This may sound wild, but let’s travel back to the district of Shibuya, Japan during the 1990s. Dark hair and pale skin dominated the beauty standards of the Japanese population, as well as maintaining a demure and respectful demeanor.
You can imagine the state of shock the public was in at the discovery of these once unassuming girls suddenly tanning, shortening their skirts and adopting wild attitudes that would make their elders blush. Thus began the start of the gyaru fashion craze, and the beginnings of a subculture that would proceed to explode into popularity.
So, what even is gyaru? In Japanese, it is simply the English equivalent of the word “gal.” However, it is so much more. It is a style that embodies the rebellion of young Japanese girls and women, fighting against misogyny and their patriarchal society. It may even be traced back to the girl gangs of the 1980s that rode motorcycles and wore much longer skirts, ironically enough.
In fact, the first example of gyaru style began with rich private schoolgirls, known now as “kogal.” They took pride in their school uniforms and wore them as a symbol of their youth, along with luxury bags and slouchy socks. They can be seen as the foremothers of gyaru, in a way.
There are so many different styles that fall under this umbrella, though; the desire for rebellion against polite society existed for all girls, even when the trends and times began to change.
For example, the emergence of ganguro, which literally translates to “Black face.” It was a subset of this movement that took things to an extreme level with much darker tans, white makeup, and dyed or bleached hair. They wanted to go as far away as possible from “bihaku,” which is the ideal that pale skin is the most beautiful or desirable.
Another type of gyaru is rokku, which means “rock.” The girls who dress in rokku gyaru put a darker twist on it, aligning themselves with what Americans could consider punk, or at least an “edgier” sense of fashion. It is not as represented, but a good case for showing that gyaru can come in all shapes and forms.
There were even male gyarus, known as gyaruos. They are similarly associated with teenage rebellion, also dressing in bright clothing and tanning their skin. None of these teens blended in at school or in society anymore, but that was exactly their goal.
Aside from the clothing and societal attitudes, many other traditions, so to speak, arose alongside the introduction of gyaru within Japanese cities. One of these was the Para Para dance. Now, it has existed for much longer, but it really started to gain popularity outside of Japan at the same time gyaru itself was.
Unlike most dances when clubbing or at raves, Para Para was entirely synchronized. It became a favorite pastime for gyarus and Gaijin, a term for foreigners from Japan, alike.
Now, looking back to America and western society as a whole, we have seen very similar styles representing the rebellion of youth pop up all throughout history, especially among young women.
The flapper girls of the 1920s, mod culture of the 1960s, the punks of the 1970s and even the emo culture that emerged in the early to mid 2000s are all prime instances of the wish to go against the grain that adults set for their youths.
No matter the time period or what is going on in the world, young people will always want to rebel against their elders and the stifling societies that we all find ourselves in to this day.