for Idol Watch’s Flipped Issue #9: July/August.
Qumali Depart, “Amida Fortune” (2022)
Designer: Lisa Tsuchiya
I love fashion, and idol costumes are certainly one of my focal points. It would have been easy to talk about them over the ages and how they were influenced by historical trends. Now, focusing only on the 2020’s is more of a challenge—to me, 2019 was the absolute peak of the idol group bubble, and nowadays idol costumes are as varied as they can be. I love the classiness of Oshare Company’s garments or the traditional frilly dresses made by Fille lilas, but the truth is, when prompted to choose only one, Qumali Depart’s costumes for “Amida Fortune” came immediately to mind.
It’s a representative piece for a group that may end up being one of the representative acts of the 2020s, encapsulating what I love about Qumali Depart’s costumes: they have all the information you need. One look and you immediately know the group’s logo, the single’s theme (amidakuji, the network lottery), and the representative color of that member and her (supposed) personality: is she wearing pants because she’s the tomboy? Ribbons to look cuter? A hat for uniqueness? In the end, the type of costumes that I would describe as “in your face” just leave a stronger impression in me. They may be overwhelming, but it also pulls me closer. —Juju
Juju can be found on Twitter sharing mostly Japanese idol content, and as a collaborator in the music blog Kayo Kyoku Plus. She previously contributed to Idol Watch’s Flipped Issue #9: July/August.
RILISREVERSE, “Amaterasu” (2022)
Designer: Masaya Takeda / FLORIOGRAPHY
RILISREVERSE are a group with the concept of reversing emotions and releasing them, exploding onto the live-house floor. They have a dual nature, so naturally, their costumes should reflect that, right?
Pure white fabric for the costumes worn in the “Amaterasu” music video allows the girls to have an aura-like flare around them on stage, three blazing angels, their messages of hope intensified white hot. With smooth choreography, the weightless flutter of a skirt carries lyrics like “I’ve destroyed my old, fragile self” on a breeze, then crashing down into the audience for maximum effect. In particular, Asagi’s drooping sleeves are able to sway in that breeze while she dances, as grand and regal-looking as she is herself.
Of course, the whiteness of their costumes can blind and sear just as much as it can reflect a guiding light. RILISREVERSE are stark: they’re the successor group to HAMIDAYSTEM, the grim, melodic electronica group where you couldn’t smile on stage and as such carry over in some of their songs. Instead of a flutter, their movements become whirlwinds—fabric and emotion colliding in mid-air. In particular we have “down,” a declaration of wanting to be loved but resenting your lover and yourself. Their performances are able to shift from the upbeat to the melancholic almost instantly, intensified by blinding rays bouncing off of a dress.
The choreography to “down” has sultry movements too. Shiika will move her partially covered arms slowly downwards while pointing at the ground. To show is to tell but to leave it obscured, in this case with semi-transparent lace, is to leave them guessing, to make you think about those ambiguous romantic feelings. A design choice as simple as this goes a long way.
The group’s costumes were designed by Masaya Takeda, who has worked with CROSSNOESIS, Avandoned and Jyujyu to list a few names you might recognise. She specializes in gothic fashion but as you can see from RILISREVERSE’s current costumes for “Amaterasu,” there’s no theme that can’t be styled to perfection. From Shiika’s elegant lace sleeves to Asagi’s platform shoes and Natori’s ruffled wristbands, there’s not a single piece out of place.
With RILISREVERSE, in this case, simplicity works best. A single colour can say so much and at the same time leave the door wide open to reflect any emotion, from the delightful to the despondent. —Cal
Cal also writes for Homicidols. They can typically be found screaming about bad cinema and music on Twitter. They previously contributed to Idol Watch’s Flipped Issue #9: July/August.
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