HIP Spotlight: The History Of Beams Plus

Japanese fashion over the last 50 years has been ahead of the curve. Through the cultural epicentre of Harajuku in Tokyo, forward-thinking designers that have impacted contemporary fashion in all genres, the considered takes on Americana style that not only uphold its values, but progress key looks through craftsmanship and taste – Japanese design is on a pedestal and rightly so. HIP has always held an impressive roster of Japanese brands. Characterised by attention to detail, labels from Japan create great menswear. None more so than BEAMS PLUS – the sub-label of iconic Japanese lifestyle retailer BEAMS that explores the golden age of American style from 1940-60.

What is BEAMS?

The name BEAMS is synonymous with Japanese culture – a true architect of style with over 150 stores spread across Japan and a reputation over the world. The first Beams store opened in February 1976 in a small space which later became the current menswear flagship store in Harajuku. The concept was born after Americana fashion obsessive Osamu Shigematsu saw a gap in the market to distribute authentic U.S goods in Japan, following on from trips to Hawaii at 19 and scouring local PX stores on U.S bases in Japan to find rare items. Shigematsu pitched the idea to businessman Etsuzo Shitara and the rest was history.

Ivy League-inspired Japanese fashion in the latter half of the 20th century. Source: Port Magazine; Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style, W. David Marx
Ivy League-inspired Japanese fashion in the latter half of the 20th century. Source: Port Magazine; Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style, W. David Marx

Inspired by American college campus life, BEAMS primarily sold fashion and lifestyle products displayed in the style of a UCLA dorm room. Named ‘American Life Shop Beams’, the brand dedicated was to giving Tokyo a slice of the Ivy League style. In the early days Shigematsu would travel to California and return with unique products you just could not find anywhere else.

BEAMS And Japanese Popular Culture

BEAMS was not just selling clothing, it was selling a lifestyle; an insight into America that built on popular culture at the time. BEAMS was “shining a light on great products from around the world”.

BEAMS idolisation of American cultural motifs was intertwined with the lifestyle projected by magazine POPEYE, also launched in the late ’70s. Dubbed a “Magazine for City Boys,” POPEYE taught young Japanese men cohesive ideas on how to dress, live, work, and eat. The first issue in 1976 proclaimed “What’s a ‘city boy’? The term doesn’t appear in the dictionary and no expert panel could define it. So we felt we should explore every aspect of what this “city boy” might be. After decades of debate, it still makes for a topic of lively discussion. It can be a style or a way of thinking. To get an idea of what makes a city boy, read POPEYE magazine”.

Vintage Popeye Magazine cover. Source: Graduate Store
A POPEYE cover from June, 2012. Source: Magazine World

The Expansion Of BEAMS

In the ensuing years BEAMS introduced a new line, Beams F, followed by the International Gallery Beams in 1981. The inception of new sub-labels was aligned to a more varied cultural palette, as the brand looked towards American East Coast styles as well as the bourgeoning European arts scene. As the BEAMS brand roster became more eclectic, its approach to curation was cemented – a “cultural antennae held high to the skies, constantly searching for the latest styles, fashion, and lifestyles”. The expansion of BEAMS came at opportune time, a period of heightened economic growth in ’80s Japan, where the flourishing youth fashion scene was intertwined with more disposable income.

BEAMS prided itself in being a creative retailer that catered to the new needs of a culture in flux. The store provided value beyond a product’s material use, sharing the background and context behind it. BEAMS aimed to represent various styles that rung a chord with its cultural radar. Customers came to trust BEAMS’ taste and vision, having an affinity with its ‘Global Eye’. At its core, BEAMS cherishes the emotion behind a product – “subtle items of happiness that bring dreams to life; items that bring us together in our personal, everyday space and time”.

A BEAMS bag from the ’70s. Source: BEAMS

The first BEAMS store in Harajuku, Tokyo. Source: Sabukaru


The early ’90s in Japan paved the way for a new generation of street-forward designers like Nigo and Shinsusuke Takizawa. The period was also one of even more diversification for BEAMS, progressing its lifestyle universe by opening a record store, art gallery and cafe. Despite the influx of streetwear in Harajuku, BEAMS stayed true to its roots with the launch of BEAMS PLUS.

The concept was to focus solely on what Beams deemed as the golden age of American menswear in the post-war period from 1940-1960. BEAMS PLUS adapted those looks with subtle contemporary touches and quality construction, building a wardrobe to last a lifetime. Although the time period of this era is narrow, it was rich with style and elegance, distinguished by four key pillars of Ivy, outdoor, military and workwear.

BEAMS PLUS does not succumb too heavily to nostalgia, instead taking inspiration from this period to pursue a new generation of casualwear. References capture not just the fashion of the era, but the feeling of culture, music, film and sport. Each collection appears progressive and contemporary. Themes that guide the collection can be so obscure that they feel completely novel.

BEAMS PLUS sources materials far and wide and often relies upon traditional methods of weaving and sewing. Each piece feels highly considered – wardrobe staples to grow sentiment with wear and built to stand the test of time.

Our BEAMS PLUS collection is available online now and in our Leeds & Manchester stores.