As the audience at Animate Florida watched the Lolitas gracefully make their way across the stage, their reactions ranged from huge, thunderous claps, to no words or gestures at all. But one thing the onlookers all shared was a look of awe and a feeling of entrancement.
For many of those into Lolita fashion, a Japanese street style inspired by Victorian and Rococo clothing, the feeling is all too familiar. “I originally fell in love with Lolita fashion during my first trip to Tokyo Japan in 2010.” Genevieve Krebs, a member of the South Florida Lolita Community tells us. “I was walking through Harajuku and saw these lovely ladies dressed in frilly frocks and decked out in adorable accessories. At that instance, I knew it was a style that would give me joy to wear.”
Brands that currently sell Lolita clothing, such as Milk and Angelic Pretty, first opened their doors in the 1970’s. But the inception of the fashion we know today didn’t really launch until the 1990’s. In 1997 and 1998 respectively, the magazine’s Fruits and Kera began, taking ‘street snaps’ of doll-like girls dressed in ruffled dresses and adorable accessories. Where the name Lolita comes from is still a mystery; no one is quite sure who coined it but those in the fashion will always emphasize that it has nothing to do with Vladimir Nabokov’s book. “To people outside of the community I’d like to say that it’s not sexual! Not at all!” Charlie Nolan, another member of the South Florida group, tells us, referring to the fact that the fashion is often sexualized due to its name being associated with the Lolita novel.
Lolita really took off in the early 2000s due to the rise of Visual Kei, a Japanese rock music movement, and girls dressed in the style appearing on the streets of Harajuku, the Mecca of Japanese street fashion. Visual Kei, specifically Mana of the band Malice Mizer, seemed to really inspire Gothic Lolita, the darker side of the fashion which primarily utilizes the color black along with gothic motifs. Mana himself even established his own Gothic Lolita brand, Moi-meme-Moitie.
Today, Lolita is a blend of a variety of sub-fashions interconnected by a similar silhouette and the use of complementary pieces of clothing, but separated by a difference in use of colors and themes. The three main styles being the aforementioned Gothic along with Sweet, highlighted by bright, pastel colors and whimsical prints, and Classic, defined by its use of more muted tones and prints that are more historically based like old paintings or floral patterns. However, there are a multitude of sub-styles ranging from Pirate to Princess!
Although Lolita started in Japan, it has grown quite a lot over the 2000s and now has quite an extensive international community. From Russia to Morocco, there pretty much isn’t a place where you can’t find a Lolita. The community keeps in contact with each other and up with the latest and greatest prints using social media. Rufflechat and Lolita Updates are the two most popular Lolita communities on Facebook; the former a discussion forum on controversial topics in the community and the latter purely a group that keeps Lolitas updated with what’s new and upcoming from the different brands.
But all this information still begs the question; how does one get started in the fashion? “Research is your best friend!” says Genevieve. “ It will save you money in the fact you will know where to find the best deals on the pieces for your outfits. There are plenty of secondhand shops, auction sites, and personal sales pages available.” Finding your local community and getting to know the members is also a great first step for getting into the style. During the panel at Animate Florida, the host, Veronica Lynn, encouraged people to join the South Florida community and talked about how they have a Newbie Potluck annually for people who are interested in exploring the fashion.
Although it may seem scary to join this growing subculture at first, the intimidation wears off when you meet the members in person. “I had the misconception that other Lolitas are quite harsh and even mean in real life if they don’t like your outfit or if they sense that you don’t ‘know enough’ about the fashion” Maureen Leach, a Classic Lolita explains. “But honestly that’s not the focus that people have when you’re face to face. When you meet up, it’s to have fun”. Maureen also emphasized the sooner you start, the sooner those worries will disappear. “Just DO IT. I agonized over my debut outfit for a long time (almost a year) because I was trying my best to have something amazing out of the gate. It ended up ok, but even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. Experimentation is fun and interacting with others who have the same interest can’t be replaced.”
Get to know the faces behind the frills!
We sat down with four different Lolitas from South Florida to see their opinions on the style/community and how both are perceived.
How/when did you get into Lolita fashion?
Charlie Nolan: I actually discovered the fashion through a photoset of military Lolita on Tumblr! I started to research it more from there and I decided military wasn’t really my style, and I went sweet instead!
Maureen Rose: I found the novel Kamikaze Girls by Novala Takemoto in the early 2000s and was hooked on the concept ever since. I didn’t buy my first piece until 2012 though. I lurked for a long time.
What are your favorite sub-styles?
Paulina Orsini: I love Classic and Gothic, but I mostly like it when people bring something new to the fashion.
Charlie: I’m a sweet Lolita all the way! If rabbit Lolita was a sub-style, that too, I guess.
Are there any sub-styles you’d like to try?
Genevieve Krebs: One day I would love to try out Over The Top Sweet. I can envision the complete outfit overloaded with the cute accessories, flower covered fake nails, pastel colors vomited everywhere, and a crazy teased twin tail wig.
Charlie: I want to get into Gothic Lolita, but its so different from my current wardrobe and I’m not sure if I should spend all that money on it, or if I should just stick to what I know.
Are there any themes/motifs you like to incorporate into your coordinates?
Charlie: Bunnies! All my dresses are rabbit themed and I have loads of rabbit themed accessories to go with them!
Paulina: I want to incorporate more witchy and pagan things since I identify with that a lot, and I also love anything involving flowers, faeries, and Victorian themes.
Genevieve: My favorite theme is animal motifs. I usually melt for any print containing deer or cats. I have purchased antlers, cat ears, faux fawn print purses and handbags. It seems I also have a soft spot for building motifs and book prints. No doubt I will try to find a way to wear a building on my head sometime in the future.
What is your process for getting into Lolita/how long does it take?
Maureen: First I put on blouses, bloomers, and legwear. Then I style my hair and makeup. Sometimes I put a towel over my shoulders so my blouse doesn’t get dirty. Next I put on the main piece(s) carefully avoiding hair and makeup. Lastly, I accessorize and put on shoes. The hair and makeup is the longest part usually.
It depends on the complexity of the coord (Lolita slang for outfit), but generally I can get ready in an hour. I can get ready in 30 minutes for a few of my simpler things.
Genevieve: If I am being a responsible Lolita and pre-planning an outfit I use my mannequin to help get a feel of the visual effect of the ensemble. I will pick a main piece, either a dress or skirt, and build the coord around that piece. The rule of three helps me balance the colors of my outfit. I try to match complementary colors to the main piece and include those colors in two other aspects… whether it is the blouse, socks, shoes, wig, headpiece, jewelry, and/or purse.
How do you feel about your local Lolita community as well as the international one?
Genevieve: I like the local Lolita community. I wish everyone’s schedules weren’t so hectic and more people could make it to meet-ups. I enjoy the visual feast I witness at each event! More people more outfits!
As far as the international community, I have no experience interacting with it. I hope one day soon I will be able to attend a convention in Asia or Europe and meet more of the international community.
Charlie: I absolutely love the South Florida Lolita community! I joined it almost a year ago and I’ve had such an awesome time! We’re all so different, but we all come together over our fashion and its amazing.
Are there any misconceptions about Lolita that you’d like to debunk?
Paulina: People think fashions like this are appropriate for people of a certain age, but I want people to know that they should do what makes them happy!
Genevieve: Despite beliefs to the contrary, we are not Little Bo Peeps nor do we have sheep. Living sheep are not commonplace accessories within the Lolita fashion.
What advice would you give Lolitas just starting out in the fashion?
Paulina: Your first dress should be one color or a little on the more basic side. I made the mistake of buying dresses I liked because they looked really cool, but now I’m having a hard time coordinating outfits! So I suggest you get something you can use for different outfits!
Charlie: take your time! I know as soon as you see a cute coord you want to copy it, but patience is a virtue in this fashion! Save up money so that you can do a big order and get a full coord.