We are going to identify two ways of how the term Harajuku Girls was introduced and came to be (1) The Harajuku Girls that many are familiarized with, and (2) who are really referred to as the real Harajuku Girls.
Firstly, the world was introduced to the term “Harajuku Girls” when it was popularized by singer Gwen Stefani when she made a song and titled, coined from the very same term, “Harajuku Girls”. She also referred to the song and term again with her other song “Rich Girl” in the same album. She describes the Harajuku Girls as cute, chou kawaii, also implying a lot that she adores them so much, even putting into the lyrics that she's their fan.
As it turns out, Harajuku Girls is a dance group formed for Gwen Stefani composed of four Japanese, and Japanese-American backup dancers featured in a lot of dance stages in Gwen’s shows and music videos. In some stages even, the “Harajuku Girls” are found dressing up as kogals in retrospect to their recognized fashion subculture, kogal or kogyaru, which is a popular fashion style among teenagers in Japan.
They have even made a music video of themselves with the same song, although it cannot be told if the members of the same group from before are still there.
So, this got people thinking, who are the Harajuku Girls, and what are they like? Who is the inspiration for Gwen Stefani’s song and why has it caused a lot of backlash and even racial discrepancies against Gwen Stefani herself?
If you have been reading the Japanese fashion subculture blogs of the Kawaii Vibe, chances are you already have an idea of what and who the Harajuku Girls are. To start, Harajuku is a place in Japan, in Tokyo specifically, a place where it is known for its colorful street art and youth fashion, with quirky vintage clothing stores and cosplay shops. It is a district of Shibuya, which is known as a major commercial and business center in Japan, is known as the go-to place for the younger generations due to the different varieties of merchandise and services that you can find that centers around the hobbies of the younger generation. We are talking about shopping, gaming, eating - anything that you can think of that has something to do with their hobbies and pastimes.
Harajuku, as part of the buzzing streets of Shibuya itself, is also known for the bizarre things that anyone can see when strolling there. After all, Harajuku is known for their Harajuku Style, mostly related to the fashion that people who go there, which is a mix of all the well-known Japanese sub-styles, for example, Sweet lolita, Gothic lolita, Visual kei, Cosplay, Decora, Gyaru, cutesy fairy Kei, and punk rock clothing. Traditional Japanese garments like kimonos and wooden sandals have been infused into the style since the beginning.
And as you may have already guessed, yes a Harajuku Girl is referred to the girls of the streets of Harajuku dressing up in the kind of subculture fashion that they want to identify with, sporting the different Harajuku styles that they conform with. And because Harajuku is a hotpot of different fashion subcultures conjoined together, the people strolling there are less likely to judge you. After all, they are in Harajuku and everybody's free to wear what they want! Look what they want! In whatever way they want it to be! Here are some of the Harajuku Girls and the looks that are often found in:
If you see anyone along the streets of Harajuku wearing colorful clothing coupled with different colorful accessories on their hair and they come in groups when strolling along, then chances are you found the Decora girls. Focused on being "childlike" and over-the-top, the amount of accessories they use is never enough but that's not such a bad thing. The style celebrates vibrant colors and rainbows, it's what it's about anyway. Decora’s clothing style is all about layering and many, many colors combined. From the way they dress to the way they accessorize themselves, and also how they style their hair, everything is really excessive.
It’s actually hard to spot them nowadays, but they are still around and again, part of the Harajuku subculture fashion, they are also part of the term Harajuku girls. The gyarus are often known for their physical attributes such as their tanned skin, brown-colored or bleached hair, overly expensive bags, and clothing wear, and just like what the photo suggests mini school girl skirts. They are prominently seen gathering around the major places of Tokyo such as in Shibuya and Harajuku. The gyaru are often seen in groups that they call the “gyaru circle” where people of the same gyaru subculture interact and socialize. There are a lot of gyaru substyles so it’s hard to pinpoint them under one classification, but mostly, they are almost always known for their makeup styles and extravagant clothing wear that are often from luxury brands. Here are some of the gyaru types that you might be meeting along the streets of Harajuku:
The popular gyaru type, that even emerged as it’s fashion style now. Kogyaru, or Kogal, is a subculture of the gyaru culture that centers around schoolgirls. Kogyaru means high school girls so that’s one way to remember it. The subculture itself is known to be the very first gyaru subculture of the gyaru culture and the most popular one.
The chances of finding a Kogyaru in the streets of Harajuku is more or less high as it is one of the most popular gyaru styles (or maybe not gyaru at all) that is recognized by many. They are characterized often by wearing short length school skirts, and they wear blond or almond hair that goes against the standard plain black hair of the most student population.
One of the most conspicuous of the gyarus due to the nature of their clothing and hair design, the Hime Gyaru is also a known staple of Harajuku because of their extravagant fashion style. Hime means “princess” in Japanese, suggesting that the hime gyaru aesthetic refers to a princess-like aesthetic. The Hime Gyaru aesthetic is often linked to Lolita fashion because its elements have a lot of similarities to that of Lolita. However, Hime Gyaru is a different subculture from that of Lolita.
Chances of seeing Lolita fashion enthusiasts in the streets of Harajuku are high. Whenever you see someone dressed like an old Victoria doll with parasols over the heads, you have found yourself an example of a Lolita fashion enthusiast. The Lolita fashion style is mainly influenced by the Victorian-era style of clothing. This subculture is more diverse than most of the Japanese street styles that many substyles have branched out of it over the years and it’s fascinating that they are still quite distinct from one another despite them having the same silhouette and main look base-line. Here are some of the common types of Lolita fashion that you might be seeing when you stroll the streets of Harajuku:
Classic Lolita style is commonly known for their dusty pastel shades, jewel tones, lilacs, mauve, misty grey, browns, and grays dresses. High heeled shoes with straps are also a great partner for this look, some use laced boots as well, as long as they look like that they came from the Victorian era.
The Sweet Lolita is literally about looking sweet, cute, and colorful. It just means that the silhouette is the same as Classic Lolita but it is more on the brighter side. Ruffles, laces, and bows are typically also part of the clothing, really going for that consistent cute and modest look.
Photo from Compathy
People dressing up as an anime or game character, you will often see people wearing cosplay costumes on the streets of Harajuku. This is also of no surprise as Harajuku itself is an otaku street and various otaku related things are being sold there whether it concerns merchandise or even cosplay items and clothing. There are cosplay shops that enable their customers to go around the streets of Harajuku wearing a specific cosplay costume that they want to rent. Just as long as these items are being brought back safe and well, there will be no lack of cosplayers strolling around the streets of Harajuku.
Just like there’s a place to rent cosplay items and clothing, there’s also a place that lets you rent kimonos, and as expected, you can see people wearing different beautiful styles of kimonos walking around the streets of Harajuku. Mostly done by non-otaku related tourists, they get to experience the blend of different cultures being presented on the streets of Harajuku.
As you can see, there is no definite definition to describe who a Harajuku Girl is. Because of the colorful and cute atmosphere that the Harajuku style has, simply regarding them under one identity can be tempting. However, if you look closely at the different styles of these fashion subcultures, there is more to see than what we describe them as.