In recent years, fashion designers and influencers are constantly looking for something to present to the fashion society. Whether it’s an old style making its way back or a completely new one, breaking through the current trends. But we hardly see uncanny and bizarre trends actually being embraced wholeheartedly. That instead of doing it for the looks or the cameras, it is actually considered a genuine lifestyle.
When we talk about eccentric fashion, nothing has yet to beat Harajuku fashion from Japan. If you are interested in these fashion styles, check out our blog! We’ve written all you need to know about Harajuku fashion and the variations that came with it such as gyaru, lolita, visual kei, decora, and a whole lot of others.
But now, we have yet to tackle another out-of-this-world fashion. For some who aren’t familiar, you might be second-guessing. Is it real? Are they actually out there in the streets? And to answer that, yes they are real. And like all the other fashion subcultures in Japan, these girls are not doing it for attention or for the cameras. They are actually living in this lifestyle, dedicated time and money to achieve the main point of the look, and has to face the harsh commentaries from their community.
But still, these girls do it because they like it and it is the way they express themselves out to the public. They are most commonly known as Ganguro.
What is Ganguro?
To start off, ganguro falls into the larger fashion subculture group called gyaru - In English, ‘gal’ - and like all the other variations of gyaru, ganguro is a form of rebellion. Rather than violent rebellions that we are used to knowing and seeing, all the gyaru wants to point is going against the traditional beauty standards of Japan, which is usually described as fair skin, black hair and natural makeup.
A little bit of history and further explanation, gyaru started in the mid-1990s but that is actually an estimation. There aren’t any records that will specifically tell us when it began. It just so happens that it was in the 90s where pedestrians started noticing groups of girls with a very distinct fashion style. Not to say the other Harajuku fashion wasn’t distinct enough but gyaru was a fresh addition to that list.
Now, gyaru has quite a few substyles under its name but ganguro is one of the few originals who didn’t really stray far from the tree, which its characteristics staying true to the first-known traits of the gyaru style.
Ganguro stands out from the crowd due to their deeply tanned skin, lightly bleached hair, and contrasting make-up. Because of the deep tan, they were named ganguro from the Japanese phrase “ganganguro” or can be translated in English as “exceptionally dark.” The word ganguro can be translated as “burn-black look”, “dark tanning”, “black face.”
Now, what are the characteristics that set these girls apart from the rest of the Harajuku fashion, you might ask? Well, here goes.
First, you’ll immediately recognize these girls, even from far away, because they are a stark contrast from the rest of Japan. As I’ve mentioned, gyaru, ganguro’s mother trend, is a rebellion against the standard beauty imposed by Japanese society. So it is only fitting that they’d do the exact opposite.
Amidst the pure fair skin of Japanese teenagers, there stood the ganguro with their deeply tan skin. Gyaru’s are tanned but ganguro’s are deeply tan, putting an emphasis on deeply because it is darker than the usual gyaru tan.
The deeply tanned skin is paired with highly bleached hair, either dyed or highlighted with various of colors such as purples, pinks, oranges, or just plain bright bleached hair.
Their makeup, like the rest of their distinct features, are also on the bizarre side of the trend. Eyes are dramatically lined with black ink, serving as an eyeliner and white concealer is used as lipstick and eyeshadow. Along with these, ganguro also opts for theatrical false lashes. As an addition to that, plastic facial gems and pearl powder also decorates the face.
When it comes to their fashion styles and outfits, ganguro can be seen from miles ahead because of their fascination with bright-colored outfits and platform shoes. Their clothing style is girlish, with their main pieces of clothes being miniskirts, dresses, and shorts. To complete the look, they accessorized the whole look with numerous bracelets and necklaces.
Last of the Ganguro Girls
Ganguro is one of those fashion trends that had a really tough time being accepted into the society. They are often named as “bad girls who are unhygienic, promiscuous, and crazy.” They are shunned away by most and ganguro girls thrive until their fashion style was accepted. Eventually, with their insistence, they are slowly becoming a part of it.
Ganguro peaked just like all the other fashion styles out there. There are certain years where they can be seen everywhere but like all the other trends, they disappear. They believed that one of the reasons why Ganguro eventually died down was because of a new trend that rose in mid-2000s and was the exact contrast of the Ganguro fashion. It was called bihaku, meaning “light-colored skin,” and along with this is the rise of skin whitening products, which eventually took over the interests of young Japanese women. There was a complete turn around and Ganguro was left behind when girls are now enamoured to looking traditional, clean and neat.
Fragmentsmag released an article titled, “What is ‘Gal’ Style? Erimokkori, the Last ‘Ganguro Gal’ with True Gal Spirit” where they interviewed who was believed to be the last authentic Ganguro Gal.
Meet Erimokkori, she was 24 at the time the article was released and was a ganguro for the last 10 years. She was infatuated with the fashion when she was just a young girl at 13 years old. Pre-ganguro days, Erimokkori was a shy girl and had her mother often makes decisions for her, such as clothes and hairstyles. Not once had she question the way her mother has brought her up and would be seen just following parents’ orders.
But when she entered middle school, she found a senior donning on the ganguro fashion style and since then, she has evolved and has now something she wants to do for herself. However, her transition wasn’t easy. Her parents were not so accepting of their daughter’s new found passion and was ordered not to walk outside where the neighbors can see her and her clothes were also frequently thrown away. Eventually, her mother’s heart swayed and fully accepted her lifestyle. Her father was still unaccepting.
Her first line of supporters were her non-ganguro friends who openly accepted her. She said that since none of them were ganguro, she is a sore thumb sticking out when they are together but not once has her friends judged her.
The ganguro lifestyle is also expensive with Erimokkori spending an estimated $1,000 per month in maintaining her lifestyle. This includes nail decorations, bleaching and styling the hair, tanning the skin, and purchase of makeup, colored lenses, and clothing. Other than financial matters, she also battles with time to get all of this done. Ganguro hair would usually take 10-12 hours to do, same goes at the nail parlor.
In recent years, Erikommori’s struggles to maintain her ganguro look, mainly because there are less and less establishment that can cater to her. Tanning salons are closing down, her go-to hairdresser has recently increased their price, contact lenses and makeup for tan skin are phasing out of the market and ganguro-centered brands and boutiques are going out of business too. Erikommori has to make ends work by customizing her clothes herself.
Erikommori lives by the gal philosophy: “Do what you want to do.”
And if you want to be a ganguro gal, you should too.