Thank you, Facebook memory reminder, for some random status update I posted from my younger self every time I log in. I love seeing year-old lunches I forgot I ate. But I’ll give you credit – occasionally this little wayback-bot digs up a gem. Like the other day, when it reminded us of a little Connecticut lolita meetup from back in 2010.
We pored over the pictures of our younger selves, with more than a little cringe and some wistfulness. Why did I think those Harajuku Lovers shoes went with everything? Where is that bonnet I always used to wear? Friends had come and gone from the scene, moved or changed styles or lost interest.
(I’m twenty here! I thought this outfit was the pinnacle of style, and now I am wondering what the heck I was thinking.)
“Remember this girl? I haven’t seen her in years,” comments one friend on a photo, “But I remember at that meetup I thought she was so fancy! She had that blonde ringlet wig and pink purse.”
“Nowadays, we’d think she was so plain!” I bemused. “Our past lolita selves would wet our pants looking at today’s lolita fashion. So over-the-top!”
Nineteen year old me peers back from the photo, and I imagine her reading this over my shoulder. If I could sit down with her and a stack of magazines, I wonder what she’d say. The lolita style has changed a lot since I started in 2006, over ten years ago! And even moreso since the style began in the nebulous 90s and early 00s.
For starters, we didn’t wear wigs then! (You can now imagine me on my rocking chair, looking like Clint Eastwood in the Gran Torino, if you like.) Or very rarely. We wore skirts or jumperskirts of course, with knee-high socks or tights, and maybe a cardigan with an embroidered brand logo if you were fancy. Hairclips or Alice bands from Claire’s were enough for the head. A bonnet was considered very daring, and I remember specifically wearing mine to stand out of the crowd. I wore lolita fashion on a daily basis, to school, the grocery store, the doctor’s, or to hang around the house. I have striped pastel pink socks from Sock Dreams, a gingham Baby the Stars Shine Bright skirt entwined with roses, and a Victorian-styled coat with white fur trim and shoe-lace corseting. And I wore that stuff everywhere.
(images from FRUiTS magazine)
We were inspired by the girls we saw in magazines, like FRUiTS (which has recently gone under! Thus further ringing the ‘end is near’ bells of doom) and the Gothic and Lolita Bible, mostly in the street snaps. These were young people of Harajuku, getting dressed just to hang around downtown for an afternoon, or go shopping with friends, and defined the idea of ‘street style’. When asked what the heck we were wearing, the classic tagline response might have been, “This is a street style from Japan.”
The lolita style of today is no longer streetwear. Though we called it for many years ‘street style’, the street aspect no longer applies. I do not see lolitas on sidewalks or in parks, on subways or sitting alone in cafes. Lolita is now reserved for special occasions, for most, or at the least, toned down into ‘casual style’. When I first started, casual lolita could mean no petticoat, no hairbow, and a t-shirt on top rather than a blouse. Today’s casual lolita simply means that you’re only wearing one head-eating bow, one accessory like a single bag charm, and typically a simply-styled, naturally colored wig. Even our casual looks are what we used to consider complete lolita fashion, meetup-worthy and all.
(image from fyeahlolita.com via Style Arena, sourced below)
I saw this most of all at the last two Rufflecons I attended. Rufflecon, being a locale of like-minded fashion-influenced folk, was the place to go all-out with your inspired coordinates. Everyone aimed to out-fancy the others in crowns, tiaras, wings, gardens’ worth of flowers, increasing circumferences of petticoats and underpinnings, scepters and wands of all kinds. I even saw a girl who had her own portable chandelier to match her coordinate. I can’t really talk – I used the opportunity to drag out my dufflebag-sized stuffed unicorn purse. But this isn’t really fashion exactly the way we used to know it.
As I mentioned in my recent Halloween and lolita fashion discussion, lolita fashion did become mainstream in a way we didn’t expect. The streets and malls are still not awash with teenybopper lolitas, as we once feared, the source diluted from the original so much as to be unrecognizable. Despite its differences, lolita is still clearly descended from its forebears. The kawaii aesthetic did take off, in a more wearable, casual way that was more accessible. So what happened to give us the modern lolita look of today, something that is so more complex and show-stopping?
This is my pet theory: rather than going the route of diluting, lolita fashion sped in the other direction and has become runway-wear, special event wear, and reserved for the realm of photoshoots and increasingly expensive teas and formal parties.
Western fashion couldn’t accept the elaborate lolita as daily fashion, but it could accept lolita as a special event. Lolita fashion has always said it’s not cosplay, but we found ourselves most at home in the bubble of cosplay and its biospheres of anime conventions or photoshoots. As cosplay rose from homemade stitching to a higher and higher artform, the two looked less like cousins and more like sisters.
And it’s not wrong. I’m not here to condemn fancy, over-the-top, dramatic lolita looks! I love them myself. It’s amazing the kind of looks and styles one can create, not just as a designer or DIY-er but just by mixing and matching different styles and items to create a specific idea or aesthetic. I’ve always maintained that coordinating lolita is an artform of its own. But it’s no longer the one we live our lives in, as it used to be.
You can check out this article, where they proclaim the death of Harajuku in favor of the new reign of normcore supergiant, Uniqlo. This article proclaims that in Japan, the decline of street fashion is due to the commercialization of it – that the unique aquifer of creativity and invention we associate with Harajuku was the gift of art students, and that the buying and selling and overmarketing of of it is what lead to its destruction there. But here, where we see kawaii and whatever imports of Harajuku beginning to normalize, and as Japan now looks to the overseas wallet to support the market and brand houses it created, I think the diagnosis is different. Kawaii style is still alive and well; but the idea of lolita is no longer the lolita of the streets.
This is a natural progression. Lolita fashion is not dead, not by a long shot; it’s not relegated to the corners of museums and old photo albums just yet. Even in 2014, we see this being called “artistic lolita”, shepherded in by the more extravagant Baby the Stars Shine Bright speciality dresses (now priced closer to $500 – $1,000 USD, where years ago the average lolita brand dress could still be got for around $180 new), and borrowing from other elaborate styles of the time like shironuri or the costuming of concerts like Brilliant Kingdom. The It Fashion Item in the past two years has been the large and stunning Triple Fortune bonnet, or the religious-trend inspired nun veil, illustrating the swing of the fashion pendulum.
For me personally, I no longer wear lolita fashion every day or even most days. While I still enjoy ruffles, pastels, frills and roses, I have a separate cute casual wardrobe rather than my daily lolita wardrobe that I used to turn to every morning. I might only wear lolita for the occasional photo, date with a friend or meetup, perhaps a handful of times a month. In a way, it’s sad. I miss it. Even more strange, I now find lolita fashion to feel less comfortable and familiar than it used to. Whether it’s because lolita is now too bold to wear in the real world or because I am living in it less, I’ve actually started to feel more self-conscious in it. This thing I have lived a decade of my life in, that shaped so much of me and my current world, suddenly felt foreign.
Is my answer to wear more lolita? To revive the simpler styles? To find the same sweetness and princess emotion in the casual styles that are popularizing? To force myself to wear lolita all the more and stake my claim on the every day world, until it feels like home again? The original magic in lolita – and indeed, as the above article states, in the spirit of Harajuku – was the daydreams brought to life by its young artists, models and visionaries, who created a world of their own by the denizens it resembled. It is the buzz and creation, the hum of living artwork that really nourishes the blossoms of Harajuku there and across the world, of which lolita is only one species among many. However you may choose to capture that feeling, in whatever form or flower, is up to you. But I hope you continue, like I will, to chase after that elusive otherworld through the transformative power of fashion.
Do you see changing styles and habits of wearing lolita in your community? Are you seeing more lolita being worn daily, or more fanciful styles taking hold? Feel free to comment below or on the Parfait Doll Facebook fanpage!