Back in August of 2011, I wrote a blog entry about my fascination with the Goth subculture, an entry appropriately entitled Goth like me; or, why does little Jenny mope in her bedroom all day, wearing black and writing bad poetry? Indeed, for several years I have held an interest in Goth-inspired art, music and fashion, even before I was aware of that particular label. As my earlier post explained, there are several different fashion styles that fall under the broad category ‘Goth’, all with their own distinct rules and conventions. One of the most interesting and — for some Westerners — difficult to understand modes of Goth dress is the Japanese Lolita.
One of the most common misunderstandings of the Lolita subculture is the belief that the associated costuming somehow relates to either sex and/or cosplay. Neither, however, are true. The Japanese use of the English name “Lolita” is likely a case of wasei-eigo, or Japanese-derived English, and does not refer to the novel by Vladimir Nabokov nor its titular 12-year-old “nymphette” heroine. The Lolita mode of dress places a strong emphasis on Victorian-era elegance and modesty, and is not intended to be ‘sexy’. Nor is Lolita garb derived from anime or manga characters, like the cat-ears and spiky blue-hair of cosplay costumes.
Lolita fashion grew out of the 1980s-90s Japanese music scene, inspired by flamboyantly-dressed pop music icons such as Princess Princess and the cross-dressing Malice Mizer. Much like Goth dress in general, the Lolita also has several different fashion incarnations:
The Gothic Lolita
Gothic Lolita (or ‘gothloli’) fashion originated in the late 1990s in Harajuku (region in Tokyo). This style is characterized by the wearing of black and white clothing, though black + another colour (red, purple) is not uncommon. Clothing generally includes ruffled blouses with bows and puffed sleeves, knee-length skirts (often worn with crinolines or petticoats for that classic bell-shaped silhouette), stockings or knee-high socks, and girlish mary-jane shoes or Victorian-style boots. Hats, ornate headbands, gloves and parasols are common accessories. The Westernized versions of the Gothic Lolita tend to downplay the ultra-feminine ribbons, ruffles and bows of the Japanese look, while still adhering to the Victorian doll-like Lolita aesthetic.
The Sweet Lolita
Similar in dress to the gothloli, this style adopts saccharine-sweet, lighter colours — often pink or baby-blue — and childlike motifs like Alice in Wonderland, hearts, strawberries, cupcakes and teddy bears. I firmly believe that there are some modes of dress that can only be successfully worn by 16-year-old Japanese girls. This is one of those. The Sweet Lolita attempts to emulate the porcelain skin and blonde ringlets of a European, Victorian-era doll.
The Pirate Lolita
Not a particularly common Lolita style, but certainly a fun and flamboyant one. The fashion label Alice & the Pirates (a side-project of Baby, the Stars Shine Bright) offers all an aspiring pirate needs to look to part. Ahoy, maties!
The Guro Lolita
This style is one of the most curious of the Lolita fashions. The Guro Lolita dresses as a “broken doll”, with band-aids, eye-patches, and bloodied gauze bandages. Often, they wear white — a colour that provides the perfect canvas on which to splatter pretend blood and gore. It is common for the gurololi to carry around an equally bandaged & bloodied doll or teddy-bear.
Shiro & Kuro Lolita
Shiro Lolita, or ‘White Lolita,’ is a Lolita outfit made entirely of white/cream/off-white co-ordinates, while its counterpart Kuro Lolita, or ‘Black Lolita,’ is an outfit made-up of entirely black co-ordinates. Shiro and Kuro Lolita can be taken from any style of Lolita, whether it be Gothic, Sweet, or Classic. If the co-ordination is completely white, then it is accepted as Shiro Lolita, while if it is entirely black it is accepted as Kuro.
The Wa Lolita combines traditional Japanese clothing — namely the kimono — with the Lolita style. The kimono-style garment is modified to accommodate the fullness of a petticoat and Japanese wooden sandals (called okobo) sometimes replace the typical Lolita boots or platform mary-janes. Another East-meets-West Lolita mashup is the Qi Lolita. This style uses Chinese clothing and accessories in place of Japanese, and usually this includes qipao dresses modified to accommodate a petticoat.
Even though I’m going to end my blog post here, by no means should you consider this list an exhaustive account of all of the Lolita styles. For the complete list, visit this Lolita Style Handbook.