Ayumi Hamasaki To Aya Stella: The Evolution Of The Japanese Gyaru Aesthetic | CoolJapan

Whether or not you watch animé, it’s common knowledge that extreme hair colours — among other characteristics — are pretty prominent in this Japanese art form. For those who are not familiar, it’s an attribute often related to characters who defy the norm (a.k.a. natural black hair and a more subdued attitude) as some sort of rebellion or indifference to what’s considered ordinary. This depicts a cultural relevance that reflects some aspects of Asian society in real life.

In Japan, one of the biggest manifestations of this ideal is the ganguro gal or gyaru (the Japanese pronunciation for ‘gal’). Easily recognisable through their stereotypical bleached hair, huge falsies, and larger-than-life fashion sense, gyaru has been one of the most prominent faces of Harajuku’s style scene. While some of you may have an idea of what the look is about, here are more things to know about this interesting J-fashion subculture.

A primer on the gyaru aesthetic

While there is no solid trace of when or how it became a cultural phenomenon in the country, some sources suggest that the gyaru culture was kickstarted in the '80s to early '90s when the prominence of American TV shows became popular in Japan. The blonde-hair-tan-skinned look similar to Pamela Anderson's was the peg, along with full-blown makeup that’s quite different from the typical minimalist and au naturel aesthetic of Japanese women.

The gyaru schoolgirl look is also one of its most popular depictions on and off pop-culture. The Westernised beauty look is matched with a more relaxed and hang-out-after-school fashion. During its peak, it became one of the ‘it’ looks around the streets of Shibuya and Harajuku. But beyond its unique style factor were some questionable aspects.

Since one common feature of the gyaru look is having fake tanned skin, some of its manifestations bordered on brown-face or black-face. Not to mention that it’s also somehow derived from stereotypes Japan has on American culture. This wasn't an issue in the '80s and '90s, but this side of its story is simply not to be dismissed, especially in our current social climate. 

The rise of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Namie Amuro, and Ayumi Hamasaki and the partial shift in the gyaru aesthetic 

The popularity of artists Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Namie Amuro, and Ayumi Hamasaki in 2000s changed (although not completely) the aesthetic of gyaru.

While the more extreme depictions of the Western-inspired look is still practised, Kyary’s more kawaii and decora approach to the Japanese-girl-with-blonde-hair-and-big-eyes character of gyaru took a more elegant and couture-ish approach.

She mentioned in a previous Vogue interview that her aesthetic as a pop star was truly inspired and made possible with the help of her gyaru friends. She has since been one of the prominent faces of what Harajuku fashion looks like — which overlaps between gyaru and decora — and has a solid fanbase extending outside Japan since signing a distribution deal meant for U.S. releases in 2013. 


Meanwhile, Ayumi Hamasaki and Namie Amuro both gave the gyaru aesthetic a more defined, sexier, and edgier vibe. In contrast to the carefree and louder vibe of the style's origin, theirs involved corseted pieces, high-cut boots, and high ponytails, very similar to Ariana Grande's current look. All this, without losing the very Westernised approach to beauty manifested through lighter hair colours, doll-like eyes, and loud makeup. 

Aya Stella and the approach to the ‘new’ gyaru

While the idea of the blonde-haired gyaru girl with the loose necktie and puffy socks is still a thing in Japanese fashion and even in depictions of the ‘stereotype’ in anime, TV and film, a new take on this Western-inspired aesthetic seems to be taking a turn through former-gyaru-model-turned-designer Aya Stella. Her signature look of contoured cheeks, well-carved eyebrows, and overlined lips truly give off a flair very similar to the Kardashians', which might be the latest manifestation of the modern-day gyaru.

Now you might be thinking, maybe that’s just the norm now? A quick sift through Japanese beauty and fashion magazines would quickly tell you otherwise. Despite the slight overlaps with Western trends, J-beauty and fashion still fall more on the natural and laid-back style. This is why Aya Stella’s East-meets-West vibe stands out as something inspired by '80s-'90s gyaru fashion.

Gyaru’s indelible mark on J-fashion 

There’s still no concrete recognition of Aya Stella’s vibe as the ‘new’ gyaru. But it’s still interesting to note how this may be her way of combining her background as a gyaru model and today's trends. 

Be it the old-school style of this aesthetic, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s more refined look, Ayumi Hamasaki or Namie Amuro's more mature take or Aya Stella’s more modern twist to the idea of gyaru, it’s undeniable that this Japanese fashion subculture has already made its indelible mark in history. It may grow passé on the streets years from now, but its traces in fashion magazines, music, and even TV and film will definitely be hard to erase.

(Cover photo from: Nesnad, CC BY-SA 3.0)