0 Items | £0.00

VIEW BASKET

Gyaru Power

Wednesday 21st November 2012

Daniel Robson on the rise and fall of girly fashions

GyaruJapan has always had a male-oriented culture. Even today, men get paid better than women, have more opportunities, demand more respect, and are the prime target of the entertainment and sex industries.

But it is getting better. And one reason for that is the efforts of the gyaru.

The term “gyaru” is a Japanese transliteration of the English word “gal” and these days is kind of an umbrella term for style-conscious young women who worship high-street fashion. But its various subcultures and factions have helped shape the perception of the fairer sex in Japan over the past two decades in weird and wonderful ways – sometimes for the better but ultimately... Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The first gyaru began to appear in the early 1990s. Unlike most fashions, the kogyaru (“young gal”) look was not spread by mainstream media, but supposedly grew organically with young girls from affluent families sexing up their school uniforms before going out with their friends. Kogyaru would raise the hem of their skirts, wear floppy “loose” socks and show off a little flesh that was lightly tanned at salons. Think Gogo Yubari, Chiaki Kuriyama’s character in Kill Bill.

Around this time, Japan was heading into a frugal turmoil as its economic bubble burst – but the kogyaru were upper-class school girls with money and no responsibilities, so they bucked the trend by spending big on fashion.

The marketers took note. Before long, Shibuya’s then-ailing 109 department store was repurposed as the ultimate shopping destination for kogyaru, a status it retains to this day. And as the money rolled in, specialist magazines such as Egg, Popteen and Cawaii! became dedicated to covering the kogyaru craze, soaking up the advertising revenue in the process. They filled their pages with amateur models and purikura (print club) photographs sent in by readers. The whole thing was totally grassroots – for a while.

Gyaru

Now that kogyaru style was in the eye of the media, it exploded in popularity – and not just among young girls. Every dirty old man and his dog knew that Shibuya was now the place to spot hot young things who dressed increasingly like Julia Roberts’ high-class prostitute in Pretty Woman.

As the fashion spread to less affluent girls, reports began to appear in the media of enjo kosai, or compensation dating, whereby girls would go out with older men for money in order to buy clothes. Actually it’s unclear just how many of these compensation dates involved kogyaru, but in any case many led to sex, and the kogyaru began to attract unwanted attention from men.

And that’s when things got extreme. The hardcore kogyaru who had been there from the beginning were generally not interested in boys, and certainly not in old perverts. They’d been dressing up for themselves and each other, and no one else. And so in the early 2000s, the style made a shocking evolution.

Ganguro was that rarest of things: a fashion that was actively intended to not look sexy. While the fake tans favoured by kogyaru had gradually been getting darker and more exotic, the ganguro (and even more extreme yamanba) took it a step further, getting fake tans so deep they were practically burned to a crisp, at salons with names such as Blacky. Remember that in in Japan, pale skin has traditionally been the benchmark of beauty.

In addition to the blonde or ash hair colouring favoured by kogyaru, ganguro often went neon. And to ensure their features would stand out from their impossibly dark skin, they used white or silver makeup, painting their faces in almost tribal styles, or like the Joker in negative.

The effect was pretty startling. The specialist magazines went with it – after all, many of the original kogyaru were now ganguro and some even worked for these publications. The boys were repelled as planned, except for the hardier ones who developed the parallel gyaru-o style of effeminate clothing and overblown Bon Jovi hairdos that remains to this day.

But eventually the advertisers were repelled, too. Similar to the early punks in London some 25 years earlier, the rebellious ganguro were considered so repulsive by the mainstream that no one wanted to emulate them. By the middle of the decade they were all but extinct.

Gyaru have changed,” says a barmaid at 10sion, a new theme bar in Shibuya staffed entirely by gyaru. “They used to have really dark skin and they were kinda dirty, but now there are all kinds, from very girly, fluffy girls to tough girls with strong tans.”

Indeed, gyaru has become the default mainstream look for young women today. In trying to keep their subculture for themselves and going ganguro, the hardcore gyaru were shunned; but the buying power remained in the immaculately manicured hands of girls.

Nowadays foreign and domestic brands such as Forever 21, Samantha Thavsa, Cecil McBee and Peach John do big business selling affordable style – not high fashion – to girls around the country. Avex singers Namie Amuro and Ayumi Hamasaki became gyaru icons; the kyabajo subsect took big hair and glamorous evening gowns to hostess and “cabaret” clubs everywhere.

Remember, gyaru is now an umbrella term that includes many subsets, but the common style notes include things like short miniskirts, preppy camisoles or T-shirts (often with English slogans on them), long fake eyelashes and even longer clickity-clackity nails, light-coloured hair with ringlets, stocking suspenders, slightly visible bras and, more recently, a discrete tattoo.

Because of their look, gyaru have also remained highly fetishized. While compensation dating is a thing of the past, there is strong demand for gyaru pornography, in which the stars are often debased in lurid ways. And at “girls’ bars” in every major city, men pay by the hour to indulge in conversation with gyaru, in a set-up similar to hostess clubs.

10sion is an obvious evolution of this, pitched somewhere between a girls’ bar and a maid cafe. Though it advertises itself as a place for likeminded gyaru to come and hang out and swap make-up tips with the barmaids (girls get in free), the clientele when I visited in July were all men, paying 1,000 yen per hour plus drinks to chat and flirt with the staff.

You might expect that sex is involved in an establishment like this, but it very rarely is. No, these places attract men in their droves because the women behind the counter are different kinds of objects, obliged to listen to their conversation, no matter how banal, and to flatter their egos. Their job is to smile and look pretty.

The fact that a place like 10sion can open in 2012 should tell you that the gyaru failed to make their subculture their own; their beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But then again, the original British and American punks now sell butter and car insurance on TV, so who are we to judge?

Yes, gyaru are exploited now by marketers, by pornographers, by letches and salarymen. But they are also probably the strongest group of consumers in Japan today, with brands vying for their every yen. And when you consider that the trend had consumerism and materialism (plus a scoop of rebellion) at its very heart, that’s a big deal.

Gyaru Power

MANGA UK GOSSIP

Ghost In The Shell Arise: Borders Parts 1 & 2

£17.99
sale_tag
was £19.99
In the year 2027, a year following the end of the non-nuclear World War IV, a bomb has gone off in Newport City, killing a major arms dealer who may have ties with the mysterious 501 Organization. Public Security official Daisuke Aramaki hires full-body cyber prosthesis user and hacker extraordinaire, Motoko Kusanagi, to investigate. On the case with her are Sleepless Eye Batou, who believes Kusanagi is a criminal, Niihama Prefecture Detective Togusa who is investigating a series of prostitute murders he believes are related to the incident, and Lieutenant Colonel Kurtz of the 501 Organization who also wishes to keep an eye on Kusanagi.
Freed of her responsibilities with the 501 Organization, Motoko Kusanagi must now learn how to take orders from Aramaki. When unknown forces hack the Logicomas, Batou enlists the help of former army intelligence officer Ishikawa and former air artillery expert Borma. Kusanagi also seeks to enlist ace sniper Saito and undercover cop Paz into the new Public Security Section 9. The two groups rival each other in a case involving a man who receives false memories of a refugee transport operation.

FEATURED RELEASE

RELATED BLOG ARTICLES

The end of Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society?

Andrew Osmond asks if it really is the end for Ghost in the Shell
Solid State Society is, as of writing, the last anime instalment of Ghost in the Shell. Will there be any more? Interviewed in 2007, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, co-founder of Production IG, suggested the franchise could be refreshed by a switch to live-action, with Kusanagi, Batou, Togusa and the rest of Section 9 interpreted by real actors. If it was a success, the franchise could return to anime later.

Ghost in the Shell: Innocence

Jasper Sharp on Oshii's Innocence abroad
Mamoru Oshii’s unashamedly esoteric sequel to his earlier global crossover Ghost in the Shell lent the most credibility to claims for anime as ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A’, when it became the first animated film from Japan to be entered in competition at Cannes.

Mondo Does Ghost in the Shell

Strange things afoot at SDCC booth #835
On sale now at the San Diego Comic Con in a limited edition of only 325 prints, Kilian Eng's beautiful Ghost in the Shell poster for Mondo. It's a thing of beauty made specially to commemorate the 25th anniversary.

Ghost in the Shell: Live-action?

Will it be Robbie the robot...?
Hollywood blog Deadline reports that DreamWorks is in "early talks" with actress Margot Robbie to play the leading role in a live-action version of Ghost in the Shell.

The Impact of Ghost in the Shell

Andrew Osmond remembers the early reactions to Oshii’s classic
“What makes this such a cut above the rest is a set of senses-assaulting production values that equals anything Hollywood produces… Just make sure you see it on a big screen.” - Empire.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise

The latest incarnation of Masamune Shirow's classic
A new addition to the Ghost in the Shell franchise is here, but it’s maybe not the one everyone was expecting.

RECENT FEATURED POSTS

Karneval

Andrew Osmond rolls up for the fun of the anime fair…
Roll up for Karneval! See cosplay cats, robot sheep, hi-tech airships, battling super-beings, smiling snowmen, mutating monsters and cute boys. Some very cute boys, in fact. Let’s face it, studio Manglobe – which has a CV that zigzags between the gruesome Deadman Wonderland and the cuddliness of The World God Only Knows – has opted to make the pretty youths into the main selling-point.

One Piece Music: Bon Bon Blanco

Tom Smith on bikinis and cowbells
Need more cowbell? Have five! Japanese pop quintet Bon Bon Blanco (or B3 for short) is made up of 80% percussionists – and whilst its vocalist Anna Santos is the only member without an instrument to bash, I’m pretty sure she could work her way around a cowbell if pushed.

Madoka Magica Cosplay: Tomoe & Akemi

Paul Jacques conjures up the best anime costumes
Clarice Downs and Blair Armitage work their magic by cosplaying as Akemi and Tomoe from the hit magical-girl series Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Anime Streaming Sites

Legal ways to mainline your Japanese animation
The new Manga Entertainment podcast includes a discussion of legitimate anime streaming sites – in other words, the ones that send money to the Japanese studios which make anime, thereby supporting the industry. (Rather than the other streaming sites, which just steal anime and make it less likely there’ll be anime to steal in the future.)

Attack on Titan vs Akira

What about a world of kaiju zombies...?
"Anger is what really links Akira and Titan. Teen rage is at their core, driving the action in spectacular ways."

Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2014

Jasper Sharp gets down with the kids
The Japan Foundation’s annual touring film programme is back for another year, and kicking off at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts at the end of the month. Now in its tenth iteration, the season offers audiences across the UK an insight into Japan and its cinema by way of a wide-ranging and accessible selection of titles assembled under a certain theme. This year, that theme is youth, with the eleven-film ‘East Side Stories: Japanese Cinema Depicting the Lives of Youth’ programme travelling to eight venues across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland from 31 January to 27 March.
Contact Us   |   Refund Policy   |   Delivery Times   |   Privacy statement   |   Terms & Conditions
Please note your card statement will show billing by MVM. Gyaru Power from the UK's best Anime Blog.