Recently I have seen this term floating around the Internet: ‘closet lolitas’. I originally thought this meant, like the term for ‘closeted’ Pagans or homosexuals, that this was a reference to lolitas who wore and loved their lolita fashion while keeping it a secret from their friends, family, and significant others. While it sounded rather difficult (how do you hide a giant wardrobe of poofy technicolor dresses and $300 dress bills from your parents?!) I figured it must be possible, if people were using the term. Today I finally got it, from a few new comments and messages left on my Youtube videos: the term ‘closet lolita’ was being applied to girls who considered themselves to be lolita despite not dressing in, owning, or even ever having tried on the fashion. I can only assume then the ‘closet lolita’ just consumes media, mostly through the Internet (tumblr, Facebook, forums, blogs, etc.).
Now to clarify my stance – I believe a lolita is someone who has worn lolita clothing with a genuine attempt to follow the lolita style/anatomy/archetype (wearing a cheap lace monster to cosplay an anime character does not count; nor does donning a brand skirt with a t-shirt, converse, and no lolita hair/makeup – lolita fashion is a whole-picture look, not just the clothing or its pedigree – offbrand and handmade count!). No matter how much media, community or interest one has in lolita fashion, I don’t believe you can be a lolita until you have tried to wear the style in its entirety – at least once, though others might argue multiple times or ownership of the clothing and accessories is necessary. Until you’ve actually tried to portray the lolita style to the best of your ability, you are an admirer and lover of lolita fashion. (Nothing wrong with that, if you love the look but it’s not something you’d personally wear.)
I received an email recently with a plea for help from just such a ‘closet lolita’ who has been a ‘lolita for years’ but wanted more help being lolita ‘style-wise.’ To sum her letter, she says her family will support her, but her location is not ‘lolita-forward’ and lolita is ‘far too expensive and far too difficult!’
Okay. Mama Victoria is gonna get a little tough love and speak the truth. Being a lolita… is hard.
Here are just a few things lolitas do on a routine basis to keep up with, well, being lolitas:
Ordering from expensive shopping services, saving up money, making the same dress work in six different outfits rather than buy a new one, darning socks, studying makeup magazines, cleaning wigs, coloring their hair, gluing on nails, gluing on eyelashes, learning katakana, matching up coordinates, buying makeup, dealing with customs, working hard jobs (again to save more money), flying cross country or internationally to buy clothing, curling hair, conditioning out teased bouffants, dealing with strangers, dealing with coworkers or family members, driving hours to meetups, uncomfortable shoes, stockings that slide down, petticoats that deflate, reading handbooks, running group orders, currency conversions, not to mention all of the inside workings and social learning curve of lolita culture…
Lolita seems to be making the list of subcultural trends for teens lately, making blog rolls and Tumblr dashboards all over the Internet. Other fashion trends the average teen or young person can invest in aren’t nearly so stringent, such as scene or hipster trends. Lolita is more on the level of old-school goth, back when goth was both a daily rigorous fashion and lifestyle, rather than its modern descendant, watered-down and sold next to the GAP (who actually owns Hot Topic, for the curious.) Which is why many girls beg the question of why lolita has to be so, well, hard.
Lolita looks sweet, soft, delicate, like an ornate maiden or perfect princess… and, like any princess, it looks effortless. I think that is why, for those on the outside looking in, it seems like it must be easy. To those who haven’t tried it, it seems like for the lolitas pictured, life is a perfect fairytale, a (excuse the pun) piece of cake, and the only reason that the viewer hasn’t attained lolita nirvana yet is due to an external locus of control. You know, the usual, things you hear all the time: “It’s too expensive”, “My hometown is not lolita”, “Going outside would be weird”. Or other times, you hear girls say, “Lolita is my inside self and heart, but…”
Here is the truth: lolitas are strong. Lolitas are brave. Every day, they decide to wear things that are not popular or accepted. They have been mocked, alienated and harassed for their choices, in every location from big cities to rural towns. Why? Because as a lolita, the fundamental belief is that making yourself happy is the most important thing. Even if you feel awkward, standing alone in a pink-and-blue ruffled dress, knowing that the rest of the world is staring… you are standing up for your right to make choices about your happiness, not others’. If this dress makes you feel happy when you look at it and put it on, then it should be your choice to embrace that.
As Maki of Angelic Pretty has said, ‘Lolitas are always fighting for what they believe in.’ If you want to be a lolita, to wear lolita fashion and in doing so truly have the ‘lolita experience’ so to speak, you have to fight. Lolitas around the world face adversity in becoming lolitas, whether that’s cost, time, location, culture. I have had letters from Muslim lolitas who want to dress in adorable fashions but still honor their religious standards, like long skirts. I have had letters from girls who are exceedingly poor but have been carefully saving their pennies or learning by nights how to sew.
Like I’ve said in the past, anyone can have a successful blog. The same is true of lolita fashion, or really anything you want to pursue. In our culture we chase endless small hobbies and interests, a culture well-known for dabbling: the ability to play a few songs on a bass, a brief love affair with knitting, or a dusty collection from when coin collecting seemed cool. Fleeting interest is commonplace. Passion is an abstract word few understand these days, something we reserve for ballet dancers or astronauts. Obsession we are readily familiar with; addiction, an old friend. To become a lolita, no matter your circumstances, it’s not really clothing you need. What you need goes by many names – drive, passion, determination… I suppose in this case I will call it a healthy obsession. Decide a goal for fashion self – what you deem to be the perfect idea of lolita. Obsession is your friend. I think all lolitas who truly love the fashion are always thinking about lolita, considering how they’re going to meet their own daydreams head-on. Novala Takemoto’s 5 Rules For Becoming a Lovely Girl says ‘If you long to be a maiden, then define yourself as your own rival’, if you’d like to think of it that way.
Every lolita starts as an ordinary girl, accidentally stumbling onto a dreamy world of fashion that makes her want to fulfill that dream, no matter how hard or long the road is. Even as seasoned lolita, after five years, I am always trying to ‘better’ my style, and redefine it to fit myself. It’s been a long journey that I know I have yet to complete – if I ever will. A journey not just about clothes or hair, but also who you want to become. I think that defines the lolita experience… that no matter what, to be a lolita, don’t give up.
To finish this article, I thought I’d include a long-beloved favorite poem from Novala Takemoto, who I hope is safe.
I want to become a lolita, you say.
So become one, I reply.
What can I do to look like a lolita?
I have no words with which to reply to this.
You need a headdress, don’t you? And a pannier.
Is this coordinate strange?
Is it not wrong for lolita?
Why do you want to do lolita?
Because it’s trendy, because my friends do it…
If that’s the case, you have no right to wear lolita.
If you just do what the others do, you will look like a lolita.
But I want you to think about something.
Who do you live for?
You think you want to be yourself, but you are afraid of isolation.
You yell that you want to be free, but you take comfort in following convention.
When you are praised for something you don’t even feel comfortable with, are you really satisfied?
Girls who wear Vivienne Westwood but don’t even know the Sex Pistols.
Even when wearing a jersey, a princess is a princess.
My lolita rules are mine alone.
So you are the only one who can find your own lolita rules.
My god and your god are different, aren’t they?
There are angels who wear elegant dresses and play tamborines,
But there are also angels wearing armor and carrying swords whose job it is to fight.
I can’t answer your question.
But there are a lot of hints all around you.
You just haven’t noticed yet.
What you feel is right is your answer.
Sew frills onto the hem of your heart!
Put a tiara on top of your soul!
Please excuse the previous recent lack of updates to Lolita Charm. Not only was this week my college midterms, but I have been feeling unable to write about Japanese pop fashion while seeing so much tragedy in Japan. Please continue to keep the Japanese people in your hearts and prayers. Click here for more on what you can do to help Japan.