Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Lolita Beauty

          Lolita fashion may turn heads in the United States or England, but it is very much an accepted subculture in its original Tokyo context. While it is a difficult fashion trend to explain, its Victorian ruffles and lace, cutesy accessories, and entire community of those practicing the fashion (also called “Lolitas”) make it a fashion that is certainly not stuck in the past. Various types of Lolita fashion exist, among them what I call the foundational three: Sweet Lolita, Gothic Lolita, and Classic Lolita. In terms of color palettes, Sweet Lolita tends to favor pinks and blues with a smattering of sweet, girlish accessories. By contrast, Gothic (as mentioned in the next section) employs black and white with more minimal accessories. Finally, Classic Lolita, almost as a rejection of both Sweet and Gothic styles, stays closer to the Victorian theme, using beige, maroon, and other muted hues. With these 3 types of Lolita and many others that came into existence through combination or blending with other fashions, it is interesting to ask what exactly qualifies as a set standard of “Lolita beauty,” if anything. In this section, I use my experience interviewing Lolita shop models in the Harajuku district of Tokyo last summer to supplement my answer to the difficult question of what constitutes “Lolita beauty.”

            The image above is one that I feel is very representative of a standard Lolita ensemble, in that it contains all of the “parts” that one might expect of the fashion. The outfit includes a wig and ribbon headband, a white or off-white blouse, a pink cardigan over the blouse, a matching light pink “JSK” (or jumperskirt,) bright pink handbag, patterened tights, and shoes that match the overall pink theme. While certainly not all Lolitas would wear a head-to-toe pink outfit, the overall shape conforms to what I think of as the standard tiered Lolita cake, with nothing omitted and nothing extra added in beyond an additional hairpiece accessory (?) that may simply function as part of the ribbon headband. To me, the Lolita look is something like that of a princess, but it is certainly much more formulaic: unlike the wide array of what we might call “princesses” from Disney, for example, to be a Lolita is to make an effort to not be “Ita.” While those who manage to conform exactly to the layer-cake formula I outline here (as well as buy exclusively from Lolita brands or else hand-make or sew their accessories and dresses,) are free from this kind of derogatory labeling, those who are “outside” and attempt to wear Lolita (such as a beginner Lolita who wears a skirt that is very short paired with “off-brand” items, bought from mainstream clothing outlets like Forever 21) would probably be called ita, or else shunned by others in the community for not adhering to the (usually) unspoken rules of the fashion.
            To me, this constitutes the beauty standard of Lolita, and in this respect it is like many other similar street fashions: in order to meet the classification, it would make sense that there are certain criteria one must follow to avoid having their unique outfit confused with a “regular” one not belonging to a subculture or lifestyle like Lolita. My experience speaking with real Lolitas, however (the models of Lolita boutiques in the shopping mall Laforet) revealed to me that there is more to it than this, however. While I originally conducted interviews asking about the connection between Alice in Wonderland and Lolita fashion in connection with a different project of mine, it occurs to me that my not belonging to the Lolita community was a large part of why so many of my interviews felt awkward, flat, or stifled.  The most successful interview by far was at a Gothic Lolita store called Putumayo, in which the model’s survey responses brightened considerably when I considered and actually purchased a necklace with a large black rabbit pendant. (The necklace was a bit expensive, but I considered it a necessary research expense at the time.) The stark contrast in her body language in response to the prospect of being surveyed between when I first entered the store and after I bought the necklace was considerable: whereas before I was greeted with a vague look of concern and could not have her maintain direct eye contact with me for very long, upon purchasing the necklace this changed completely, and I had my first glimpse of what it might be like to be accepted as a Lolita, talking with a fellow Lolita.
            Through this anecdote, I hope that I have demonstrated what to me feels like an important find, in that Lolita fashion is based not just upon Victorian and Rococo fashions in strange anachronistic play with each other, but also a sense of community and a shared, tacitly understood playbook of what to wear and what to avoid. While it is certainly true that Lolitas can also disagree widely about the meaning of their fashion (for example, is the shoujo aspect of Lolita inherently sexual, or is it about liberating the self from sexualization as an adult? Does sexuality even factor in at all?) in general, the basics of what kinds of dresses and petticoats are appropriate and inappropriate are understood, and those who deviate are labeled as such, at least in certain online forums.
          As a final note, I encourage those interested in reading further to visit the web site F Yeah Lolita, which, while run by a Western Lolita, provides fascinating insight into the issue of ita and how to “appropriately” go about becoming a Lolita, at least outside of Japan.


Dee, Caro. "How To Avoid Being An Ita." F Yeah Lolita. Blogspot, 01 Oct. 2010. Web. 26 Apr. 2017 <http://fyeahlolita.blogspot.com/2009/10/how-to-avoid-being-ita.html>.

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