What’s With the Frilly Dresses? The History of Lolita Fashion

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Asian street style has continued to fascinate folks around the world for years. The DM’s Resident Lolita, Olivia Hayes, gives us her American point of view in her series on Lolita fashion.

Lolita fashion is a Japanese street fashion that started in Japan in the late 1980s and stemmed along quietly until it received immense popularity as part of the visual-kei revolution in Japanese music during the early 2000s. It’s has a mainly doll-like look that originates from the Rococo and Victorian eras. However, Lolita fashion comes in many subsets that either amplify or deviate from these historical inspirations. Although strongly feminine, not just women dress in Lolita fashion, there are also brolitas, which I will discuss.There is not a male counterpart to Lolita fashion but there is a branch called boystyle or “ouji”, which means “prince style”. These are the more unisex branches of the fashion.

The style is grounded in rebellion from social norms. Instead of sexiness that is constructed mainly for the hetero male gaze, the style tends to strive for cute and elegant. However, there is a branch of Lolita that is called Ero Lolita, which does strive for sexiness, but in a way that is more appealing for the person who is wearing it, still following the tradition of rejecting one-sided cultural norms. Lolitas dress for themselves and to express only themselves, not to look necessarily pleasing for society or to attract anyone, period.

lolitaMen who dress in Lolita fashion are considered brolitas. One of the most famous Lolita icons, and owner of popular Lolita brand Moi-même-Moitié, is Mana, a man that dresses in Lolita fashion. Given that Lolita in and of itself is a rejection of societal norms and restrictive gender roles, it would be erroneous (and a bit both transphobic and homophobic) to assume that guys who dress in Lolita are gay, bi or otherwise queer, or wish to be transgender. It’s just men who wish to simply wear what they see is fitting for them, not as a socio-political statement or a reference to any other part of their identity or personhood. Basically, it’s just personal style preference.

Some Lolitas treat the fashion as more than just a style of clothing, but also as a lifestyle. A lifestyle Lolita is one who regularly and daily dresses in the fashion, engages deeply with the local Lolita community, and may take on hobbies which tend to gravitate around the branch of the fashion they most resonate with. Some lifestylers tend to be as ladylike and princess-like as possible and prefer to surround themselves with beautiful things such as flowers and soft themes. However, not all lifestylers are alike as a gothic lifestyle Lolita is likely to have a different life and perspective than a sweet lifestyle Lolita, and same for a punk lifestyle Lolita. As a lifestyle Lolita, they feel their life and a big part of their identity revolves around not simply the clothes, but how the clothes allow them to express who they actually are.

Next time, we’ll go into what is considered Lolita, including its many branches of fashion.

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Kedo Doxi

by Kedo Doxi

Special Contributor. Kedo loves to write. A lot. As an English major who has worked on various stories, novels, and poems, she has an undying love for all things unique including gothic lolita culture, martial arts, hairfalls, and pagan spirituality. She contributes articles about these interests to help raise awareness and make the taboo accessible.