This year saw, apparently, a boom in ‘agejo’ fashion style among the young women of Tokyo. Whether this boom had more to do with an uptake in trending items such as coloured contact lenses, maxi dresses and ever-increasing long fake eyelashes rather than the emulation of popular agejo models Momoka Eri (Momoeri) and Sakurai Rina (Sakurina)… well, we’ll see. Either way, I’m sure we can all appreciate the flawless style of a rather interesting breed of woman.

You can’t mention agejo without Ageha! Koakuma Ageha (小悪魔ageha, commonly referred to as simply Ageha) magazine has been incredibly influential in promulgating agejo style to a wider audience, in the same way as Egg magazine has done with gyaru fashion. Koakuma (小悪魔) stands for ‘little devil’ , while ageha (アゲハ) means swallowtail butterfly, a somewhat odd combination! Agejo (アゲ嬢) has therefore become the name of the style deriving from Ageha. I use the word agejo in this post as an umbrella term covering street agejo fashion, hostess fashion and related styles.

Characterised by perfect make-up with strong emphasis on (inhumanly) large eyes with coloured contact lenses and several sets of false eyelashes, hair in light natural tones either left loose and curled or piled high in incredible coils and weaves, and clothes with a unequivocally feminine style, agejo turns heads. It has been argued that agejo display an aggressively feminine appearance that ultimately sexualises themselves to a degree far above the norm which leads to a powerful form of dehumanisation  – they have created an image of themselves that becomes more real than the actual person.

With regard to the sexualisation of agejo style, it must be noted that a great number of the women who favour this style are hostesses (kyabakura, キャバクラ) and are employed in related industries, and indeed this has become the ‘look’ of a hostess. However, I stress the fact that hostesses are not prostitutes (Japan has strict, yet rarely enforced laws – hello enjo kousai; compensated dating!), and that a girl dressed in her best agejo outfit is not necessarily a hostess – fashion is after all, only clothes.

(Sakurina as courtesan; image via google)

The look favoured by a hostess while at a club is typically the style featured in the image above the cut; maxi dresses with loud prints and embellished detail. While doing the preliminary research for this post, I came across the above image of model & entrepreneur Sakurina dressed in the style of a Japanese courtesan, and it got me thinking… In some ways, agejo can be said to be the courtesans of the modern age. For example courtesans (oiran, 花魁) were involved in the mizu shoubai (水商売) ‘water trade’ as the Japanese sex industry is euphemistically referred to, and they were known by their somewhat flashier style that emphasised their female sexuality – many layers of bright kimono with the obi knot tied at the front and huge numbers of hair ornaments; quite a statement in a time when iki (粋, understated chic) was the predominant style. Agejo can be said to be the modern equivalent of this, beautiful butterflies of the current age, flitting around their night-time water world. And now I’m over-romanticising fashion again!

I think it’s also worth drawing a parallel between the early 20th Japanese moga (モガ, modern girl) phenomenon and the advent of gyaru style. Moga were the equivalent of the 1920’s flapper girls – female rebellion in the aesthetic form of bobbed hair, less-ornate clothing styles and of course, shorter skirts. Japan too became overrun with short-haired girls in western-style dress promising a female revolution – I can’t help but think of ganguro girls with their dark tans, light hair, extreme make-up and ubiquitous short skirts as the 21st century’s own modern girls! Feminist anti-society statement… or just fashion?

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2 Responses to Agejo; Butterfly Courtesans of the Modern Age

  1. Hezty Lovartz says:

    It’s a very interesting article! When did U write this? Thanks.

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