Introductions to Lolita Fashion Origins
Lolita fashion mainly focuses on the doll-like aspect of dressing up. This came out of Harajuku’s Street kawaii style which is also the Origins of Lolita Fashion. Over the span of 50 years, there are countless styles that came out of Harajuku street and many of them combined and inspired Lolita fashion. The Rococo era and Victorian age inspired clothing and style are the most obvious inspiration for most renditions of this style.
*Disclaimer: The author of this isn’t a Lolita, so please take whatever you read with a grain of salt.
Rococo and Victorian style focus on the many layered petticoats (usually multi-layered to get that floof) skirts under their dresses and skirts. These were very popular during the Victorian age for women and children. Although there is so much more to the fashion than just this, for most… this is probably the most obvious component which really stands out. The 2 petticoats Lolitas use for their dresses are the Bell/cupcake and A-line shape petticoats. Each having their own significance when choosing the right petticoats to compliment the style they are choosing.
Before we get into the meat of this culture, we will delve a bit into the history of this culture.
Lolita Fashion Origins
It is unknown even till now about the exact origins and person who started the Lolita culture. But it is a fact that it came out of the streets of Japan during the Kawaii revolution. Even the culture’s association with the word Lolita is unknown. Somehow they just end up being associated with each other by the public, both in Japan and outside. To understand better, let’s talk about the Kawaii Fashion which can be considered being the parent of Lolita fashion.
What is this Kawaii revolution and how it became the origins of Lolita Fashion?
We know Japan’s strictness with their way of life in terms of day-to-day life. The way of the Samurais, the traditional practices and dances that they perform perfectly, their willingness to even give their lives for a higher cause, and many more examples. One sector of the people really affected by this are the women who always have to be on their toes. The way they present themselves to other people and society have a direct impact on how they and their clans are treated. So society is extremely strict to the people and especially women. These strict rules were suffocating, to say the very least, and they had to maintain this throughout their lives.
Now, go back 50-60 years ago when Japan’s economy started growing drastically. Especially after the World War ending barely two decades ago with the falling of the nuclear bomb. This led to America throwing millions of dollars to help Japan get back to its feet.
Then the Korean War raging right around the corner with Japan as the primary supplier. All these factors caused their economy to see a rise it had never seen before. Their economic boom resulted in Japan’s way of life improving drastically for everyone in the country.
The women of Japan saw this but noticed they weren’t getting a slice of that pie. Adding to that, these restrictions and rules they had to follow made them question this very system they were in. They protested against the rigid and restrictive will of the past generation. But the means of the protest will be through popularizing the Kawaii culture. Resistance by reading manga (comics) instead of University books. Even changing their handwriting to fit a cuter style, like the ones used for Hello Kitty. And many more ways which went against everything Japan was. This started all over Japan but slowly and surely, it concentrated around the very very famous Harajuku Street.
Harajuku street and its later impact on the origins of Lolita Fashion
As mentioned before, Allied power still occupied Japan and settled on this particular street called Harajuku street. This became a place where curious youths came by to experience a different culture drastically different from their own. They also got a taste of the different styles and fashion that happened to land in this particular street.
This went on to a point where different fashion designer and their entourages started settling in the area, calling themselves “the Harajuku tribe.” The movement got a boost when the 1964 Tokyo Olympics brought in waves of tourists and shops that catered to them. And everything has only been up from there onwards even till today.
It is said that there are thousands of styles and fashion that came out of this particular street. To name a few are styles like Gothic Lolita, Gyaru, Punk Rock, Decora, Otome Hime. These are incredibly popular to the wider public and are just the tip of the iceberg of the number of styles and fashion.
During the 1970s, Harajuku Street closed its streets to cars on Sundays. This led to the people who are mostly young to interact a lot more face to face. These interactions and that spirit of rebellion against the rigid culture of Japan started something. It gave them even more reasons to experiment with their unique way of protesting. The term “experimenting” would be an understatement, as what they did probably revolutionized fashion in Japan and all over the world forever.
This led to the formation of the many stores which catered to these different new styles like Angelic Pretty, Pink House, Milk and other such stores. Some of these became the go-to places for Kawaii Fashion even till today. And also went on to change the fashion industry forever, both locally and internationally.
Kawaii culture effects on the international fashion Industry
We can say with 100% certainty that the styles and fashions of the likes of Katy Perry or Lady Gaga would never have existed if not for these kids’ rebellious nature. There are also other artists who make it a point to incorporate Lolita into their wardrobe. We have always known artists like Nicki Minaj and Gwen Stefani to also openly consider themselves Harajuku enthusiasts. It is not possible to make a statement on the influence it had on world culture in one article alone. In 2006, a research paper stated that nearly 50% of all luxury goods in terms of fashion came from Japan. And as mentioned before, all the styles, including experimental, either originate or concentrate here in Harajuku Street. We can see the kind of influence this street has on the fashion of the entire world.
Let us not confuse a fashion trend like Bell-bottom jeans that just comes and goes at random times in history. I mean, it feels like everyone is wearing those jeans nowadays… not that I’m complaining or anything. They look groovy as hell and need to get on quicker. But anyway, most of these fashion trends or fads are usually short-lived and don’t last for a long time.
The kind of fashion we are talking about acts more like a culture that members follow religiously. Not only do they stand the test of time, they also rarely care about the latest craze.
This is a very very TLDR version of what happened in Harajuku Street and how they evolved from being a normal street in Japan to one of the most influential streets for fashion to ever exist. So do remember to subscribe to our mailing list to get latest news for when we do write an article about it.
Lolita Fashion and Culture:
So everything above is just to introduce us to the actual topic of this article, Lolita. The Lolita Fashion and culture started in Japan as a child of the Kawaii culture that we have been talking about.
Although it could’ve been older, it gained popularity during the 1990s and the 2000s. Over time, it slowly even gained international relevance during the 2010s and continues to grow.
Lolita fashion and culture also followed the Kawaii revolution of going against the norms of the rigid societal rules of Japan. Every Lolita will have their own reasons for loving and taking part in this culture. One reason revolves around the idea that society wants us to grow up and follow the strict rules of society. But as a Lolita, they can be young forever and disregard all these norms and rules put forth by society. Another reason is to simply find a way to express themselves as an individual. A way to escape their identity to be who they want to be without the judgements of society. Most Lolitas find confidence and a sense of sister/brotherhood among their group. According to them, this is something they rarely find nowadays.
But this culture is not limited to just women as there are an outstanding number of men as well. Lolita culture exists to fight against society which also means the gender roles given to us by society. Although there are boy-style Lolitas called Ouji Lolita, it is no secret that gender plays no role here. You can easily find females who strictly dress up Ouji style. And there are guys who also strictly wear Lolita dresses.
So under Lolita culture, there are no genders but only Lolitas… which is pretty wholesome. Though some prefer using the term Brolitas, nowadays, they find that term outdated by modern standards. Every Lolita is a Lolita regardless of gender. You can see in Lolita groups and blogs where people show off their Lolita clothes. Rarely will you find anyone commenting on the gender of the person but mainly on how their clothes are worn. There are special terms like “Coord” which are the focus in these discussions which we will get too soon.
Remember the point of the movement is recapturing the elegance and beauty of this style which was lost. It’s about reclaiming a traditional version of elegance and focusing on dressing for oneself. Lolita fashion should be empowering. At least that was the aim for the first few people to wear these clothes.
Lolita Fashion’s association with the Novel.
Talking about aims, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the forbidden book “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, 1955. A brief run through of the book is… Basically a sick middle-aged man who groomed a child since she was 12 for fulfilling his sexual needs. Western dictionaries use Lolita as what Vladimir intended… which is an infant who is “precociously seductive”.
But the term itself is used very very differently in Japan. Although the book by Nabokov is from 1955, Japanese Lolita is actually a continuation of the girls’ culture (shōjo bunka) which existed from the Meiji Era (1868-1912). The idea and point of the word in Japan is so drastically different from the English definition. For most Lolita culture followers in Japan, they are usually unaware of the existence of the Lolita book. And almost all, if not all, find it absolutely disgusting when coming to know about the book.
Scientific explanation of the difference between westerner’s idea of Kawaii and Asians.
Talking about this subject, let’s delve deeper into this really questionable topic. Because why not have some guy on the internet with no background in this field talk about it? Let him try to explain such a complicated concept which even scientists can’t explain clearly. These things I’m trying to talk about are what I understood through my research… So please don’t take what I’m writing as facts but something you should definitely research on your own. Well, unless you don’t want the FBI knocking on your door.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s get scientific a bit. “Cute” is something we usually associate with kittens, puppies, or anything that exhibits a feeling of wanting to protect and nurture. This is a quality Mother Nature gives to most infants in the animal kingdom, including humans. These qualities are things like being small, being hairless, smooth skin, a disproportionate head to body ratio and all. We slowly lose this cuteness and looks of ruggedness replace it over time for survival reasons.
But around 35,000 years ago in Asia, a case of neotany came up on this side of the world. This is when the EDAR gene appeared and changed us forever. This Gene keeps these childlike features even to adulthood with barely any noticeable changes. Over the next 35,000 years, selective breeding caused this gene to stay on and even flourished in society. Now most east Asians and south-east Asians carry this gene which gives them that childlike look. (And yes, you can find this gene in most, if not all, native American’s DNA. This is because they were the same people until they crossed the ice-land bridge. But that’s another topic for another day)
Perception of attractiveness by Asians and Westerners.
Perception of attractiveness by westerners is drastically different from how eastern people perceive it. There are different types of attractiveness, things like looking pretty, hot, sexy, cute, etc. People are one of the above or a combination of them all. And we as an individual choose what we prefer and breed accordingly. This is called selective breeding, and it happens in every species in existence. It’s just mother nature and one of her many quirks.
Every society has their own perception of what they deem as attractive. While westerners are usually attracted to the hot or sexy while cuteness and prettiness are on the back foot. Asians are more inclined towards the Cute and Pretty. While everyone is a combination of all of those qualities, it’s just about which is dominant to determine attractiveness. Regarding this research, please refer to the links below… don’t shoot the messenger.
So you can say Cuteness/kawaiiness is built into the mind, body, and soul for over 35,000 years for the Asian people. Kawaiiness reigns supreme and everything else follows. For Asians who lives with these features for thousands of years, cuteness is just another part of who they are. Westerners usually perceive cuteness with that of an actual child. So this culture shock when met with Kawaii Culture in Asia confuses them. Which makes them associate this culture with that of Vladimir’s idea of Cuteness. I really hope I don’t end up just making things more confusing.
But let us not forget that these preferences are never 100% whether one is of Asian descent or western. Which is why we can see that only about 75-80% of East and Southeast Asians carry the EDAR gene. Considering the whole of Asia and not just the Eastern, we can see this gene is significantly lower as well. In the same way, not all westerners like the attractiveness mentioned before. There is no defined rule, only societal/general preferences and personal preferences. This is why we can see this Japanese Lolita Culture slowly creeping its way into various places. Slowly finding more and more strongholds in different parts of Asia and even the western world.
Especially with social media and online communities all over the internet, it has definitely become easier to express one self. Many existing groups and pages which tailors specifically towards this culture are now thriving everywhere.
Indian Lolita Fashion Community
We will now get to India and the small Lolita community that exists here in small pockets everywhere. The page Lolita India on Facebook started a few years ago and has been in the forefront of this culture. Even with Pracheta and Charlotte at the helm, sadly, it doesn’t get the traction it deserves. Probably because of the ideas people had regarding the word Lolita.
Other than the reasons above, there is also a certain Virus that was terrorizing the world for the past few years which also played a part. Side note, can’t believe we have to use “years” to describe that disease.
The other reason may be because of how expensive it is to own one of these dresses. This usually turns away a lot of heads. This problem not only exists here in India but Lolitas from all over the world face the same problem. The only way is to buy small components of a dress slowly until they can complete the outfit. We shall discuss this further later on in the article.
Surge of Interest in Lolita Fashion
But suddenly here in India, we are seeing a surge of interest in the topic at hand. Many people who came across the subject are now experimenting with the idea of being a Lolita. There are even Saree inspired Lolita outfits from the Funplus company which have garnered a lot of attention. But the people here usually lack the guidance needed to make that jump into Lolita. Also, considering how strict this fashion culture is, it’s definitely difficult to get into.
In groups like Big Sisters of Lolita, they have what we call Big Sisters/Brothers who are well respected by the community. They’re very experienced with Lolita and act as guides for the newcomers. They also call the youngins Lil’ Sister/Brother and are very strict when promoting a Little Sibling to an elder one. Usually the group will have their own Panel of judges who will decide based on their portfolios and past work. India lacks these kinds of mentors apart from a very very small number. With the internet, they are free to contact these various mentors that exist on the internet. Which is probably one of the reasons the interests are growing by the day.
Another obstacle that Indian Lolitas will face is simply acquiring these clothes and shoes. You simply can’t just buy them from Amazon. I mean Amazon released a version of the Lolita dresses in the past. But because of how shoddy they were, the entire community considered them an insult to the community. Sooooo, don’t go there. Just a bunch of cheap, knock off, replica Lolita dresses.
There are a few places where you can get legitimately good dresses. But they’re made from the best materials available to really accentuate the elegance of the style. And these places are all from outside the country which rarely ships to India. And when they do, the shipping fees are enormous.
But fret not, as mentioned before, rarely does one buy the entire set at the same time as it is far too expensive. One can buy the dress as a secondhand from a lot of reputable places. Also, because of how well maintained these dresses are, that’s usually not a problem. Another way is to buy small components of the dress and over time have the full set. And even mix different styles when one is confident with their coord skills.
For those of you who are now interested and want to try it out but are clueless, the second part of this article focuses on the different components of Lolita dresses; the basic concepts of “Coords” which is the spine of Lolita Fashion. We will also be teaching you words from the Lolita Dictionary so you won’t lose your way when joining the community. Words like OTT, OP, Loliable, and many more will be words you will use daily after seeing the dictionary. Stay tuned for the second part of this really really interesting topic of Lolitas.
Here are some links you can use to get your first Lolita dress.
If you want help regarding how to pick your first outfit, the second part of this article will mainly focus on that. So remember to subscribe to our mailing list to be reminded when it does go up.
How to choose your first outfit?
Well, you’ll have to do a lot of research on that. I have provided links and groups you can approach where they can teach you on how to go about this culture or style. Goodluck on your journey.
Special thanks to Pracheta Banerjee and Dr. Charlotte Rodricks who were instrumental in turning this should’ve-been-1-paragraph article to a 3 part series on such an interesting subject. Never thought I’d get this deep into a fashion trend as someone who never cared about clothes…like ever.
To remember about Lolita Fashion
The guy who wrote this is someone who has zero experience in Lolita fashion and culture and the studies of genes. So please do your own research and don’t just rely on what I have to say. I have provided many links below through where you can do your own research and come up with a different conclusion.
If you want to read more articles by Bandame Lyndem that delve deep unnecessarily into mundane topics, you can check it here
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The conversation, The Lolita Guidebook (really helpful for any new Lolitas), Devilinspired, LolitaIndia Facebook Page, Science Mag, Wunderwelt, Asami Moon, Featured Image, BrightSide, Kento Bento, Global News, Travel Channel, and maybe I may have missed any other source. Please contact us if you find anything that needs to be sourced correctly.