Media & Cultural Studies

Fashion, Style & Popular Culture

Lolita Fashion: A trans-global subculture
Journal edited by Joseph H Hancock
From Fashion, Style & Popular Culture 2.3

Lolita subculture

According to Winge (2008: 47) Lolitas are young females and males who wear ‘anachronistic visual representations of Victorian-era dolls’, decorated all over the body with lace, ruffles and bows. Their appearance and culture is very unique in many respects. According to Gagné (2008) they like to see, behave and speak like ‘princesses’ with a characteristic young girl appearance. Although the majority of Lolitas are young women, they can be identified as people who pursue the strong femininity and cuteness of a young girl regardless of their actual age and gender. They usually appear on the streets of major cities and have expanded their aesthetic and identity through media such as TV, magazines and websites (Winge 2008).

Lolita fashion

Lolitas seek to fulfil their look and identity through overall appearance and behaviour. Fashion plays a crucial role in establishing their unique identity and conveys significant meaning. Their dress hides the mature silhouette with minimum skin exposure, emphasizing a child-like appearance through voluminous skirts and elaborate decorations (Winge 2008). This reinforces their desire to be cute, innocent and elegant; doll-like hair styles and make-up add to this. Kato(2010) recognizes that Lolitas do, however, follow their own rules of behaviour. For instance, they speak in a manner that intimates the kind of cultivated high-class femininity synonymous with the image of a princess (Gagné 2008). Typically they exaggerate politeness as they intentionally differentiate themselves from others, constructing and communicating their identity.

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The reasons for why they look and act as they do can be explained theoretically through Wicklund and Gollwitzer’s theory of self-completion: when an individual feels a lack of completion, he or she participates in ‘self-symbolizing’ and may use symbols to construct and hold absolute ‘selfdefinition’, which are special statements of self (1982: 9), which is evident through the qualities that Lolitas aspire towards – cute, etc. It can be interpreted as a desire to escape the real world. Wearing fairy tale dresses, Lolitas appear to build an imaginary world to remove themselves from a range of social and personal pressures (Osmud et al. 2011). This could be a confined adult life (Winge 2008), a boring or otherwise unpleasant everyday existence (Nishimura 2004). It can also be characterized as a form of resistance against a conservative culture and ideologies. The exaggerated cute and feminine characteristics of Lolita stand against androcracy (Kotani 2007) and against the social norm of dressing (Winge 2008).

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Lolita fashion

It is presumed that the name ‘Lolita’ was adopted as its style expresses the ideology of rejecting a mature woman’s sexuality and valuing child-like properties, as they aspire elegance (Zimenez 2008) and deny any intention of sex appeal. The definition of Lolita fashion is not clear and is still debated, as different subgenres emerge, creating new variations of the style. However, in general, Lolita styles are typified by frilled or lacy blouses, knee-length voluminous skirts, petticoats, drawers, doll-like shoes, and accessories that show strong inspirations from European classic fashion, although sometimes with inexact or mixed use of references. According to Michelle Nguyen, contributing editor of Gothic & Lolita Bible, Lolita fashion was inspired by ‘the romantic images of the Victorian era (1837–1901) and the Edwardian era (1901–1910),or Belle Epoque, with influences stretching as far back as the Rococo movement’ (2008: 8). Lolita fashion utilizes such diverse elements and modifies them to accord with the subcultural identity reflecting the Japanese preference for the cute aesthetic. Accordingly, it produces a more burlesque doll- and child-like look, which engenders new meaning.

Lolitas in the United Kingdom

Lolita subculture has spread around the world possibly due to an increased interest in Japanese culture, the Internet for information sharing, global online shopping opportunities and the enthusiastic efforts of foreign Lolita devotees. The United Kingdom is a good example of the subculture’s global reach. This article draws on the perceptions of British Lolitas and the factors that influence their culture through an online community, the marketplace and a Lolita meeting to better understand the British Lolita subculture.

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Lolita online community

The interactive communication of British Lolitas has grown through global Internet forums, subsequently building their own community. Among them, LoliGothUK is the biggest community with more than 1000 members where the real nature of British Lolitas is expressed effectively through their posts. The members are polite and create a favourable mood following their own guidelines and rules. The subject of their postings is relatively free and diverse, and the characteristics of their writing style and activities are quite feminine. Lolitas demonstrate the desire for dignity through the use of archaic words such as ‘aw’, ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ in common with the lady’s speech of Japanese Lolitas. The members appear to take pleasure in communicating through this forum, bringing Lolitas closer together. The members participate in a variety of activities including buying and selling Lolita products, organizing meetings, sharing information, counselling, advice-giving and finding friends. Through these activities the members become morstye accomplished in the Lolita subculture. Their main concern is how to acquire their desired Lolita products and regularly seek up-to-date news and ways to find such desirable items, relying heavily on shared information and advice. It appears that British Lolitas like to confirm their actual or imaginary style to each other and most think Japanese brand products are more desirable. However, due to the high prices and limited availability many take part in buying and selling to obtain second-hand brand goods. They also trade replicas of premium brands, Japanese/non-Japanese ready-made Lolita fashion and hand-made items. Their enthusiastic participation within the community is largely due to discontent with the undeveloped Lolita fashion market in the United Kingdom, with many depending on foreign Lolita cybermall or public brands selling Lolita-like fashion products.

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