Otome: a Maiden’s Restraint

Nice to meet you. I’m Cure Ocha, and while I’ve commented in the past, this is my very first post here. Please be gentle, and I hope you enjoy it!

Lolita is a Japanese fashion we all know, and we approve of how beautiful and feminine it is. However, for many of us, wearing lolita would be impractical or, since it is usually constrained to one very distinctive silhouette, even unflattering. What has me really excited is another Japanese fashion that still keeps to the principles of femininity, elegance, and cuteness, but allows for a little more variation in silhouette and ease of wear. That fashion is otome kei, less known in the West than lolita but quickly increasing in popularity.

Otome literally means maiden, and it is meant to make one look like a real maiden – lovely and innocent. Some of it looks rather close to lolita, and in fact the line between the two can get a little blurry.


The main difference that can be easily quantified is the lack of a bell-shaped petticoat. However, otome kei can actually look very different from lolita.


Can you stand the little gloves? I can’t.

The really exciting thing to me is that otome is so elegant and so lovely and yet it tends to be soft and easy to wear – it seems like a natural philosophical outgrowth of the fashion of the 1950s rather than a radical departure. In fact, these two girls wouldn’t be at all out of place standing next to each other.



For those of you who would like a little history, otome started, as far as we can tell, in the 1970s. In fact, a number of the brands that are currently famous for lolita, such as Angelic Pretty, started by selling otome clothing. Lolita didn’t start really being lolita until the late 1990s. That’s why the line between the two fashions gets blurry. In the old Gothic and Lolita Bibles, you can see plenty of street snapshots where lolis were just wearing whatever nice clothes they had that happened to be pinkest.

When I look at lolita I see a whole world to itself made of intricate loveliness. When I look at otome I say, “Well, that’s what the West should have done next!”

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Otome: a Maiden’s Restraint

  1. Congratulations on your first article for Senshi, Cure Ocha…and what a wonderful article it is! I think that this is close to the style I am moving towards, albeit rather slowly. Yes! Yes! This would have been a better style for the West to have adopted, rather than well…

    Anyways, thank you for this article, and I look forward to possibly reading more articles from you in the future!

  2. Welcome to the ranks of contributing senshi, Cure Ocha! And what a lovely first article!

    I am not too sure about the paramaters of otome, but I was in Japan I saw a lot of girls in very cute clothes. It seems to me that Lolita is at one end of the scale, and creative, cute use of Western casual dress at the other. In between the two there is a very large area where girls are not Lolitas but are dressed in pretty clothes that you would hardly ever (perhaps never) see in the West.

    Here for example is the dress of one girl I was sitting across from on a train: Tartan dress with a Peter Pan collar studded with diamante flowers (the collar only had the diamante flowers, I mean), yotsuba (four-leafed clover) buttons on the breast pockets, cute, very Lolita-influenced shoes with white lace-topped ankle socks.

    This kind of thing is very, very typical. Her friend was more casually dressed but was clearly making the kawaii best out of more casual clothes.

    While some Lolitas are clearly very strict, unlike the West they are still the high end of a continuum. I think those of us who want to dress in styles that are neither sloppy nor “s*xy” could really learn from the way Japanese girls dress. The more casual end is quite Western but there is a huge below-Lolita middle-ground.

    Of course those who want to be full Lolitas have all my admiration (and that applies to one of the contributors here). On the other hand current Western Lolita culture is – well possibly very often something that negates many of the reasons one was attracted to Lolita in the first place.

    Whether much of this middle ground counts as Otome, I am not sure. But the idea of moving one’s dress toward the kawaii and pure without feeling one has to pass some authenticity test that judges the quality of lace with the severity of the Spanish Inquisition while finding coarse language perfectly acceptable is, I believe the way forward.

    Let’s dress beautiful, pure hearts in beautiful clothes – and if we have to be inventively kawaii like our dear Japanese sisters – well, why not! If I were half as kirei as many of them, I would be very happy.

    1. I am a trifle covetous of that wonderful dress you described. I agree that aiming for beauty of the heart to match beauty of dress is the right way to go.

      I have a small tip for the inventively kawaii – if you have a dress or shirt or vest with plain buttons, it’s cheap and easy to swap them out for fancier or cuter buttons – your local fabric store has lots, and you just cut the thread holding the old button on and then use strong thread to sew the new button on with several overlapping stitches, finishing with a strong knot on the back where it can’t be seen.

      Small details help elevate ordinary articles of clothing.

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