The Gyaru subculture was huge in Japan between the 1990s and 2000s, with multiple specialized magazines and entire malls dedicated to the look. Despite this, the once popular style saw a quick downfall and faded away between 2009 and 2011. However, it has seen a huge revival in recent years through one particular medium – manga. What exactly is Gyaru, and what led to this revival?
The Gyaru look is stylized by loose socks, bleached hair, tanned skin, short skirts, and heavy makeup. This look was based on American trends and is speculated by some to have been created as a way to rebel against the fashion ideals of the time. Wearers would often gather together in “circles” to hang out at Shibuya 109, take purikura (short for “print club,” a photo booth popular among Japanese youth), and party.
Egg gyaru in the 2000s.
The word Gyaru is a transliteration of Gal or “Girl,” based on the American pronunciation. It was first used in 1972 and became a popular phrase in Japan.
In the 90s, the phrase Kogyaru (“child gyaru”) referred to high school age gyaru, while Magogyaru (“grandchild gyaru”) referred to middle-schoolers.
There are many substyles, including Gyaruo (“gyaru male”), Yamanba (“mountain hag”) & Ganguro (further tanned skin with extreme makeup), Onee Gyaru (“older sister gyaru”) and Hime Gyaru (“princess gyaru”).
— Tokyo Fashion (@TokyoFashion) October 19, 2014
Gyaru: A Brief History
The Shibuya PARCO mall opened in 1973, cementing the area as Tokyo’s new fashion center. At the time, trendy new styles would be referred to as “gyaru fashion” and were often divided into Harajuku-gyaru and Shibuya-gyaru. The Gyaru style as we know it today was formed in the 90s, with magazines such as Egg and Popteen spreading the latest trends across Japan. The magazines featured street snaps, real gyaru models, and advice columns – occasionally, these columns would discuss mature topics, although the readers were usually under 20.
In 1995, Namie Amuro became a style icon and Gyaru across Japan quickly copied her iconic look – platform boots, designer brands, long brown hair and tanned skin. Ayumi Hamasaki’s leopard print clothing and over-the-top nail designs took over in 1998.
From there, the look exploded in popularity and a variety of sub-styles were born, the most notable being Ganguro, Yamanba, and Kigurumi-gyaru (“onesie gyaru”) The more mature Koakuma Ageha magazine was started in 2005, focusing on hostess and yankee culture. It also popularized the Agejo (“butterfly madame”) and Hime Gyaru styles.
They were regularly found in manga, from popular shojo manga heroines to angsty female yankees.
In real life, they would continue to congregate around Shibuya 109 until 2009. From then on, the look quickly faded out of popularity and was replaced by newer trends.
Egg gyaru in 2020.
Gyaru in Modern Times
While real-life gyaru is seeing a small revival, the amount of manga-gyaru has also drastically increased in manga aimed at men.
Gyaru used to be written as cool, strong, and relatable characters for girls – often intimidating female gangsters or the “popular girl” at school. These characters would often have big hair, big eyelashes, and a big friend group. As the real-life trend died down, shoujo manga protagonists gradually became softer and more natural-looking.
It found a new audience – shonen manga readers. In 2014, an IDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls character became popular for her gyaru looks and contrasting pure heart. This “Pure-At-Heart” gyaru quickly became popular and began making more regular appearances in manga.
The Manga-gyaru is usually able to socialize with everybody, despite her stylish clothes and flashy looks. This social aspect may allow her to introduce new characters to the main character and readers.
Her charismatic personality often helps to draw a shy protagonist out of his shell, and she is usually revealed to have a weakness, such as struggling to study or being weak to romantic advances – opposite to the old stereotypical type, who would often have a particularly active love life.
This change in personality makes the Manga-gyaru more relatable and less intimidating to your average otaku, while maintaining the social differences between the average protagonist and gyaru.
While many of the original magazines continued with different themes, some of them ended publication due to the lack of readers. Koakuma Ageha and Egg magazine originally shut down, but both have recently made a comeback, combining modern trends with the traditional styling. Ageha has rebranded as Ane-ageha and is specifically aimed at ladies over 25.
ギャル文化特集～ギャルの歴史と生態～, https://asianbeat.com/ja/feature/issue_gal/history/01.html, Retrieved 09 October 2020
【まとめ】いかにしてオタクはギャルを大好きになっちゃったのか 〜マンガにおけるギャル萌えの系譜〜, https://media.comicspace.jp/archives/3224, Retrieved 09 October 2020
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