“Cinderella” resonates with almost everyone because almost everyone, at some point in their lives, becomes a cheapo. Budgeting and rationing means an emptier closet. It means clawing through bargain piles, blow-drying your hair yourself, and foregoing that cashmere sweater which always seems so out of place at Uniqlo. The “Cinderella” moment resonates not because the servant marries the prince; it resonates because Cinderella wears a gorgeous outfit and leaves everybody at the ball absolutely stunned by her beauty, and she didn’t have to spend a single penny.
In Tokyo, no store gives away Armani gowns for free. Typically, you would have to spend at least 15 000 yen to purchase a ball gown or a semi-formal dress and pretend to have a Cinderella moment. Even if you edge away from Central Tokyo to buy cheaper formal dresses, you still miss out on the quality and style of clothing often found in high-end neighborhoods like Shibuya, Shinjuku, or Harajuku. Flouncy skirts, beaded decolletages, and peacock colors disappear in the more soberly-dressed areas of Tokyo. If you have to resort to buying rhinestones and kids’ beads at the 100yen store to embellish your prom dress, then this is for you: a list of fairy god-mothers, aka stores that rival the basement of Shibuya 109 in terms of quality and elegance, but do not demand your whole month’s salary.
A boutique modest in size and lavish in wares, Minax overflows with mini-dresses, red carpet gowns, dainty clutches and tiaras. Prices can range from 990 to 5 000 yen. You read that correctly—you can actually buy a whole prom dress for 990 yen. If you’re fond of bold colors, then you have a wide selection, from sea-foam aquamarine to blood-wine red. Because most Japanese clothing stores do not stray from softer, more professional hues, Minax is a refreshing change of style.
The store also specializes in big floppy bows tied at the back: a trend that has taken over Harajuku, and adds a bit of “cute” to an otherwise mature look. However, the long gowns are sleek and elegant, with a wide choice of style: strapless, off-shoulder, bare at the waist, plunging. The only drawback? Minax is one size fits all! But fear not, sweet princesses, and keep reading!
If you have a larger build or a particularly tiny figure, then Minax is not your fairy godmother. However, 5talent stocks a variety of sizes, from XS to L. For some reason, the L-sized dresses price slightly cheaper than the others. Although dresses usually sell for around 3 000 to 5 000 yen at 5talent, the store hosts summer clearance sales when the prices can drop down to 1 500 yen. In terms of design, 5talent deviates from the standard solid block of color and plays around with polka dots, diagonal stripes, hearts, and butterflies.
While Minax might pride itself on the variety of its gown skirts—the flounce, the bounce, the swirl, the layers—5talent brims with zebra prints and floral tesselations. For a semi-formal party at your boss’s house: a simple mid-thigh length dress the color of cream soda, a light blue with a streak of custard yellow running through it. For a school dance: a fitting black gown with a thin silver net flowing over it, a trail of butterflies creeping from the hem and settling at the collar. 5talent also sells jewelry, feathered masquerade masks, beaded bras, and purses for around 1 000 to 2 000 yen apiece.
Forby of Femme
You might be thinking: some of these dresses at Minax and 5talent are a bit ostentatious! And you’re right. While tasteful in color and design, some of the dresses sold at the two stores would blend into the nightclub scene a bit too well: plunging necklines, rococo designs, and hemlines that barely cover the tops of thighs. Suppose you attend your boss’s party or a tea party in a slinky scarlet dress that just about covers your torso. You look fantastic, you receive winks and telephone numbers, but every time you raise your hand to wave at a friend, your dress rides up a few too many inches ….
If that sounds like an awkward scenario, then Forby of Femme will come swooping down and save your night. A stamp-sized boutique for women with more sober tastes, Forby of Femme has options suitable for office parties. For example, one of my favorite designs was a beige dress that had fabric bunched to one side like a toga: simultaneously fashionable and modest. Most dresses sold at Forby of Femme favor loose-fitting bodices and belted waists. While they may not show off your womanly curves, they definitely provide an appearance of elegance and hauteur found at garden-viewing parties. If you’re invited to a traditional Japanese tea, for instance, and you don’t feel comfortable in a kimono, then this is the store for you. Most of the dresses come with a faux pearl or diamond necklace, adding a final touch of sophistication.
Yesstyle.com (Online Store)
Sometimes, online stores are your best bet. Despite their many drawbacks, they offer a wider range of styles and sizes. Prices for formal dresses can range from 800 yen to 7 000 yen, without adding the cost of shipping, and sizes range from XS to XLL. Yesstyle.com does free standard shipping with any 25 USD (around 2,600 yen) purchase. Based on Japanese and Korean fashion, most of the dresses sold on the website match the styles found in Lumine and AbAb boutiques. Stripes and checkered patterns abound in this online store, but sequins and floral prints frequently appear as well. Not all dresses are available in every size, so be aware of that while shopping. I recommend window-shopping around Tokyo and visting boutiques before ordering something on the website; that way you will understand better which dresses will suit you.
So now you’re dressed like a princess, and you didn’t have to spend too much (I hope). You’re looking great – but no Cinderella moment is complete without a pair of glass slippers! Or at least, a pair of cute shoes. Look out for the next post, in which I will suggest cheap options for dazzling footwear.
In our pilot episode, we're joined by Alvin Cheung of ABC Coffee, Hapnick, and Tokyo Keyboards