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!”
I have been rather fascinated by Lolita. I do not have the money or the figure to buy the wonderful clothing out there. My figure is not such that I would look good in a Lolita silhouette either. I guess the style that I have been working towards is as close to otome as I can put together with clothing from the plus size resale store by my house.
Still, I just love to look at pictures of girls dressed in Lolita, and I do dream of someday having the money and figure for such a style.
Anyways, I recently read discussions regarding whether one needed to or even should adopt ladylike manners when dressing in Lolita. One of the ideas was along the lines of whether it was phony when people acted differently when wearing Lolita.
Of course, I have never been a part of any Lolita community, so I do not really know much. On the other hand, I am thinking of myself. One of the things I realized is that I feel differently when I dress nicely. When I am wearing pretty dresses, I feel pretty. When I feel pretty, I naturally start behaving in a more ladylike fashion.
Now, I think I have rather good manners to begin with, although, I am far from perfect. When I dress nicely, with a pretty dress and gloves, I find myself being more polite and gracious than I would ordinarily be. I do not think it is putting on an act. I think that the clothing we wear does transform us, if we let it.
I know that it works the other way too. When I used to dress sloppily on occasion, I would feel rather sloppy, and my manners would often become sloppy to match. It was not a conscious thing. It just happened naturally.
I do not know if this happens just with clothing. Once I had some family and friends over for breakfast. I did not have a fancy meal, but I put out a pretty tablecloth and served breakfast on nice china. The strangest thing happened. Everyone naturally started being on their best behavior, and their manners improved a hundredfold. Even my cat behaved better. I have been working with my cat on not begging at the table (with limited success). Yet, when we were all at the table, she sat nicely and waited for us all to be finished. Of course, I gave her a nice treat and praised her for that.
Anyways, I do not know that I am saying anything profound or wise, but it was something I thought of that may be of interest.
We called our fashion section Lolita and Friends because not all the Cures here are Lolitas, but we all share a philosophy of dress even if we implement it in a variety of ways.
Recently a new Precure made her 登場 (toujou) to shouts of “a new Cure has appeared” (well, I shouted it anyway). Cure Utsukushiku, true to her name, is our Fashion Correspondent and is a Lolita.
In her toujou article she writes:
There are many sites and blogs devoted to Lolita fashion, but we like to think this one will be a little different – for our interest lies not just with the fashion itself, but with the philosophy and meaning behind the fashion.
Now I was thinking about this when I was contemplating writing about my own fashion path (if I may so distinguish my humble attempts), and not only is what Cure Utsukushiku writes vitally true, but I think it can even be taken a step further. In a certain way what we are doing fashion-wise here is the precise opposite of what many current Lolitas (or Western neo-Lolitas) are saying.
The current neo-Lolita orthodoxy seems to be that it is important to get the “fashion” right – to be picky about the right lace, the right brands etc. etc. but that there is no philosophy behind any of this. Dressing good and innocent doesn’t mean being good and innocent. In fact in many instances it is considered important or clever not to be good and innocent. The idea that one can have a foul-mouth, alley-cat morals and a body full of – uh – “modifications” and still be a Lolita is the New Orthodoxy.
It of course makes sense in this context to be ultra-picky about the lace. After all, Lolita has to be about something, so since it isn’t about anything else, it had better be about material details.
Now please don’t think that for one moment I am opposed to connoisseuseship of fine lace, or to attachment to some of the finest brands in the world (which really do have a beautiful ethos and philosophy). I admire and cannot afford these things and I am happy to have friends who can afford them. They make the world more beautiful for me and for everyone else. And I try, in my much humbler way, to do the same thing.
But – but but but but – the question is having one’s scale of values right. There is an old Victorian joke in which a mother admonishes her daughter whom she is afraid is becoming spoiled by material wealth: “Darling, always remember, it is not clothes that make the lady.”
To which the daughter replies: “I know, mother. It is the hat.”
I think everyone knows what the mother meant. That it is neither the clothes nor the hat nor any other material thing that makes the lady. It is the heart. It is goodness and purity and modesty and gentleness and kindness. A perfect hat on an impure heart (well not directly on it, but you know what I mean) will not turn anyone into a lady.
Now the Western neo-Lolita will doubtless cry “I don’t want to be a lady. I don’t want to be innocent. I don’t want to be pure. I just want the right lace.”
That is fine. We are absolutely not here to tell anyone what she should or should not do or be. This isn’t a crusade, it is a haven. We aren’t saying how other people should think. We are just saying how we think. And we are telling other people who think this way that you can. You don’t need to be intimidated by the neo-orthodoxy. You can believe that Lolita is what it (visually) says it is and what names like Angelic Pretty imply. You can believe that it is something more and better than a mere “fashion” on the same level as punk, grunge and murder-your-mother.
If Western post-modernists are allowed their heroin-chic, we are allowed our heroine-chic!
In fact I think we would agree with the people who say “For me Lolita is a fashion, not a lifestyle”, but from the opposite angle. For us, our way of life is the fount and source of the way we dress, not vice versa. Those of us who are full-blown Lolitas don’t love purity and innocence because they are Lolitas. They are Lolitas because they love purity and innocence.
So, to say a little about the mere self (which is what I set out to do) – long before I discovered Lolita I knew that clothes are not just neutral bits of cloth. They say something. All clothes do and everyone knows it. They are not morally and philosophically neutral. The “casual dress” of the current West is rooted in its post-modern philosophy of life. That is why I always disliked it.
Neo-lolita tries desperately to twist a dress-style that says something else into the mold of the post-modern West. Now if you like the post modern West, please go ahead. That isn’t our affair and we have no desire to interfere. But we are writing for people who don’t like the post-modern West and are looking for that something else that Lolita so clearly represents.
For myself, I wanted to dress in a way that reflects my ideals. I wanted to be pretty, neat, innocent, pure and a little flamboyant. Being poor, I experimented with clothes from thrift stores and made a delightful discovery. You can get really nice, quite traditional clothes almost unworn from thrift stores.
Why do people buy brand new and actually nice clothes and give them to thrift stores? Here’s my guess: current Western society has almost no occasions for wearing good (non-business and non-“s*xy”) clothes. So if people buy them for an occasion they never wear them again, or they are attracted to them because they are lovely but never have the social courage to wear them. Just my guess, but the phenomenon is very real and – very useful for impoverished Princesses!
Now such clothes are clearly not Lolita, far less are they by beautiful Lolita brands (though they are often good Western brands). But then one can dress them up really quite cheaply.
Here are some of my favorite inexpensive up-dresses:
Neckscarves: you can often get these new from thrift stores too. You can get lots of pretty ones that add variety to a small wardrobe. A delightful touch is getting a BIG chiffon scarf and tying a HUGE bow at the neck. This makes relatively conservative clothes look much more kawaii.
Gloves: Gloves are a super-secret. No one in the current West wears gloves except to keep their hands warm! Simple white gloves can be very inexpensive, and they transform an outfit. You are changed instantly from someone in neat clothes to someone in what the general populace tends to regard as “costume”. You will get comments. You will get admiration. You may well also get unwanted attention. Gloves are the catalyst that gives your outfit the quantum leap (if you’ll excuse my blonde physics).
Hats: Not quite as powerful as gloves, but again, hats are almost unknown and you can get lovely straw ones very cheaply.
Hair decorations: If you aren’t wearing a hat, decorate your hair. Bows, ribbons, Hello Kitty hair-slides. Again they dress up your outfit and add kawaii-points out of all proportion to their size and price.
Shoes: Lots of nice shoes around and you don’t have to break the bank. Again thrift stores can be your friend. A favorite trick of mine to ratchet up the Kawaii is to get some nice school-type Mary-Janes (mine have darling little punched-through the leather flowers) and wear them with lace-trimmed white ankle socks (usually over pale sheeny stockings).
So – if you have the money and dedication to be a full-blown Lolita, please do it, and make the world a prettier place! And if you want to discuss it here among like-minded friends you are a thousand times welcome on our comments section (and maybe you’ll become a Cure).
But if you can’t afford it, you can still express your love of purity, goodness and kawaii through dress. Experiment. Ask questions here. And tell us your discoveries.
Welcome to our series on Lolita fashion! There are many sites and blogs devoted to Lolita fashion, but we like to think this one will be a little different – for our interest lies not just with the fashion itself, but with the philosophy and meaning behind the fashion.
So is this about “lifestyle Lolita”? Yes and no. We think this series will appeal to lifestyle Lolitas, but we are hoping to offer a perspective that is rather different from what is available elsewhere.
For the uninitiated, Lolita is a style that emerged from Japan in the 1990s. The style is characterised by knee length skirts with petticoats, lace and bows, and a girlish yet elegant aesthetic. Although it is heavily inspired by Western historical fashion ranging from the 18th century to the 1950s, the style is something unique to Japan.
So what makes lolita so different from any fashion current in the West?
In most Western countries, the clothing of the average woman on the street is often sloppy and baggy, or scruffy and casual. Or else there is the other side of the coin: an over sexualised parody of femininity: the “glamour model” aesthetic. Or there is “high fashion” which in spite of the name, is often deliberately ugly and grotesque. It seems that in the world view of these designers, straight up prettiness is unchallenging and unartistic.
This is exemplified by the disturbing term “heroin chic” which was widely used in the 1990s to describe the trend of already thin models made to look outright gaunt and ill with dark make up.
Then there are “alternative fashions” which are mostly really just more variations on the same theme. Often taking elements of traditional femininity, but adding an ugly and discordant element, like 50s dresses with tattoos and facial piercings.
Lolita on the other hand is truly different.When I found Lolita, I finally had an ideal to aspire to. It gave me permission to be what I had always wanted to be: feminine, elegant, and pure. It spoke so deeply to the part of my heart that had resisted the corrupting influence of the culture I had grown up in, and showed me an alternative. A real alternative in a world where “alternative” is a rallying cry, but whose “individual and alternative” choices are all variations on the same theme. It really is completely different from anything else, and I don’t think it could have come into being in a Western country.
The traditional classic and sweet Lolita looks are unaplogetically feminine; lace, full skirts, cute or dainty shoes, neat and feminine hair, enough makeup to look polished, but not too much.
Look at this model from Victorian Maiden; her demure and peaceful expression, her gentle pose – now, compare that with a Western fashion model, any style you can think of. The Western model will likely either be making a highly sexualised pose, or looking distant and cynical, or even aggressive. There is so much pressure when dressing in a feminine style to add a harsh and discordant element, whether it is through facial piercings or tattoos, a pair of stompy boots, or even just an just an angry facial expression; to add an “edge” to one’s image, to show that one is not “weak”, not “vulnerable”.
It seems to the present writer that this is a defense mechanism towards the harshness of 21st century life: “the world is hard and coarse, so I need to harden myself, and coarsen myself to protect myself”. This is understandable, but is it really true strength? Isn’t this just playing into the idea that femininity is weakness? We believe that femininity, cuteness and innocence are powerful things and will always prevail against darkness and coarseness in the end.
Some of you may now be wondering, “Isn’t it just clothing? Something we use to cover our bodies? It doesn’t really mean anything does it?” or “I just like frilly clothes, why does that mean I should be pure or innocent?”. It is understandable that you may feel this way. This is the standard view of the 21st century West, and for many who have grown up in this culture it can seem like the only logical viewpoint. But for the vast majority of the history of humanity, people have held the belief that clothing and design do have meaning, and that they are important.
Now, we understand that not all Lolitas will feel this way. If you just want to wear the clothes, but think and behave as a typical 21st century young Western woman we are certainly not here to stop you. This site may not be for you and that is fine. We are writing for the minority who feel lost and out of place in the modern world and are yearning for something deeper, gentler, and more beautiful. If you are one of these girls please stay true to your principles, and please keep checking back here for more!