If you’re an avid/obsessive fan of Japanese fashion as we are here at Telephone Towers, you may have seen a couple of articles recently about changes in gyaru style – here on The Japan Times website, and a response here on Tokyo Fashion. I think that being able to discuss such articles and form one’s own opinions is one of the great opportunities available to us, and of course my own little brain started firing away on reading both of these fantastic and thought-provoking pieces. I hope you’ll forgive me for writing a response to a response, and needless to say that all thoughts expressed here are based on personal observations and discussions between Samuel and I, and are by no means a definitive view. We’d love to hear what our readers think, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch and leave a comment!
Firstly, when discussing gyaru fashion and culture in particular, I think it’s really important to remove it completely from a Western context. It’s very easy to pigeonhole people into certain categories based on our own views, and I think in the case of gal it’s increasingly important to remember that above all it’s a rebellious style; by bleaching their hair and tanning their skin, these girls have chosen to reject the traditional Japanese beauty ideal of dark hair and pale skin. They have deliberately chosen confrontational looks that set them outside the bounds of ‘normal’ society, and you just have to applaud guts like that. Egg magazine’s motto of ‘get wild and be sexy’ neatly encapsulates this feeling of freedom from the inherent strictness of Japanese society, and the acceptance of oneself – and let’s not forget that accepting female sexuality is still a pretty big deal here in Japan, land of the maid cafe and 2D idol.
So, with this image of an immaculately made-up anti-society fashion lover with bejewelled nails and extra-long hair extensions as our background, what’s the deal with the current rise in a more conservative image of gyaru themselves? Long time readers will remember me referring to a split in gal fashion between ‘traditional’ and ‘trend’ for a while now, but how far does this go to explain the supposed declining numbers of gyaru in Tokyo?
I think it’s impossible to ignore the increasing burring between the lines of ‘Shibuya’ and ‘Harajuku’ fashion; as they are so geographically close it’s been inevitable for a while that so-called ShibuHara fashion would herald the age of a less strongly defined boundary between the two fashion frontiers. I’m not for one moment suggesting that there’s been an influx of punk kids clogging up the escalators in the gyaru-mecca Shibuya 109 department store, but I have seen more and more crossover and certainly a fair few gals checking out what Harajuku’s La Foret has to offer. It’s easy to see why – never before have so many fashion brands’ collections looked so similar. Walking around both La Foret and 109 earlier last week, at times it was hard to remember which department store you were actually in…
It seems that the ‘retro girly’ look that’s so popular both in magazines and on the streets has a lot that appeals to an increasingly wide range of girls: blouses; peter pan collars; heeled brogues; pleated skirts; lace details and delicate materials. This is of course a far more conservative look than the denim hot pants and glittery accessories that have been staples of the gal wardrobe for many years, and I personally don’t think that there’s a single simple explanation for such a huge shift in aesthetics. It seems that it’s probably due to a number of factors, including but not limited to: those original gyaru fashion pioneers growing up themselves, the increasing influence of international style bloggers and fast fashion stores such as H&M and Forever 21, and the fickleness of fashion trends themselves. It’s certainly a more attainable look – pop on a cute blouse, some brown shoes and you’re good to go – and it’s definitely less likely to exclude you from society in the way that more extreme gyaru culture has done before. In this way it’s a great mid-point for a number of girls, as it’s both acceptably fashionable and still glamourous.
As a bit of an aside, I’d like to mention mode style, as I think it’s an interesting development in gyaru fashion. Virtually entirely represented by the brands Emoda and Murua, the mode look is one that is almost exactly between the two images of gal that I’ve been discussing here, and with it’s penchant for sheer blouses and luxury may have initially spawned the current sweet and retro girly style. While mode doesn’t come close to the excess and extremes of previously popular gal look, with it’s high fashion influences, stronger look (red lipstick is a must for shop staff and fans) and darker colour palette, it’s far edgier than the cosy and cute image that’s become so popular lately.
But where are the lovers and followers of traditional gyaru fashion? I for one think that there’s been a shift in fashion locale from Shibuya towards Shinjuku – home of hosts, pachinko parlours and downtown fun. I’ve certainly noticed more garter belts and false eyelashes on girls walking around Shinjuku than Shibuya of late, and this may be due in part to Shinjuku’s flashier and less formal vibe, and also to the Studio Alta fashion department store. While you couldn’t move for the most part in both 109 and La Foret for oversize knitted jumpers, mid-length skirts and beige and caramel tones, it was almost nostalgia-inducing to see gold chains, pale pink dresses and giant sunglasses making up much of Alta’s stock. Taking the example of the Esperanza shoe store that’s in both 109 and Alta, while it was brown suede loafers and ankle boots in Shibuya, on the ground floor of Studio Alta as well as spike-heeled leopard print shoes I found the most amazing pair of faux-Ugg boots, complete with wedge heel and bright pink fake fur trim – stock that was notably absent from Shibuya’s 109.
So is this the end of gyaru as we know it, or are we seeing the advent of a totally new sweeter (retro girly – I may have to remove my fingers if I have to type those two words again!) sub-style? I think it’s probably too early to tell, as if we’re observing a major shift, we’re almost certainly more at the beginning rather than the end. If we cast our minds back to the days of manba and ganguro, we can see an increasing slide away from the more hyper-stylised looks towards a much broader interpretation of gyaru. I’m sure that with the meteoric rise of gal outside Japan there will be an increasing demand for it in all it’s gorgeous forms, be it traditional or trendy. In conclusion, I think all that’s really left to say is that as long as there are still fans of gyaru, there will still be gyaru.
As mentioned at the start, I’d really love to hear from anyone who has any opinions on this subject! Huge thanks to Misha Janette & Tokyo Fashion for inspiring me to work my brain a little harder and write this epic, and of course to those who’ve battled through to the end!