Hipsters dominate the mainstream. as much as the culture was meant to promote originality they themselves have now become the ‘mainstream’ look. Originality is no longer ‘original’. However when it first started, like many subcultures, it was created as a way for youngsters to fit in, in societies where they felt they have no place. They generally use fashion and music to show their shared mindset and beliefs.
Youngsters in Japan are no exception to this ideology. Although it is a rather segregated country in terms of adapting itself to the outside world, language barrier being the main reason… Because of that, Japan, in my opinion, has the most original and creative youngsters. Instead of adapting the western ways, they create their own ideas. Their range of subcultures including; Harajuku, otaku, cosplayers etc., though the other parts of the world seems to be catching up on these subcultures due to the influences of the massive entertainment industry, such as Gwen Stefani with Harajuku girls in her music and fashion (though received critics for fetishizing Asian women and reinforces white privilege) gave them plenty of attention but I wouldn’t say understanding and of course the Comic Con in the U.S. causes the increasing number of cosplayers amongst comic and game lovers.
Japanese, as a whole, is famous for their conformity and self control, best example is the Japanese school girls and their sailor uniforms. In the mid 90’s a group of girls decided to rebel against the traditional and thus Gyaru was born. In the olden days, the Geisha was the ideal of traditional beauty: expressionless face, porcelain complexion and always ready to conform to men. The first known woman to ‘snap’ from the pressure was Abe Sada(below: Sada after her arrest), a geisha who erotically asphyxiated her lover, Kichiza Ishida and then cutting off his penis and testicles and carried them around with her in her handbag on May 18, 1936.
The Gyaru girls’ reaction was no where near in comparison to Sada’s. Gyaru (ギャル) a Japanese pronunciation of the English word “gal”. According to a survey uncovered by sociologist Namba Koji in 1989, young women defined gals as “those who don’t care if their guy is from money or a good family; they go for trendy looks, clothing, behavior, and are cheerful.” In other words, gals were party girls. With the Baywatch hype going around the world in the early 90’s, a group of Japanese school girls started “blacking up” and bleaching their hair blonde to copy the California girls. Thereafter starts the ever changing evolution of Gyaru!
Early 90’s: Kogal / Kogyaru (コギャル)
The start of the Gyaru subculture. Girls started going to the tanning saloon daily to maintain the Californian glow. The girls maintained their school uniforms paired with loose socks and loafers. There is no exact date or even year when the gyaru first appeared on the streets of Shibuya. The term “kogyaru” — “ko” being either for “small” (小) or “child” (子) — is said to have started as jargon among bouncers to designate the high school girls who tried to sneak into clubs and look like their older peers. These “little gals” formed the core of the first modern Gyaru movement, and even when the “ko” was dropped in later years, the term “gyaru” came to represent their descendants.
Late 90’s: Ganguro (ガングロ)
Tan was taken further by a group of Kogyaru creating the Ganguro (ガングロ). Ganguro literally means “black-face”, although it has nothing to do with the Blackface of early 1900’s culture in America. They too mimick the make up of a character created by comedian Toshiro Shimazaki called Adamo-chan. Hence, the white make up was developed.
Not only did they wear white lips, significant amount of white eye make up is applied with false eyelashes, plastic facial gems under their eyes, and lots of pearl powder on their cheeks. Their hair colour varied from blonde to orange or silver grey known as “high bleached”. At this stage of transformation, the Japanese schoolgirl uniforms were replaced with resort wear and summer accessories like hibiscus leis and mardi gras beads.
Some said Ganguro is a form of revenge against traditional Japanese society due to resentment of neglect, isolation, and constraint of Japanese society. Gyaru, at that time, came to be associated with kids gone off the rails, namely drop-outs and runaways. That was the main reason why they were not featured in any mainstream magazines at that era because they represented a part of the social problems in the Japanese society and was disdained by most. Because they were rejected by all, Egg magazine was created in 1995 for these girls to call home. They were their own celebrities and models. The magazine even included sex tips such as different sex position whilst in a kimono.
Ganguro or Gyaru in general is not just a group of people with the same interest of fashion but also created a social phenomenon at this era, called the Para Para. Para Para is a synchronised group dance which is rather similar to the traditional Bon Odori dance. Instead of dancing in pairs, people get together and dance side by side, both consist of mostly arm movements and very little lower body movement is involved, mostly only stepping in place. Para Para is strongly associated with Eurobeat music, but unlike most club dancing and rave dancing there are specific synchronized movements for each song much like line dancing.
The Millennium: Yamanba (ヤマンバ) and Manba (マンバ)
Gyaru was known as the naughty girl, irresponsible and “easy”. It was claimed that the Gyarus have a lot of boyfriends, in other words, they were all sluts. To change that “easy girl” image, Yamanba was born. The term “yamanba” was derived from Yama-uba, this old woman in Japanese folklore that has long crusty white hair, since the Japanese girls emulating them resemble her.
Back then there were 2 types of Gyaru, Yamanba (ヤマンバ) and Manba (マンバ). Manba girls have white makeup above the eye and below and look like pandas. The Yamanba only have white makeup above their eyes. They all love Disney characters and anything to do with Hawaii. When it comes to fashion, they wear a lot of cute animal suit/onesies or bathrobe. Their make up was purposely made resembling a panda, using black eyeliner to create droopy eyes effect. Also, their hair trend changed from resort style to almost African. This style of dressing is sometimes called “Tough Gyaru”. The intention of changing the public’s perceptions about them had failed, although in recent days the public seemed to be more accepting.
Current (2005 and above)
It is said that nowadays the Gyaru community have toned down their loud appearance. They now have more luminescent make up, wearing more glittery accessories and the hair though still multi coloured is now more voluminous. They are now widely accepted as a fashion forward style and promoted in main stream fashion magazines and TV. Seeing the rejections the Gyarus had endured, this seem to be a big step forward revolutionizing the subculture as a whole. Although I find it slightly off track from where they’ve started..
There are plenty of Gyaru subgroups since it first started, one of them is the Hime Gyaru, translated as Princess Gal. They wear lots of laces, floral prints and pearls. To be honest, this is not my favourite kind. In my opinion, although the theme is still under “I wear whatever I feel is cute, not what the boys think”, the group lacks the aggression that I enjoy seeing in their fashion.
Before I die in disappointment, I found a group called the Black Diamond. Ganguro is making a come back as Kuro Gyaru (black skin gal)! In an interview, it was said that they now have 120 members from Hokkaido to Okinawa and more than 50 members are from 20 different countries. Needless to say, their mission is to “conquer the world”. Since it is hard to obtain Gyaru merchandise out of Japan, they’ve started selling some goods via their facebook page.
As for fashion, they wear mostly faux fur, animal prints, denim shorts/skirts and big multi-coloured hair (some even with feathers in them). There is less traces of the white make up, but still keeping the essence of the original Gyaru.
From then to now, Gyaru subculture is ever changing and ever expending. Who knows what these girls will create next. Some may argue that Gyaru is a feminist subculture as they started off to rebel against the traditional expectations of men towards women. However, was that really their conscious intension? Or are they just girls who want to have fun? Either way, they’ve created an empire of subculture that has not only made a home for many girls and some boys too, but also revolusionised Japan’s fashion. Since they are slowly creeping in the rest of the world, perhaps someday their wish to take over the world might just come true.
I was very interested at the in and out of Gyaru style and found Tia Weaver via YouTube. She is a Manba Gyaru from the U.S. and is one of the founders of a Manba facebook page and YouTube channel. She and her colleagues spread information about Gyaru also holding contests to give away free Gyaru related gifts. Intrigued by her look, I just had to interview her.
Luckily for me, she agreed on answering my interview questions. So, here’s the interview!
When and how did your interest in Gal started? What lead to your interest?
I first found out about gal around late 2005 when I came across a picture of the old school ganguro on the internet. I remember not liking the style at all at first and I just pushed it to the side and forgot about it! It wasn’t until the following year when I randomly thought to actually research the style and when I did I completely fell in love with it. I was already interested in Japanese street fashion but gyaru was something totally different from any style I could even imagine to see in the U.S. where I live and I found that to be really refreshing. They gyaru in Japanese magazines had an attitude and style that was completely different from that of the person i was at the time and I thought they were really cool. I wanted to be just like them.
What does it mean to you? Is it just a look or a lifestyle as well? Why?
Gal for me is a lifestyle. I think it’s important to be flashy in every aspect of your life, not just with the clothes and makeup you wear. The style was built on being crazy, sexy, and wild and I think that every gal should honor that in some way. I’m not a very confident person myself, but I find that gyaru helps me to be bit by bit.
Why Manba not Ganguro or Yamanba or Kogal..?
Ganguro, Yamanba, and Kogal are all very old terms and those styles are outdated. At one point there was a differential between Yamanba and Manba but nowadays both terms are labeled as the latter. I prefer Manba mostly as a summer style most of the other sub styles because it’s way more flamboyant and out there. I think it’s fun to look crazy sometimes and it’s really cute!
Can you describe your look? Make up, clothing etc etc.?
Tanning is definitely an essential for this style. The darker the better! When doing Manba I like to wear a lot of bright colors and things that can be seen as beach or resort wear or sometimes just hoodies and shorts if they have a nice print to them. Cheetah and leopard prints are a must for me personally and anything else that’s flashy looking. For makeup I use white cream makeup, tons of black eyeliner, tan colored foundation, and false eyelashes for both my upper and lower lash lines. I try to give the illusion that my eyes are bigger than they actually are by wearing colored contacts or big circle lens. I also am guilty of using a bright orange eye shadow as a blush.
What is the key accessories or your must have for the look? What’s your favourite?
I think the key point of my style is my hair color. You can have perfect makeup and clothing but if you have a dull hair color it just looks off. I usually keep mine silver or blonde. My favorite accessory at the moment is my Stitch© headband from Tokyo Disney. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be used to protect your hair during baths, but most manbas where them everywhere because they have a huge bow on them and you can get one with your favorite Disney character on it.
Inspired, the next thing to do is have a Gyaru inspired photo shoot! The shoot goes by the theme of Purikura (プリクラ), basically is the Japanese photo sticker booth. In a summary, Purikura booths let you take digital pictures with your friends which you can then decorate with the touch-screen and stylus. You can add frames, stamps, sparkles (in some machines these print as real glitter) and you can write and draw freehand with a variety of pen colours and styles. Such activity is popular among Japanese school children and young adults, mainly girls, young women and young couples, the Gyarus are no exceptions. I thought what can be more suitable for this shoot?! So here goes!
Photographer/Stylist/Make Up Artist/Editor: Me
Model: Olivia Williams
To be hands-on on every detail of the shoot gave me a perspective on how much fun the Gyarus have while getting ready. I wouldn’t say I completely understand them, but at least I get a taste of the fun they have with style from this shoot.