What Is Kogal Fashion, Gyaru's More Subtle Style Subculture? | CoolJapan

Japan’s gyaru aesthetic has definitely evolved through the years. But did you know that one of the reasons why it’s well-known as a fashion subculture is because of its subset, Kogal? Kogal fashion is a type of gyaru style that revolves around a more youthful, student-like aesthetic. It’s often depicted in anime or J-dramas, which somehow made it the ‘face’ of the gyaru look for non-locals who are into J-culture. But what exactly is Kogal fashion?

Childlike but edgy

Kogal is the combination of ‘koto gakko’ meaning high school and ‘gal’ which is the English word where gyaru was derived from. Sometimes, the 'ko' in Kogal is also said to come from 小, which means 'small' or 'young'. Its main idea is to spur individuality by customising your school uniform against the standard or ‘proper’ way of wearing it. It all circles back to anime or J-drama characters who you immediately know are part of the main crew because their hair or their unusual uniform that stand out from the rest of the supporting characters.

Key elements to Kogal fashion

Unlike America's hit TV show Gossip Girl, however, where it’s all about headbands or designer pieces that make up your school girl look, Kogal fashion is not a complete alteration of one’s traditional uniform. Rather, it has very distinct elements that make a look ‘Kogal’.

First, it incorporates the basics of the gyaru look: coloured hair (though a lot more ‘natural’-looking than the actual ‘gyaru’ aesthetic), bedazzled nails, and elements of decora fashion but only on accessories like smartphones or keychains on their bags. Tanned skin isn’t ‘required’, unlike when gyaru boomed as a trend in Japan in the ‘80s to ‘90s.

Moving past the basics of the gyaru look, Kogal fashion is also usually categorised by the loose knee-high socks students wear. These socks, which are actually leg warmers, are one of the key elements to the Kogal look. This isn’t to say that everyone who wears leg warmers are considered Kogals, though. But chances are, if you see someone rocking gyaru hair and makeup while wearing a school uniform, they’re probably wearing knee-high socks too.

Next, Kogals tend to shorten their skirts from their usual length. Contrary to what’s usually seen in anime, the usual Japanese school girl skirt goes below the knee (or longer). Kogals tend to wear theirs above the knee to complement the loose knee-high socks they incorporate into the look.

one signature look for kogals is their knee-high socks/leg warmers

Photo from: Nesnad via WikiCommons CC BY-SA 3.0

Kogal fashion is not just for students

What’s interesting about Kogal fashion is despite it being about schoolwear, it’s not limited for just students to try out. Adults can definitely sport Kogal fashion simply because, just like Lolita or Mori Kei, Kogal is not a trend but rather a subculture that has grown beyond style. It encourages creativity, embracing one’s youthful side, and revisiting ‘high school’ moments where most of our formative years were spent. Just like any other subculture, Kogal fashion is still met with criticism from time to time because of how it deviates from the norm or what’s traditional. However, its impact as a part of Japan’s fashion scene, along with its depiction in Japanese pop-culture, will remain unparalleled.

(Cover photo from: Chen Feng via Unsplash)

Speaking of embracing your youth, check out these J-beauty skincare tips that’ll bring back your glow and radiance.