The name ‘Lolita’, made popular through writer Vladimir Nabokov’s novel of the same name (originally published in 1955), normally conjures up images that would make most people uncomfortable.
Images of sweaty middle aged perverts hanging around secondary schoolyards, trying to get a glimpse of some attractive sexually-precocious pre-pubescent girl.
Lolita fashion however, actually refers to something totally different. Dressed in frilly petticoats, high-collared dresses, bonnets with ribbons and lacy parasols with striped mismatched stockings and large hair-bows, those who follow the Lolita style are not concerned with emphasising their sexuality. On the contrary, the focus is on innocence and childlike cuteness. This fashion subculture in fact is mostly influenced by the Victorian and Edwardian style of children’s clothing, as well as the Rococo French period.
It originates from the Harajuku District in Shibuya, Japan, and had first evolved during the 1970s. However, its popularity had then increased in the 1990s. This was due to the influence of the so-called Visual-kei bands – a kind of Japanese boy band with glam rock cross-dressing tendencies who were all the rage at the time, and still have a big following. Bands such as Versailles, Malice Mizer, and X Japan began to market the style and its popularity.
The goal in many cases is to imitate the appearance of a manga or anime child or doll. Virginal girlishness and sweetness are targets arrived at through the use of knee-high stockings, Odeko shoes characterised by rounded heels, frills, wigs with curly ringlets, lace, long skirts and puffy frocks. Very little skin is actually exposed, and the Lolita girls sometimes even carry cute soft toys or dolls to complete the picture and emphasise the childish look.
Image above: The visual-kei japanese band Blitz
In Japan, several people wear the Lolita style on a day-to-day basis, however this is not the case in the rest of the world, although lately in Europe, there has been an ever growing trend of Lolita fans wearing this kind of clothing for get-togethers, outings, tea-parties, or group activities. Outside Japan, Lolita fashion is also common at Comicons, Cosplay events and Anime/Manga conventions, even though Lolita fashion is not strictly speaking the same as cosplay.
There are various types of different Lolitas; more subcultures within the subculture. We find the Sweet Lolita, or ama-loli, whereby girls focus most on the fantasy child-like aspect, wearing young and girly pastel colours, lacy bows, print fabric, and accessories depicting coloured fruit, cute animals, flowers, or foodstuffs. Then there’s the Gothic Lolita, which is a style influenced by the British New Wave movement of the 80s. Also referred to as Aristocratic, this style is more elegant and presents a darker combination of colours. Black tulle, fishnets and dramatic lace, as well as accessories sporting crosses, bats and ankhs, are some of the main features.
Another popular version is the Classic Lolita, which is a more mature style focusing on Regency and Victorian fashion and historically inspired cuts. Shoes and accessories are more functional, and there is an emphasis on natural colours and more muted make up. Other Lolita styles include the Punk Lolita, the Old School Lolita, and the Wa (traditional Japanese) Lolita.
Image above: Old School Lolita and Gothic Lolita
Why do so many teenage girls and women find this style so attractive? Some consider it to be a rebellion against today’s sexualisation of the female figure. Others see it as a rejection of male-created fashion, or even as a return to childhood innocence. Maybe they just enjoy dressing up in frilly clothes. Personally, I find it rather cute, and I admit I’ve tried it out a couple of times at local comic conventions. However, I wouldn’t wear it everyday, especially in Malta, since I imagine apart from it being vastly impractical, one would end up totally sweltering in the summer heat.