Subcultural Crossover for Teenage Girls

Rival groups reach a truce
01 December 2007
The lines between "cutie", "gyaru", and "goth-loli" are blurring
In mid-June, I attended an event in Japan's third-largest city Nagoya that featured both a student fashion show and live performances from young bands. There was something odd going on in the mix of people. Two young female subcultures that usually blend like oil and water — the arty-cutie girls and brown-skinned sexy gyaru — were actively mingling in the crowd. Although they usually have vastly different social scenes and preferred musical genres, both groups happily congregated at this event in order to support the young designers.

This seemed like a fluke at the time, but recently, there has been a lot of fluid interaction between three distinct yough female subcultures: the aforementioned artsy-cutie girls, the gyaru, and the goth-loli (gothic lolita). In the past, these groups had almost nothing to do with each other. There may be similarities in their level of involvement/interest towards fashion, but socially, they all come from very different backgrounds. Gyaru are generally from lower middle-class families living in the outlying prefectures of Tokyo. The artsy-cutie girls, on the other hand, may not be class outcasts, but are outcasts in their own local social hierarchies — i.e., the schoolyard. They, however, have never been a pure delinquent subculture like the gyaru, who use their fashion as a way to mark themselves apart from mainstream middle-class society. The artsy-cutie girls have chosen their extreme fashion look as an announcement of their life decision to work within creative professions after graduation. The gothloli, on the other hand, are so low on the social totem pole that they took up crazy 19th century outfits believing they will win immediate acceptance from the other girls in this limited subculture.

In the past, Japanese youth culture was extremely vibrant and protean — with big changes happening every few years to make certain subcultures totally extinct. The economic slowdown and general youth disinterest in fashion consumption, however, completely killed off the ability to keep up with fast-paced changes. After the fashion market peaked in 1996, there have been few changes. Gyaru are said to be last of the big innovations in youth culture, and currently, each of the aforementioned groups are ultimately very similar to their predecessors a decade ago. Maybe, with fewer and fewer youth around, girls realized they need to build bridges to other subcultures in order to preserve their own respective cultures.
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