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While I see 衣類 and 衣服 as more general concepts in comparison to 服, I am very unsure of the difference between them.

What situations explicitly call for one over the other? In what situations are both or all three acceptable?

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A native speaker on this site recently mentioned that 衣類 was the normal word to refer to clothes but there does not seem to be a lot of difference in meaning. Possibly 衣服 is more formal? –  Tim May 14 at 9:42
    
What about 服装? –  istrasci May 14 at 17:47
    
I haven't stumbled upon that one before –  Daniel Safari May 14 at 18:09
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1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Shogakukan's J-J Ruigo Reikai Thesaurus Dictionary has this to say about usage differences for 衣服 and 衣類.

  • 「衣服」は、主に外側に着る上着、ズボン、羽織の類についていう。
    Ifuku refers mostly to things like overcoats, trousers, and haori worn as outerwear.
  • 「衣類」は、帯、靴下、肌着などまで含めて体に着けるものすべてに対する総称。
    Irui is a more general term that refers to all things that can be worn on the body, including obi, socks, and underwear.

Just plain old isn't included in the same thesaurus entry, appearing instead under the entry for 洋服 ("western clothes"). Notably, 服 here in the thesaurus is glossed as "a dress" rather than "clothes", and the brief Japanese definition given in the thesaurus as common to both 洋服 and 服 states:

  • 和服に対して、西洋風の衣服。
    Contrasting with traditional Japanese clothing, western-style outerwear.

The JA-JA dictionary I have says:

  1. ころも。着物。衣服。
    Robes. Kimono. Outerwear.
  2. 「洋服」の略。
    Short for "western clothing".

As a further data point, the usage examples in Shogakukan's Progressive Japanese-English Dictionary entry for 服 almost all suggest that 服 may imply more of a set outfit. Here are a few excerpted examples (emphasis mine):

  • 戦闘服の兵士たち  soldiers in battle dress
  • 道化師の服  a clown's costume
  • 結婚式の服〔男性の〕 a wedding suit / 〔女性の〕 a wedding dress
  • 警察官の服  a policeman's uniform
  • 彼は紺の服が似合う  The navy blue suit becomes him.

服装 meanwhile has its own thesaurus entry, but the section about usage discusses only 装い in detail. The English gloss for 服装 is given as "dress; costume", while the brief Japanese definition states:

  • 衣服およびその装飾品などを身につけた姿。
    Appearance when wearing outerwear and other accessories.
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Just FYI: I almost did not read your answer, it was so long. The part up to "The JA-JA" was enough for me (and useful because you were giving information not avaialble in English.) –  Tim May 15 at 2:18
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