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.
Most of these remarks have a degree of truth to them. The largest market for lolita fashion at the moment is, by far, the Chinese market - it would be strange if brands didn't cater to those consumers, and if that didn't have any effect on the fashion worldwide. The new trends, fluctuating prices, and changes in production that we've witnessed over the past few years have been the result of increasing demand and unprecedented growth. From the ever-increasing number of independent lolita brands and ateliers on Taobao, to the rising interest in lolita fashion on Chinese social media platforms, it is clear that "Chinese lolitas" have had a major impact on the face of the fashion.
|Baby The Stars Shine Bright at ComicUp 27 in Shanghai, China. |
Image courtesy of the official Baby The Stars Shine Bright Instagram page. (https://www.instagram.com/babythessbofficial/)
But does that justify the kind of complaints that are made about them among some lolitas in the West?
The main problem with the sweeping generalisations that get made about "Chinese" lolitas is the lack of nuance to them. There are over a billion people living in mainland China, not to mention the large diaspora spread out all across the world. These are human beings, each one with their own unique experiences and circumstances. Similarly, businesses that operate in China, or are under Chinese ownership, may have different guidelines, management styles, and production policies. All of these people, stores, and brands, may correctly be described as "Chinese", but when that term is all that is used to describe them, it becomes easy to forget the individual and instead perceive the entire group as a monolith.
A "Chinese lolita" might be rich or poor. They might be very knowledgeable about the history and philosophy of lolita fashion, or they may simply use the dresses as a status symbol to show off to others. They might get their pieces from Japanese brands, independent designers, make their own clothing, or any combination of the above. They might be living in a city in mainland China, or a small town in rural England. They might be an ocean away, or a member of your local community. They could be reading this blog post, not knowing that the author herself is also a "Chinese lolita".
Are we not allowed to enjoy lolita fashion?
【延禧·如璋令】[Yanxi Palace] OP and JSK from ZJ Story on Taobao, released 2019.
Image courtesy of ZJ Story's offcial store page.
Some will say that when people complain about "Chinese lolitas", their intention is not to generalise or stereotype all lolitas who might be of Chinese descent. I believe that this is true. However, we should be careful about the implications our words can hold. How can anyone tell which "Chinese lolitas" are being referred to at any given time, if they are not given any other specification? Who gets to decide which "Chinese lolitas" are acceptable to the international lolita community - which is itself an incredibly diverse group of people, each with their own ideas about what makes lolita what it is? Should "Chinese lolitas" feel the need to make themselves more acceptable to their non-Chinese counterparts - especially if they are immigrants or from immigrant families, living in the Anglophone West?
There is a difference between making an observation about the different cultures in lolita communities around the world, and stereotyping a large group of people. From my experiences being a part of lolita communities in both Asia and the West, I truly believe that most lolitas do not hold ill intentions towards their fellow fashion lovers - in fact, many are open-minded and excited to learn about how the fashion is intepreted in different contexts. That being said, we need to be careful about how we address different communities, and recognise that there is often far more nuances within large groups of people than meets the eyes.