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making faces :: inspired by mori

i've always found that my tastes run a little too eclectic to settle on one particular style of dress. yes, i used to wear a lot of black and listen to antisocial music, but at the same time, i always felt energised by seeing blocks of colour. i'd go through phases of looking prim and businesslike, but after a little while, it would start to feel restrictive.

my way of dealing with this, as i creep inexorably towards middle age, is to try to patch together looks that incorporate all of the things that i like, or to take inspiration from various sorts of things i come across on line [to the pinterest!!] and make them my own. it's a way to stave off making clothing decisions by grabbing stuff that doesn't look/ smell too bad off the top of the laundry hamper. or the floor.

i can't remember how i ended up finding out about the japanese trend of "mori girls", but i loved the imagery that i found associated with it. somehow, it seemed appropriate to the endless grey days and damp weather we've been experiencing this "spring". like most self-conscious "styles", it is really the territory of young women. however, it's one that i find easily adapts to those of us who aren't going to get asked for i.d. at the liquor store.

the term "mori" is japanese for "forest" and the look of the mori girl is that of the forest inhabitant. it's part faerie and part artist. in japan, the inspiration for the look comes largely from the character of hagu, the shy, artistic heroine [well, one of the heroines] of the manga "honey and clover". in a broader sense, the fashion is linked to girls and women who enjoy nature, the arts and solitude. in "honey and clover", hagu chooses to pursue her drawing rather than settle down with one of her suitors from art school, so the style of mori girls is very much that of the independent-minded young woman, in contrast with urban girls out to snare a husband.

hagu from honey and clover
i  would describe the look as victorian england filtered through a japanese lens. much as steampunk draws from the early industrial era and combines it with science fiction, mori style takes elements of refined victoriana and combines it with a modern liberated attitude. there's a predominant strain of anglophilia and fascination with celtic history in mori. there is nothing obviously sexy about the look, but it is extremely feminine. it actually reminds me a great deal of some of the fashions of the early nineties- baby doll dresses combined with doc martens, thrift store cotton nighties worn over loose-fitting jeans, etc.

at my age, wearing a nightie over pants is likely to make people think that my brain has started to go and that they need to put me in a home, so i need something a little less conspicuous.


the mori look has a certain amount in common with what's often called "gypsy" style, although the palette is more subdued than what you generally see described as "gypsy". think of colours you'd describe as 'antique'- bone rather than white, dried flowers rather than fresh, tarnished versus polished metal, sage and dill versus palm and kelly green. if you've followed any of my series on sci/art colour analysis, you may find that those colour descriptions fall in line perfectly with those used to described the palette of soft summer- cool, muted, delicate, misty. i do think that there's a natural accord there, although i think this sort of look could translate well to true summers and any of the autumn blends- from soft summer to dark winter.

typical mori girl look
one of the keys of the mori look is layering. i love that aspect, because it's can feel very comforting and at the same time, it can help hide little bulges or rolls that you might not feel like putting out there. however, the extremes of very loose, billowy layers work chiefly on bodies that are waifish to begin with. [i would also add that loose, billowy layers are not ideal for strolling through the forest. trust me, i've done it.] in trying this look out for myself, i went for layers that were a little more form-fitting. i didn't want anything too tight, but a tank top under a diaphanous jersey shirt with a slight princess cut worked well. and rather than layer multiple items on bottom, i just chose a skirt that had a lot of layers and fabrics in it already. since it's polyester, it might not jive with the overall natural feel of the mori, but i felt that the style was still in keeping. if i were being more of a purist, i'd opt only for natural fibres like cotton, linen and silk. instead, i paid more attention to keeping things matte. natural fabrics don't have a lot of shine to them, generally speaking, so i wanted to keep the surfaces looking a little rough.

in the interests of creating more layers, i threw on a scarf and instead of a jacket, i wore a velvet wrap, black on one side, eggplant on the other. in general, i kept to a palette i'll call shadowy. most of the mori looks i've seen are lighter, but there are still a fair number of greys and blacks used. i did at least opt to use black clothing that wasn't fully saturated- very bright colours are the antithesis of the mori look- so that the overall impression would be softer. [i know these aren't the greatest pics, i'm still working on how to get the clothing shots right...]

most of what i'm wearing here has been with me for years. the skirt and tights came from a shop in toronto's kensington market. the top is from a second hand place on melrose street in los angeles. [no, i don't know why i remember these things.] the scarf just randomly appeared in my closet at one point and the cloak was a gift from a friend who thought it suited me. [i like to think she was onto something.] although there are certainly shops that cater to this sort of look, mori 'culture' does tend to favour second hand or hand-me-down items. part of the old fashioned + green mentality. the only thing that's new-ish [purchased within the last few years, although well enough loved that it's starting to show the signs of age] is the purse by my feet, although the bag itself was made with recycled/ upcycled fabric by local designers. i got it at aime come moi boutique and while it's unique, they do occasionally have other bags in a similar style.

in terms of makeup, there isn't really an established mori look, but the things that i have read indicate that makeup shouldn't be too obvious and that fresh, rosy cheeks should be the focus of any cosmetics. i wanted to do something slightly cloudy looking, but with a little warmth to it, like a forest seen in the early morning fog. i knew that rouge bunny rouge had several products that would help me achieve this, so here's what i went for:

the base ::
hourglass mineral veil primer
yves st. laurent teint d'eclat foundation "beige 10"
nars radiant creamy concealer "vanilla"
benefit highlighter "high beam" [used under the eyes to brighten]
armani illuminati bb cream "greige" [used on cheeks to highlight and brighten]

the eyes ::
mac paint pot "tailor grey" [dirty grey-taupe]
rouge bunny rouge e/s "solstice halcyon" [soft mauve taupe]
rouge bunny rouge e/s "eclipse eagle" [shimmery deep purple taupe]
chanel e/s "hasard" [matte soft mauve]
mac e/s "creamy bisque" [pinkish ivory highlight]*
urban decay 24/7 e/l "smoke" [deep cool grey]
ysl effet faux cils mascara "noir radical"

the cheeks ::
rouge bunny rouge highlighting liquid "sea of tranquility" [pale rose gold]
benefit benetint [sheer cherry red]
chanel ombre contraste "notorious" [lavender taupe]*
rouge bunny rouge blush "gracilis" [neutral light plum pink]
hourglass ambient lighting powder "dim light" [champagne beige]

the lips ::
benefit benetint

*suggested alternates :: creamy bisque = mac dazzlelight [warmer, more shimmery], notorious = hourglass mood light [warmer, more shimmery]

i eventually found that the benetint formula on my lips felt a little tight on its own, so i topped it with korres lip gloss in "rose", but for the photos, i'm just wearing benetint.

clearly, i was putting a premium on bright, full, rosy cheeks for this one, while keeping everything else sort of subdued. the smokiness around the eyes was my own take. since the outfit seemed to have an overall shadowy look to it, i thought that the eyes should match. having learned from my previous soft summer experience, i indulged in a little more liner than i think most true mori types would. that and the high colour in the cheeks keep this from being too aging on me.

i even went the extra step and used a nail colour that i thought was in keeping with the theme. this is essie "chinchilly", which hasn't received a lot of love from me. i want to love it. i loved it looking at it in the bottle. i love other shades from essie because they're so easy to work with. unfortunately, this one is tricky because it's extremely runny. so your choices are to work in multiple [three or more] very thin coats and hope that the end result is both opaque and even [thin coats will tend to be streaky, because the polish moves too easily before it dries]; or use a thicker coat and pray that it isn't so thick that it won't ever completely dry, making it vaguely putty-like and prone to smudges and dents.

i used one thin and one thicker coat, but the end result was far from perfect. the photos that you're looking at were taken the same day as i applied the polish. i'm clumsy and my manicures are never perfect, but those flaws [keep in mind, i'm wearing a protective top coat as well] are a bit much, even for me.

as with the clothing, i tried to keep the makeup reasonably matte. the slight sheen of "solstice halcyon" is somewhat evident, but overall, there's an emphasis on quiet, slightly dusty shades, with nothing too flashy. of course, if you wanted to try something that leaned a little less towards the nature lover and a little more towards the forest sprite, you could try something like this look, which i think would be perfectly in keeping with the mori style.

i'm attracted to this sort of look, because it is very similar to the way that i dressed when i was in my early twenties- a generally happy time. however, as i've explored my own relationship with colour, i have found that i benefit more from having sharp, distinct blocks of clear colour, rather than the more restrained, shaded tones of this sort of palette. i do think that makeup-wise, this look fared better than my original take on a soft summer one, but you can still see that the area under my eyes is darkened and the complexion reads as more dull than pearly [which is how it should look on someone with the appropriate colouring]. if my guess is correct and i am a bright season, then this is the sort of thing that is never going to work perfectly on me. doesn't mean i won't try.

while this sort of look might conjure up unfortunate visions of stevie nicks for some, i do think that it is an example of a youthful type of style that can easily be translated for women of any age and that there's enough flexibility that it won't end up looking like an ill-fitting uniform on anyone. what do you think? can you see trying this out? or is this a little too effete for your tastes?

if you're curious to know more, here are a couple of sites i checked out in my search for information:

mori girl blog
mori girl tumblr
how to be a mori girl from vanillery garden
spoon magazine [the bible of all things mori girl. you can't see very much except the cover images on line, unfortunately. text is in japanese, use google translate at your own peril.]


This is a fascinating post! I love learning about Japanese youth subcultures, and I'd never heard of mori (which suits my aesthetic more than, say, ganguro...). Now I want to read Honey and Clover--a good way to keep up my fading Japanese, perhaps.

I've had the same experience with Essie Chinchilly. Plus, I just don't love the dark cool gray on my skin; I like my grays lighter or more purple. I think a dusty pale green would also work nicely with the mori look.
Hi Kate! Hundreds of pats on the back for this in-depth essay and resources on the mori look! What a coincidence! I used to shop at Kensington market for most of my Mori pieces. There's a shop called Fairies Pyjamas with rather unique handmade pieces, wonder if they are still there...

Anyways, I loved Honey and Clover- the manga, anime and live action, everything! I always turned to Yu Aoi for Mori fashion inspiration as she is the undisputed queen of Mori.

Her stage wardrobe for Hagu was exquisite but strayed from the Victorian influence which was more heavily depicted in the manga and anime. Mostly, wispy pieces with, lots of natural materials like knitted wool, cotton and linen but also consisted of brightly colored, artsy elements of quilt-patches, sweet florals and tie dyes. I would say...almost hippy.
Kate MacDonald said…
Glad to see that you enjoyed it!

@auxiliary beauty- I hadn't heard about mori either until a week or so ago. I honestly think I happened across the term on Pinterest, looking at a garment I liked. From there, the investigation began. And I absolutely agree about the dusty pale green. OPI Stranger Tides is a favourite shade of mine and would be perfectly suited to this sort of look. After all, green is the colour of the forest!

@Beauty Buzz Daily- I hadn't actually known Honey and Clover until I started reading up on this. Now I'm very interested. I did see lots of references to Aoi as the quintessential mori, I guess because of her portrayal of Hagu. I'd love to read the original or see the live version.
I can see how a hippie element could come into this style. It's a more modern, North American take on the nature lover. Reading about the essence of the look definitely made me think more of the Victorian Romantic movement heroines, though.

as long as you're here, why not read more?

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