Saturday, May 29, 2021

living lolita loca

    The idea of the "lifestyle lolita" is one that's almost as old as the fashion itself. The archetypal lolita, as promoted in much of lolita-related media, is seen as a kind of wannabe-princess, living a suitably sheltered and romantic existence. In addition to wearing the fashion, the use of formal language, careful table manners, and traditionally "ladylike" hobbies are all associated with being a "lifestyle lolita". But do these types of activities really represent the fashion or the people that wear it? In a subculture as varied and multifaceted as lolita, what does it really mean to live a lolita "lifestyle"?

    This blog post is an exploration of the archetypal image of the "lifestyle lolita", the tropes associated with the term, and the media and philosophy that has inspired it. Through this examination, I hope to offer an alternative to the notion that a lifestyle lolita is based solely around a particular set of stereotypical activities or behaviours. Instead, I argue that engaging with the history, ideals, and, of course, the culture of lolita is what lies truly at the heart of the fashion. And as long as someone wears lolita fashion and keeps its spirit in their hearts, the "lifestyle" of lolita can be as diverse and varied as lolitas themselves. 

"A Day in Gothic & Lolita Life" from GLB 04, published December 2001.
Images courtesy of Lolita History.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Grandma's Wallpaper: Florals Prints, Hybridity, and the Question of Cultural Appropriation in Lolita Fashion

    "Is wearing lolita cultural appropriation?" The question has been brought up several times in discussions about lolita fashion, especially in the Western community. It's a concern that can be taken from multiple angles: Are non-Japanese people wearing lolita appropriating the fashion because it originated in Japan, and largely designed by and for Japanese women? Did Japanese women appropriate the fashions and cultures of Europe in the construction of lolita fashion and its subcultures? Is it alright for non-Japan or non-East Asian people to continue wearing the fashion?

    In my opinion, these anxieties stem from the complicated nature of lolita's historical inspirations. While we commonly associate the fashion with the Rococo and Victorian eras, we seldom connect this to the fact that international trade, colonialism, and imperialism were a part of these histories. Many of the artistic and cultural touchstones that we now consider quintessentially "European", such as English gardens, afternoon tea, fine porcelain, floral wallpapers, and printed dresses - all of which are part of the inspiration behind lolita fashion and culture - were actually the products of both international trade and cultual appropriation between European powers and other nations. Without the rise in global trade, exploitation, and colonization, they wouldn't even exist. 

Robe a la Francaise, sewn in England with Chinese silk, ca. 1735-1760, V&A Museum, London / 
Old Rose JSK, released 2014, Baby, the Stars Shine Bright

    Thinking about lolita fashion with this in mind complicates its historical and cultural inspiration, as well as the narratives of lolita simply being a "Japanese take on European fashions". It begs the question of what is "European", and, by extension, what is "Japanese"? As we start to piece together all of these different socio-historical contexts, using them to look beyond the surface of the fashion and the way that it has constructed its current sense of self, what is "lolita"? 

    This blog post will examine these questions through one of the most common motifs in lolita fashion: floral prints, often jokingly compared to "grandma's wallpaper" because of their strong associations with old-fashioned houses and interiors. It aims to explore the concepts of hybridity, mimicry, and cultural appropriation in the context of the fashion, looking beyond the essentialist categories of "East" and the "West". And while I don't think one post is going to be able to answer all of the questions posed in the introduction, I hope that it might inspire readers to reconsider how we view lolita's identity within the world of fashion -- and, by extension, how modern social and cultural identities have been  constructed more generally. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Lolita, Rebellion, and the "Cocoro" of "Rococo"

    The Rococo period and its representation in art, literature, and media, has been a source of inspiration in lolita fashion since its inception. But beyond the pure beauty and aesthetics of the era - with its opulence and theatricality, the iconic pastels and lavish gilded curls - there is something about this phenomenon that's worth considering: why? 

    Why did Rococo, an art style from 18th-century Europe, which was primarily the confined to the realms of the aristocratic elite, become the template for an alternative fashion pioneered by young Japanese women in the late 20th century? For me, this is a question in two parts - firstly, why a European art movement, and secondly, why Rococo spefically? After all, there is no shortage of beauty and opulence in the history of Japanese art, and there are many romanticised historical periods that one might choose from. So why did early lolitas choose emulate a period of history that was so far from home in terms of geography, politics, economics, class, and culture? 

Robe a la Francaise, made in France, ca. 1760. V&A Museum, London. /
Robe a la Francaise OP, released in 2018, Baby the Stars Shine Bright.

    The most obvious answer might simply be that the beautiful and fantastical aesthetics of Rococo happened to appeal to these young women. Many additional factors play into this as well, like the history of interaction and exchange between Japan and the West, as well as the strong cultural influences that European powers have spread across the globe over centuries of imperialism and colonial power struggles.

    However, I believe there may be another layer of reasoning which belies the rebellious and radical message behind lolita fashion. That is the layer that I'm going to be exploring in my blog post today. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

queerness and homosociality in lolita fashion

Lolita has always been a highly feminine, if not female, subculture. It takes inspiration from historically feminine and "girly" motifs, encourages the participation of female-identifying or female-presenting persons, and soundly rejects the imposition of the male gaze on either the fashion or the people wearing it. Simply put, lolita is a celebration of the feminine, by the feminine, for the feminine — a place where people who enjoy this particular form of gender expression can express themselves openly.

Stock image for Innocent World's Emma One Piece, released 2020.
Image courtesy of Innocent World's official online shop.
(https://innocent-w.jp/onlineshop/en/)

It is because of this that I view lolita fashion as a queer, homosocial space, with a culture that is distinct from much of mainstream heteronormativity and patriarchal expectations. And, as a very late Valentine’s Day tribute, this blog post is going to be discussing queerness and queer theory in the context of lolita fashion, exploring manifestations of homosociality and homoromanticism in lolita communities and media. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

memories of lolita past

    Nostalgia has been sweeping through the worldwide fashion scene these past few years, and lolita is no different. Slowly but steadily, we've seen members of the community drifting towards the oldschool substyle, drawing inspiration from Kera magazines, Gothic & Lolita Bibles, Kamikaze Girls and brand advertisements, trying to capture the "good old days" of lolita fashion. Brands have started to follow suit, revamping or rereleasing classic styles - just last year Baby the Stars Shine Bright released a JSK version of the iconic Elizabeth OP, and 2021 promises the return of some of the most beloved designs from 2008-2012 era Angelic Pretty. (In case anyone was wondering, this author has already started saving her pennies in anticipation of the rerelease of Nakoyoshi Bunny. I am nothing if not thematically consistent.)

Nakoyoshi Bunny JSK by Angelic Pretty, released 2008. Set to be re-released some time in 2021.
Stock image from Angelic Pretty, courtesy of Lolibrary
(https://lolibrary.org/items/ap-nakayoshi-bunny-jsk)

    Natrually, every lolita who's interested in the history of the fashion or the aesthetic of oldschool as a substyle has their own reasons. However, I've noticed that a few ideas in particular have come to dominate the discourse. One is a preference for the more simplistic designs of some older releases, which had far less of the elaborate border prints we see today. Another is the perception that older dresses had better quality and construction, or were more likely to use cotton as opposed to polyester. Yet to me, the most interesting factor that plays into people's interest in oldschool or early lolita is the not-uncommon refrain that it was somehow better, and especially more "pure" or "authentic", than modern lolita. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Bunnies and bears and fawns and bunny-bears, oh my!

    The world of lolita fashion would be a much duller place without its fluffy animal friends. As embodiments of the aesthetic sensibilities of their respective brands, mascots and mascot-like characters have represented the subculture on dresses, cutsews, bags, headwear, novelties, and even shoes. Like lolita fashion itself, these characters are an exercise in harmonious contradictions, sitting on the borders of the cute and the unsettling, the elegant and the outlandish, the sweet and the rebellious. They are our silent, but loyal companions, offering their own quiet encouragement - holding our hearts even if they can't always hold our phones (or keys, or wallets , or books, or anything more than a single tube of lipstick.)

Usakumya Rucksack Mini Mini from Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, released 2019.
Stock image from Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, courtesy of Lolibrary.
(https://lolibrary.org/items/btssb-usakumya-rucksack-mini-mini-2019)

    This post is a celebration of the iconic mascots of Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, Angelic Pretty, and Metamorphose Temps de Fille. I'll be looking into their backstories, the historical inspirations behind the characters, and how they reflect different aspects of the philosophy behind the fashion. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

whose lolita is it anyway?

    If you've been in online lolita communities, you'll probably have heard a few complaints about the evolution of the fashion to over the past few years, especially in relation to the rise of lolita in China.

"Taobao is ruining the fashion, all these new trends and releases are so tacky." 

"Western lolitas shouldn't even bother, most brands only care about catering to China now."

"Chinese girls don't really care about lolita, they just buy expensive dresses to show off their money."

"The quality of lolita has gone down since production moved from Japan to China."

"I'm glad I don't like the styles that are popular in China, rich Chinese lolitas keep driving up secondhand prices."

    If any of these comments sound familiar to you, you've probably scrolled through the same popular lolita groups, twitter threads, and websites as I have.