Gyaru culture is a Japanese youth subculture that first emerged in the 1970s but reached its zenith during the 1990s and early 2000s. The term "gyaru" is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the word "gal" and was introduced by the American jeans company Lee for their Wrangler brand. In the 1990s, the initial wave of this subculture, known as kogyaru, emerged when affluent private school girls began sporting expensive European bags, chestnut brown hair, and slightly tanned skin. Due to the financial crisis of that era, the demographic able to afford such clothes was limited to upper-class youth.
The origins of kogyaru can be traced back to the 1980s when all-girl biker gangs dominated Tokyo's streets. Early kogyarus were often associated with chiima (teamers) or connected to chiima circles. Chiima refers to Japanese youth from elite private schools and wealthy families who lavishly spend their money at parties. As Japan began enforcing regulations on the nightclub scene, the chiima movement faded, but the influence of kogyaru continued to grow.
Gyaru culture is known for its distinctive and extravagant fashion and lifestyle, as well as its rebellious spirit. Fashion choices typically include short skirts, crop tops, platform shoes, and vibrant, often animal-print clothing. In its earliest form, kogyaru fashion featured short skirts and loose socks due to its primarily high school-aged following. However, as the 1990s witnessed the peak of the gyaru subculture, associated fashion tastes became even more flamboyant and colorful. Tanning, heavy makeup, and elaborate hairstyles became hallmark features of the gyaru style.
The fashion magazine "egg" played a pivotal role in popularizing these trends, and the renowned department store Shibuya109 became the primary destination for gyaru fashion during the late 1990s and early 2000s. While Shibuya109 served as the epicenter, gyaru culture expanded its reach through other brands, pop-up stores, conventions, and online shops offering international shipping. Within gyaru culture, there are over 30 distinct substyles, including kogyaru, gyaru-o (male gyaru), and ganguro (characterized by deep tans and bleached hair).
Gyaru hairstyles are often characterized by heavily bleached hair styled with extensions, curls, and voluminous teased bouffants. Hair accessories such as bows, ribbons, and clips are frequently used to achieve a cute and playful look. Gyaru makeup features the extensive use of false eyelashes, dramatic eyeliner, colorful eyeshadows, and glossy lips, aiming to create a doll-like or wide-eyed appearance.
Beyond fashion, gyaru culture encompasses a specific lifestyle and attitude. Gyaru girls were often associated with a carefree and rebellious spirit, challenging traditional Japanese norms of appearance and behavior.
By the mid-2000s, gyaru culture experienced a decline due to shifting fashion trends, the emergence of new subcultures, and changing societal attitudes toward appearance. While mainstream popularity has waned, elements of gyaru culture continue to influence modern Japanese fashion and subcultures.
About the author:
Samantha is currently a 5th-year JET in Okinawa, originally from Hawaii. She has been somewhat connected to Japanese culture her whole life despite being Chinese American. She's had the privilege of traveling to Japan and experiencing Japanese culture at a young age. She loves food and is always looking to try new places. When she is not working or out eating, she is an avid baker at home and has been known to feed her colleagues an excessive amount of baked goods.