What Is Lolita?

What is Lolita Fashion?
Lolita is a street fashion and a subculture from Japan. The clothing is inspired mainly by the Rococo and Victorian eras. It features poofy skirts, lace, ribbons, flowers and bows and covers a large variety of looks including simple and sweet, spooky and even over the top styles.

The Name
In western culture, the name Lolita is often associated with a sexually precocious young girl, which is based on Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita (1955). The novel describes the relationship between a preadolescent girl called Lolita and the narrator, a man in his forties. However, this definition does not apply to Japanese Lolita fashion. While the western adaption of Lolita is sexy, Japanese Lolita fashion strives for the opposite. It's a very modest look that the majority of Lolitas would describe as elegant and cute.

No one is exactly positive when the fashion appeared, but it's commonly believed to be back in the late 1980’s. The fashion was relatively unknown, until the early 2000s, when it got it's big boom through visual-kei bands, such as Malice Mizer. Malice Mizer's guitarist Mana fronted the fashion scene, and popularized the term Elegant Gothic Lolita when he opened Moi-même-Moitié, a Gothic Lolita brand. Lolita began to gather worldwide support as the fashion became more accessible through physical stores outside Japan, and online webshops.

Lace & Petticoats:
A short documentary on Lolita fashion and subculture in Brisbane (2010)

The Rules of Dressing
There are many rules about how a Lolita should be dressed. While some of them can be taken rather as guidelines, others are crucial for the actual look of the fashion. A proper coordination mainly consist of a headpiece, a shirt, a skirt or dress, petticoat, knee socks and shoes

A Lolita almost always adds decoration to her hair. The traditional head covering is the headdress, which may come in all shapes and sizes, but is typically rectangular so that it may arch over the head like a headband. Rose corsages, Alice bows and bonnets are also popular. Smaller bows, such as on barrettes and elastic bands, may also be used if one wants a less overpowering look. Hats can also be a nice alternative, for example with Classic or Punk Lolita.

White blouse by Innocent World
In general, exposed skin is to be minimized, so shoulders are usually covered and the neckline rather high. Blouses are featured in most outfits, either with a skirt or worn under a jumperskirt. A typical Lolita blouse buttons in the front and features a collar which is, traditionally, in the rounded Peter Pan style.

A cutsew is a rather casual substitute for the blouse, often made of jersey. Warm and cosy ones are a nice alternative for cold weather.

A cardigan or bolero can upgrade and complete any outfit, so they’re quite popular. Most Lolita brands sell waist-long cardigans which go nicely with big petticoats without wrinkling.

The ideal Lolita silhouette is of the bell shape, which is achieved thanks to the petticoats and bloomers beneath the skirt. Skirts are very wide so the petticoat fits underneath and gives it a nice poof. Lolita skirts should have approximately knee-length, shorter would not be appropriate.

Jsk by Mary Magdalene
The jumperskirt, or Jsk, is very popular among Lolitas. It is basically a dress with shoulder straps and no sleeves, so a blouse or cardigan should be combinated with it.

A onepiece, or OP, is a complete dress with sleeves. It is often not necessary to wear a blouse with it, which can be practical, but may not allow much variation possibilities.

An oft-ignored but vital key to a proper attire. Bloomers and petticoats should top every new Lolita’s shopping list. A proper petticoat is necessary to achieve that bell shape that is so essential to the silhouette, while bloomers are necessary to retain a lady’s modesty in case the skirt swings upwards or when climbing stairs. Besides, bloomers are very cute and comfortable.

Lolitas tend not to expose their legs too often. Most popular are knee-length or over-knee socks, but also stockings and opaque tights. Ankle socks, especially those topped with lace, may be a nice alternative for summer, when it’s really warm.

The traditional footwear of choice for Lolitas is the Mary Jane. A proper Lolita shoe should feature a closed, rounded toe as well as chunky, thick heels or platforms (although flats may also be an option). Another favourite style, owing to the popularity of Vivienne Westwood in Japan, are rocking horse shoes. For a more classic look, elegant high-heels or Victorian boots may be considered.

Lolitas are very fond of any kind of accessores. Earrings, necklaces, bracelets, cameos, brooches, gloves, belts, parasols, handbags - only matching accessoires make an outfit really complete. Some may go even more over the top with fake eyelashes, circle lenses, wigs, fake nails...

The make-up depends on the style you're wearing, but in general Lolitas wear rather natural, not too strong make-up. A flawless skin and big eyes increase the ressemblance with a procellain doll.

The different Lolita Styles

Duplica in a beautiful Gothic coord
Gothic Lolita
The traditional black/white scheme is very recognizable, but not all Gothic Lolita is black and white, but often also dark red, green or blue colours. This style incorporates the darker colours and themes. Most Lolitas start off with this style because it much easier to find gothic items locally and it's very easy to coordinate.
Some people also consider Gothic Lolita a coverall term for Lolita fashion, probably because of the Gothic Lolita Bibles, but this is a bit misleading because many Lolita styles possess no gothic elements.

Kuro Lolita
Kuro comes from the Japanese expression “kuroi”, which means “black" – so this style is mainly a Lolita outfit all in black. It’s often seen as a sub-style of Gothic Lolita.

Sweet Lolitas wearing Angelic Pretty
Sweet Lolita
Currently one of the most popular Lolita styles, Sweet Lolita is all about cuteness. It features a wide range of colours, often pastel colours such as light pinks, baby blues, whites, lavender, canary yellow and mint green. This style also includes a lot of frills, lace, bows and ribbons.. Lolita brands that sells Sweet Lolita clothing might often have themes, such as fairy tales, cupcakes and other sweets, puppies and kitties, flowers and berries.

Shiro Lolita
Shiro comes from the Japanese term “shiroi” for “white” – so this style features all white clothes and accessoires. Shiro Lolita can be viewed as a sub-style of Sweet Lolita.

Yuki-chan as Country Lolita

Country Lolita
Another sub-style of sweet style, with little straw hats, baskets, braids, parasols and ginham, floral and fruit patterns in bright, summery colours. As the name says, it gives the impression of a cute girl from the countryside going to a picnic or a stroll through cornfields.

Sailor Lolita
Pretty self-explanatory, it's a Lolita version of sailor uniforms. The skirts have nautical stripes around the edges, the blouses have little sailor collars and ties, and sailor hats are worn in place of headdresses. It's also a small subset of Sweet Lolita.

Hime Lolita
Hime or Princess Lolita is a very elegant style that often involves miniature crowns, tiaras and extravagant or large hair. Hime Lolita does reflect a sense of royalty and class. It is common to see Hime Lolitas wearing Sweet Lolita dresses that have a Rococo influence.

Classic Lolita
Classic Lolita is a slightly more mature and feminine version of Lolita, since there are fewer frills and more sophisticated designs. Classic Lolitas tend to wear darker or more muted colours, sometimes with subtle floral prints, which gives a plain, elegant look. The skirts often have an A-line shape instead of the usual bell-shape. Accessories like gloves, lace tights or pearl necklaces suit very well with this style.

Fanu wearing Aristocrat

Aristocrat is a more mature, old-fashioned but very elegant style. It has a lot in common with western Romantic Rothic and doesn’t include any cutesy motivs. The skirts are longer and not necessarily worn with a petticoat. Long wide trousers, frock coats, corsages, vests or hats can also be found, along with ruffled blouses with jabots gives the impression of an aristocrat or noblewoman from long time ago. The term EGA (Elegant gothic Aristocrat) was introduced by Mana.

Linda in a stunning Pirate outfit

Pirate Lolita
An equally nautical sub-style as Sailor Lolita, Pirate Lolita offers a different experience from its relatives and even has an individual brand which caters to it and its wearers.

Casual Lolita
Casual Lolita is the casual solution to Lolita. Much more practical and toned down from the other subgenres, it is ideal for the person who wants to maintain the Lolita silhouette while not looking overdressed. A simple shirt with a nice, not-too-poofy skirt and a small headbow make a pretty coordinate for everyday life.

Punk Lolita
Punk Lolita is a really hard style to pull off because it treads a fine line between Lolita and full-on Punk. Good punk Lolitas keep the bell-shaped skirt or the frilly blouse even with all the other more punk elements, like plaid, chains, spikes, fishnet, buttons etc. Coloured hair, ties or chunky boots are also often coordinated.

Wa- & Qi-Lolita
Inspired by traditional Japanese or Chinese clothing, sometimes including kimonos, yukatas or qipaos. This style implies a lot of experience to coordinate traditional and modern attire atmospheric.

Guro Lolitas

Guro Lolita
A gory style, as the name says. Guro Lolita is a style of Lolita that tries to portray a grotesque ‘broken-dolly’ sort of look. White dresse with blood splatters are very common, together with eyepatches, bandages, slings and fake bruises.
Although this style may sound costume-y, it is a part of the fashion and follows all of the guidelines that the other styles do.

This style is often called boystyle or Dandy, as it involves more masculine clothing. In Japan they usually use Ouji (meaning prince) and not Kodona, which is a western term. Very popular are knee-length pants with suspenders, ties, vestes, bowlers or top hats and men-style shoes. Sometimes this style has feminine touches, such as more feminine shoes and accessories.

Ero Lolita
Erotic Lolita is a more uncommon style is slightly more revealing with shorter skirts or only bloomers and sheer blouses with corsets, sometimes along with fetish elements such as collars, handcuffs, garters, and vinyl fabric.

Other Japanese street fashions, which inspire Lolita:

Otome Kei
Otome means maiden. The style is cute but still rather casual in comparsion to the other styles

Dolly Kei
This style got it's name from old porcelain dolls and it takes inspiration from old antique things. The fashion refers often to eastern european national costumes, embroderied vests and tassels are common signs, also lots of layers.

Mori Kei
Mori means forest. Mori takes inspiration from the forest and nature in general. The colours are very earthbound to brown and beige. The clothing is, for the most part, very loose and layered, while the A line shape is very common.

Fairy Kei
This style is inspired by the 80s pastels. 80's cartoon characters have a center role in this fashion and you'll see a lot of My little Pony prints and Care Bears, and shorter colourful skirts, often in tulle for the fairy feeling.

As unusual and inconvenient Lolita fashion might be for most people, it’s still a fashion and not a costume. Therefore, Lolitas distance themselves from any kind of Cosplay. Cosplay is basically short for "costume play". The people commonly choose their characters from a manga or an anime to cosplay. But it's not unusual that people choose characters from video games, movies, western comics, famous singers and band members as well. Most cosplayers make their own costumes instead of buying one.

Popular Lolita Brands
Angelic Pretty
Atelier Pierrot
Baby, the Stars Shine Bright
Emily Temple Cute
Gothic Lolita Wigs
Innocent World
Jane Maple
Juliette et Justine
Mary Magdalene
Metamorphose Temps de Fille
Peace Now
Victorian Maiden

Text & Picture Sources
Lolita Handbook on livejournal
Zerudas Wonderland fashion dictionary

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