Heading to 109 or any other gal hive such as OPA, ALTA, etc… can be intimidating. Here are some tips to keep you looking fabulous as you shop. This can also be useful for shopping for clothes anywhere in Japan.
Look your best: Imagine dressing up for a date. There’s an argument that I really agree with that women dress for other women. If you follow this argument then you should be looking 100% when you head into 109. Do a sound check on yourself, is your outfit, hair, nails, overall grooming at its top level? It absolutely should be at 109.
Best time to shop to actually shop: During the day in the middle of the week. Although this is often the time you see tourists there you can browse without having to shove through and shop staff have more time to spend on you. You might find yourself having good conversations with staff at this time.
Best time to people shop: Friday night and Saturday afternoon are the best time to see gals, although on Saturday you will also see a mix of jks and adults. (JK is Joushi Koukousei aka high school girls, see more trend words here) In the last year with the publication of I <3 MAMA by Ageha’s publisher, the rise in yanmama (young mamas, used to be a term to describe mambas and such who got knocked up, but it’s more acceptable now to use it simply on young mothers) is definitely rising so you might see a few gals with strollers, in heels -_-;;
Best way to approach 109: Take the elevator outside to the 8th floor. You don’t have to fight the elevator inside to head up to the 2nd floor and you can get closer to brand goods.
Do not buy anything until you look at all shops, unless you have strong brand loyalty. There are only so many big trends circulating at once (see fall trends). Therefore repetition will happen between brands. You may see 7 union jack prints and 30 plaid shirts. You have choice. Use it.
However, sometimes brand loyalty trumps that. For example, although I didn’t see all the Union Jack prints, I bought the one from One*Spo immediately because I know their look suits my style always. If you know a brand is more your style, don’t hesistate to purchase that trend there.
Understand who are the tastemakers and who are simply followers. Brands like Egoist, Liz Lisa, One*Spo, Glad News, Gilfy make their own signature look on a trend. They are following their own look. Stores owned by Tokyu such as MitsuMaru Layla Rose and other Mitsu Maru brands, also Rose Fan Fan, Cryx, Shake Shake etc… do not set the style. They’re often feeding off the trends leading brands produce. Often there is a quality and stylisticlly weak look in their work.
Not to say I’ve never shopped at those places and enjoyed the pieces I’ve bought. However, it’s best to look to the scions of trends than to the reproducers.
Know your body’s assets and flaws, use trends to work your assets. For example, I am apple shaped so while I like my legs and I have a large bust, I’d prefer to cover my stomach and upper arms. Lip Service low cut empire styles suit my body and One*Spo’s leg revealing fluffy skirts are perfect for my shape.
This is not the end of it. Learn if you have narrow or broad shoulders. Do you have a short or long neck. Which colors look best on you? Most 109 looks in each store come in several colors so spend time finding the one best suited to your coloring and current look.
You can be of any size and be able to shop at 109. I think this is the biggest myth for people not used to shopping at gal stores in person. However you have to change your mindset. I am sure many of you are not a size 0, which is fine. I’d rather everyone be at a healthy BMI than be skeletal. So it might be hard to find pants that are your size. Leggings are a big trend so switch to them with stretch instead. The balloon jackets that are 80s and very in right now fit any chest size. Many things are made with elastic so slide in. I am not advising people to muffin top, but you will find you have many options if you are an American size 16 or a size 2. Those closer to the 16 level just need to stay away from more fitted items.
Ask to try things on.
Learn and love this phrase: これを試着してもいいですか Kore wo shichaku shite mo ii desu ka? Can I try this on?
Or the alternative: このジャケットを試着できますか Kono Jacket wo shichaku dekimasu ka? Can I try on this jacket?
Just remember shichaku as the verb to try on. However, in Japan you will find the option of trying on shirts is severely limited and other items such as sweaters that stretch might be a no as well.
Actually trying things on. Take off your shoes when you enter a carpeted area of a dressing room (remember to have cute socks or a good pedicure). You might be handed a face cover, which is a thin veil to stop make-up from getting on their clothes (here’s a pic of a woman demonstrating the right way). It looks foolish but it’s best to follow the rules.
If you’ve decided against buying the item, you can simply defer and say Kore wo mada kangaemasu (コレをまだ考えます） I’m still thinking about it.
If not, enjoy your new hotness!
Get yourself heeled up at Flag-J, R&E or Esperanza. Use my shoe guide from earlier. These stores often make heels more customized to walking in Japan than foreign stores. I always joke that in America women have date heels. The impossibly tall ones that you teeter from the car to dinner and afterwards from the car to a movie and that’s it. However heels in Japan are made for walking, tons and tons of walking. On average I walk 40 minutes a day in heels, and often have to stand for an hour a day during my commute. Trust Japanese shoe stores to be kind to this.
If you’ll be in the area for a while, get to know your shop staff. Shop staff other than hanging up clothes and working the register are paid to be spokesmodels for their items. From nails, hair, and heels they are 100% representing their brand. Which means they notice hair, nails, etc.. If you’re comfortable speaking Japanese, start a conversation. Ask their name, compliment if you see something worth noting.
Although shop staff can intimidating or downright snotty (Gilfy at 109 tends to be snotty while Gilfy at Shinjuku Lumine Est is less so), most will open up to you if you come back. In my experience I love my shopstaff and my girls are so sweet. Developing a relationship with your staff can lead to lots of good things. They’ll hold pieces, bring out unreleased looks, give you freebies, advise your style and help you look your best. If you’ll be in Japan for a while, this is a must.
Head back up to the 8th floor for a bubble milk tea at SBY If you need a break, or your heels are killing you grab a refreshment at SBY. Although gals rarely eat at the 7th floor eating options, kogals love SBY and SBY has grown huge that it’s now a chain and has a deal with Donki to sell it’s hair and tiny goods out of their stores. Their milk tea is delicious and if you decide on a Saturday you can people watch all you want while sitting.