Japanese manga artist illustrates the history behind the maid cafe cosplay uniform

From British servant’s quarters to the streets of Tokyo, Japan’s cute and sexy maid costume has travelled a long way to get where it is today.

One of the most weirdly unique aspects of Japanese culture that often has visitors scratching their heads is the popularity of the country’s maid cafes. Offering a servant-like experience, the staff at these cafes greet you with the title “master” or “mistress”, bring you food and drinks with a smile, and catch everyone’s attention with their cute, frilly maid’s outfits.

The maid’s uniform is such a popular icon in Japanese pop culture that it’s permeated not only the nation’s maid cafes, but the world of manga, anime, games and cosplay as well. While it might seem like its popularity simply exploded overnight, it actually took centuries of tradition to get to where it is today, and here to illustrate the evolution is manga artist – and author of the 32-page 100-year History of Maid’s Outfits manga – , with the following tweet. 

▼ The picture below is titled “From the U.K. Maid to the Japanese Maid, Transformation of the Maid’s Outfit 19th-21st Centuries

If you look at the detailed image, you can see how the history of the Japanese maid’s outfit can be traced back to the U.K. in the 1890s, depicted in the green section at the top right corner. The first uniform on the right here shows the predecessor to the maid’s outfit, followed by the transition to the black-and-white ensemble that we know today. While lengths were kept long initially, as the outfit travelled abroad to the U.S. from 1910-1930, it became shorter in length as it was adopted for use by waitresses and then diner staff in the service industry, eventually influencing the style of uniforms worn by family restaurant staff from the ’70s onwards (pictured in bright green in the middle). This in turn influenced outfits seen on characters in the 2-D world of PC games from 1993 onwards (dark green).

The U.K. outfit travelled to Japan around 1920, as foreigners came to settle in the country, leading to it being worn by staff in western establishments and restaurants. Once people in Japan saw the western outfit, they quickly adopted it, combining it with their own traditional dress for daily chores, before it became the uniform for Japanese schoolgirls, in the ever-popular Taisho Roman style, eventually evolving into the sailor suit school uniform from the 1930s (depicted in the pale blue section).

Influenced by the maid’s uniforms used in the U.S. service industry, the outfit hurtled through different designs, lengths and colour combinations in the cafe and department store worlds of the 1930s (pictured in the purple section on the bottom right of the image), culminating in the black-and-white unisex pants outfit often seen today. From the ’30s through to the ’80s, the maid’s uniform also went through a period of change as it appeared on staff working in railroad dining cars (pictured in the pale pink section on bottom right).

Today’s culture of the uniform being used in cosplay and maid cafes is linked to both the family restaurant styles mentioned above, and the short and sexy French maid’s outfit from the ’30s. The French maid’s uniform was fetishised by the adult entertainment industry, influencing the maid’s outfits depicted in novels, illustrations and CG works. The pink section on the top left shows the different styles which appeared in adult PC games from 1985 onwards, with the shorter styles tied to more hardcore adult games in the ’90s.

This led to a “maid boom” from 1998 onwards (bottom left), which saw maids permeating the culture across a variety of different mediums to such an extent that they eventually became a feature of Japanese fashion and society from 2005. At the same time, the “maid cosplay boom” was in full swing from 1999, with individuals putting their own spin on the traditional costume, culminating in new genres like “nurse maid“, “Japanese maid” and “gothic Lolita maid” from 2002.

Family restaurant uniforms and the maid booms of the ’90s led to the popularity of maid cafes from 2001 onwards (bottom middle), leading to a “maid cafe boom” in 2005, which paved the way for segmentation, and a variety of different styles and cafes for customers to choose from.

This look back into the evolution of the maid’s uniform from British servant’s quarters to the streets of Japan shows that the fashion trend has spanned countries and centuries to get to where it is today. So next time you spot a maid uniform bikini at the each, get dressed up for Maid’s Day or lift weights at a maid gym, you might want to think back to the years of styles that came before it, and recall its historic moments.

Source: Net Lab
Featured image: Twitter/@RayTatsumi

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