Lolita girls are easily recognised by their doll-like make-up, fanciful bonnets, and petticoats. Annelise Andersen meets one British Lolita girl to find out more about this intriguing subculture.
How would you define a Lolita girl?
There are three main substyles of Lolita: classic, gothic and sweet. Then there are various themes and smaller substyles within this, like sailor, pirate, old-school, steampunk and wa. The common guidelines for Lolita fashion are that it must be modest, high-quality, and must match and balance as a ‘coordinate’ or ‘coord’ [an outfit]. Coords always include a full petticoat and often knee-length or just above knee-length skirts. There are Lolitas of all ages, races, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s like any hobby, although you have to be prepared to put the time in to do your research and spend money when putting together your coords.
Where does the trend come from?
Some say that it has origins in a Japanese fashion style called natural kei, a feminine, old-fashioned way of dressing based on characters from the book Little House on the Prairie. Natural kei began in Japan in the 1980s and became more elaborate and ‘matchy-matchy’ [excessively colour-coordinated] over time. When clothing brands specialising in Lolita fashion – such as Angelic Pretty and Metamorphose – started selling overseas in the early 2000s, the fashion began to spread. A lot of people credit the coining of the term ‘Lolita’ to the musician Mana of the bands Malice Mizer and Moi Dix Mois, who is also associated with the origin of the term ‘elegant gothic Lolita’ [EGL; a substyle of Lolita].
How did you come to be a Lolita?
I became interested in the fashion when watching videos of Malice Mizer when I was 14 and then found the clothes online. It wasn’t until 10 years later that I discovered there was an international Lolita community and that brands actually sold to overseas customers. I’ve been wearing the fashion for four years now, but I’m definitely not a Lolita at all times – it’s not a lifestyle or something I can do 24/7. I’m a Lolita when I’m wearing the fashion, and that’s it!
What is your favourite Lolita coord?
I mainly wear classic and gothic. My favourite outfits to wear are ones that involve Atelier Boz [a Japanese gothic Lolita fashion brand and clothing label] items, especially Roland jackets [a formal-style long jacket], as they are immaculately cut and fit me perfectly. I really enjoy seeing others wearing OTT [over the top] classic, with bonnets and brands like Juliette et Justine, but this is an expensive look to create. I look up a lot of international Lolitas for inspiration: the Russian community always looks very put together and Mana also continues to provide inspiration to me after many years.
How do people react to you when you’re dressed as a Lolita girl in public?
We get a mixture of reactions. Young children and old women love it and want pictures with us. Middle-aged women also like it, but men can get very aggressive and shout rude or sexually harassing things. The only people I’ve ever been heckled by are groups of men – this happens most often when there’s a football match on in town and there are people spilling out of pubs. You have to learn to either take it in your stride or heckle back.
What is the Lolita scene like in the UK?
There tends to be a mix of substyles in each community. There are active communities everywhere from Scotland to Ireland, up north and down south.
I’m a proud member of my local Lolita community. We drink a lot of tea, eat a lot of cake, go to the pub, play games and chat about new brand releases. A lot of us have multiple hobbies and responsibilities though, which sometimes get in the way of us going to meets.
I’m also a moderator for our online group, along with three other people. Online communities are an intrinsic part of the Lolita community. A LiveJournal site called EGL used to be the Lolita online hub, but now there are multiple Facebook groups such as Rufflechat, Lolita Updates and Closet of Frills, and various community groups where Lolitas can connect with each other. All of our meets are organised through Facebook, so it’s absolutely vital for our community.
For me, the community is the main reason I do this. Others, however, are quite happy being lone Lolitas, and that’s perfectly fine too.
‘Lolita fashion: Japanese street style’, an overview from the Victoria and Albert Museum, looks at Lolita fashion and some of its design labels.
‘“Kawaii” culture taking hold in UK’ is a report from the Japan Times on the rising popularity of kawaii and Lolita fashion in the UK.
‘Meet the hijabi Lolita’ is an interview by Vice with Alyssa Salazar, a convert to Islam who wears a hijab but is also a Lolita enthusiast.
‘Returning in a different fashion’ is a 2013 article that looks at different representations of Lolita in Japanese and Western culture.