Japanese Lolita Fashion
Extravagant, Victorian-inspired clothing, curled hair, and doll-like makeup---sightings of these curious poppets walking around the States, Europe and anime conventions have been rampant lately.
Take a vacation to Japan, particularly Tokyo's Harajuku district, and you are bound to face an army of these colorful and gothic dolls posing sweetly in the streets.
Now, you may think you fell into Alice's rabbit hole and into a warped, gothic Wonderland, but in actuality these fresh-faced darlings are part of a fashion subculture known as "Lolita."
This Lolita fashion started in Japan during the late 70’s, but took off in the 90's. Since, it has been permeating the world like a sugary, pink torrent.
The fashion boasts a mix of Victorian and Rococo period clothing with more modern fashion trends like punk, goth and casual-wear.
The origins of the fashion’s name is not confirmed, but is likely referenced from Vladimir Nabokov's novel, Lolita, a story about a middle-aged pedophile and his relationship with a 13-year old ‘nymphet.’
Contrary to the literature, though the Lolita fashion does convey the image of young, Victorian girls, it is anything but sexual.
In fact, the fashion reflects classic beauty, modesty and poise, rather than sexy, provocative females (and males) often showcased in media and music.
Visual Kei & Lolita Fashion
The rise of Lolita fashion was largely influenced by Japanese rock bands from the Visual Kei musical movement during the 80s and 90s.
"Music is a major force in its creation," explains Chako Suzuki in her article "Pretty Babies: Japan's Undying Gothic Lolita Phenomenon, "Visual Kei is exactly as it sounds: Rock music that incorporates visual effects and elaborate costumes to heighten the experience of the music and the show."
Of all the Visual Kei groups to advocate Lolita fashion the most notable was Malice Mizer, a band established in 1992. One of the two founding members, Mana, wore Gothic Lolita fashion. Today he is a pioneer in the Lolita realm.
Mana created one of the first and most lasting Lolita brands, Moi-Meme-Moitie. In doing so, he coined such terms as "Elegant Gothic Lolita" and "Elegant Gothic Aristocrat," fashions known for their dramatic gothic, and sophisticated appeal in Lolita fashion.
Today, Mana still is a well-respected and active force in Lolita Fashion, gracing the pages of the popular, seasonal Gothic & Lolita Bible magazine in his clothing-line.
Lolita Fashion In The Media
Lolita fashion is not just something found amid the streets of Harajuku or at anime expos. The fashion's allure has caught the attention of celebrities and musicians alike.
In Japan certain celebrities and musical acts are wearing the style, many using it to define their personas on-and-off stage. Japanese rock band Versailles flaunts aristocratic, Renaissance costumes clearly inspired by Lolita fashion, while other talents like singer and celloist Kanon Wakeshima wear fullblown Lolita fashion during performances and in music videos.
The impact of Lolita fashion has notably made it internationally where singers like Kerli from Estonia, sports the garb in her music video. Also, singer Gwen Stefani (and her Harajuku Girls) is known for her love of Lolita fashion, romping around in Lolita-wear in videos and live. Most recently, Nicki Minaj, a female rapper claims to be the “Black Harajuku Barbie” wearing revealing clothes intertwined with some Lolita fashion.
Classic Lolita- Classic Lolita is a more aristocratic, mature style as it centers around Baroque and Rocaille fashion while using muted colors and patterns. The style in itself is not as dark as Gothic Lolita/Aristocrat nor as juvenile and gaudy as Sweet Lolita.
Gothic Lolita-Gothic Lolita/Aristocrat is Lolita fashion with a dark edge. The style derives influence from Western Gothic subcultures like darker makeup, clothes and designs. However, Gothic Lolita maintains the frilly, Victorian sophistication of Lolita fashion. For example, the style is more reminiscent of a Victorian vampire like Dracula or Lestat from Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, rather than Western gothic figures like the Cure or Marilyn Manson.
Gothic Lolita fashion also uses crosses, coffins, bats, roses and other dark characteristics in its designs.
Punk Lolita-Punk Lolita incorporates punk elements along with the class of Lolita fashion. These Punk fashion and its accessories include tattered clothing, chains, netting, safety pins, ties and screen-printed items. Hairstyles may be messy, dreads, colored and/or spikey.
Sweet Lolita-Sweet Lolita is just that: a sugar rush. Sweet Lolita exemplifies the youthful and doll-like side of Lolita fashion with frilly, colorful dresses, curled or straight hairstyles with bows and headbands, and modest makeup.
Sweet Lolita accessories commonly involve lacey parasols, stuffed animals, and cute jewelry consisting of hearts, cakes and other cutesy objects.
Brands and Cost
Lolita fashion is not a cheap hobby. Many of the popular, quality brands can cost in the mid hundreds for certain articles like dresses, jackets or vests.
The prices aren’t just costly due to brand names, but also for the amount of fabric and workmanship composed in the creation of a design.
'"When they come out with a new item, I can't sleep at night because that's all I can think about," says Mayumi Yamamoto, a die-hard Lolita enthusiast interviewed for Yukari Iwatani Kane and Lisa Thomas' article on Lolita fashion in Japan.
In other words, for Lolita fashion lovers, there is no price high enough for charming perfection.
Angelic Pretty: One of the oldest founding Lolita brands. Angelic Pretty tailors Sweet Lolita fashion as their website states:
“The Angelic Pretty line-up offers a cute, Lolita-like fashion style, enchanted to make a girl's dreams come true.”
Baby, The Stars Shine Bright: Another Lolita brand created in the late 80’s. In 2009 the label opened a store in San Francisco, CA, USA illustrating the international impact of Lolita subculture.
Black Peace Now: A Punk Lolita brand.
Moi-même-moitié:This is Mana's (refer to Visual Kei section for more information) Elegant Gothic Lolita and Gothic Aristocrat label.
Founded in 1999, the brand is renowned for taking the lacey elegance of Lolita fashion and blending it with the dark. Particularly, the clothing is detailed with dark elements like crosses, thorny roses, bats, and the label's candle design.
These motifs are primarily prints or sewn on black or gray fabric in dark blue, black and white.
Victoria Maiden: A Classic Lolita brand.
Gothic & Lolita Bible
Online or in the manga and graphic novel sections of the bookstore, you may have spotted a large book titled the "Gothic & Lolita Bible." Since the early 2000s this seasonal magazine has been coming out in Japan, depicting in vivid photoshoots and articles on new Lolita trends, media accessories and brands. The magazines also contain little gifts like stickers, playing cards, and posters plus different patterns of fashion to sew.
About two years ago, Japan realized the growing interest in Lolita fashion in the States and other English-speaking nations and translated a few volumes, sold now in local bookstores. Each volume ranges from $18-22 dollars. Japanese volumes, without shipping, are relatively the same price to order.
Now, when you see a teenage or young adult girl (or boy) walking down the street like some doll from the past, don’t be totally surprised. Lolita fashion is here to stay and only gaining popularity with its antique charm and endless frills.
Ishikawa, Katsuhiko, Gothic & Lolita, Phaidon, 2007.
Anonymous (2002). "Gothic Lolita Hair and Make Up". Gothic & Lolita Bible (Nuuberuguu) 4: 79.
Kane, Yukari Itawari; Lisa Thomas (20 November 2008). "Japan's Latest Fashion Has Women Playing Princess for a Day". The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122713804938242481.html. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
Suzuki, Chako (January 2007). "Pretty Babies: Japan's Undying Gothic Lolita Phenomenon". Fashionlines. http://www.fashionlines.com/2007/jan/fashionPrettyBabies.php. Retrieved 8 May 2010.