It's not a phase - but it's ok if it is


“It’s not a phase, mom” is such an iconic phrase, a sentiment understood globally, whether it’s expressed genuinely or sarcastically. Having been blessed with very lenient parents who were ok with almost all of my (admittedly tame) forms of self-expression and experimentation (the line was drawn at non-ear piercings, but it also had an expiry date of my 18th birthday), my heart does go out to those who want to be different on the outside as well as the inside and are stopped by their parents/guardians. And whilst I understand what emotional place the “it’s not a phase” comes from, a thought struck me that amidst normalising so many harmless yet previously stigmatised things, this one hasn’t yet received the same treatment. My thoughts on this here will be expressed through the lens of lolita fashion, but the argument transcends specific fashions or hobbies, as the underlying principle is just as universal as the sentiment behind “it’s not a phase” itself.

Insert the "my two personalities" meme of your choice. And neither is a phase (at least for now).

I understand why “it’s not a phase” is an argument that young people use with their legal guardians, particularly when it comes to highly visible things that are permanent (like body modifications), expensive (like lolita fashion) or both. It’s a form of reassurance that money spent on this thing won’t turn out to be a waste on frivolities that will end up in a basket in the corner a week later when a new thing emerges. It’s also a plea for understanding that we are getting to know ourselves as individuals and that this element fits the puzzle that is our whole being, all of which is simultaneously a request for acceptance and for recognition of our autonomy.

It’s also not difficult to understand why parents and guardians notoriously don’t listen to this argument. Whether out of concern or conservatism, out of love or a lack of sympathy for these requests, we can all conjure up several scenarios in which these wishes are denied and why. It’s because of this that when asked, lolitas will often ‘side’ with the parents by suggesting to the young wannabes to wait. We encourage them that a few years until adulthood/gaining independence can be a good way to build up a small fund for future purchases and to spend the time learning the ins and outs of the style, so that they start off without having to go through an ita phase.

All of that, both sides of the coin, are scenarios we know, personally or second hand. And in that specific context of “teen vs guardian” it would seem that there is no problem with the “it’s not a phase” kind of mentality. However, whilst it may not be explicitly expressed like this, that way of thinking stays with a person into adulthood. Instead of “it’s not a phase”, it manifests itself through self-questioning. Am I really ready to go into an expensive hobby/style like this? What if I spend all this money and then don’t like it? What if I start out as sweet, but then realise that gothic is my actual true style? Is it ok to only want to wear it from time to time when everyone else seems to do so regularly? We’re suddenly both the teenager and the guardian, having that inner monologue, which can be quite paralysing and make you feel like you’re being indecisive and don’t know what you want.

Fun fact: because my thesis was on tattoos in Japan, I delivered the final thesis presentation during my year abroad in Japan wearing a tattoo sleeve (which I still have somewhere). But whilst I have a tattoo myself, this definitely was a bit of a phase in my life, even if one that I revisit sometimes.

Because here’s the deal: it’s one thing to keep saying that experimenting is ok and affirming others that spending their own disposable income on fun things is ok if their necessities are taken care of. At the same time, so much of the narrative around lolita fashion (and presumably other hobbies) is expressed in words that contradict that. Read or watch resources aimed at newer lolitas and you’ll be advised to invest in quality pieces, to prioritise durable and versatile items, to research things, to plan what would be worth getting, to be patient and search for the right thing instead of making do with the next best substitute, to perfect your style and to curate your collection carefully - some of the very old advice even talks about lolita in terms of building a lifestyle and working towards making this your daily attire. This language implies longevity and a time investment, and whilst those of us already in the fashion understand that with its reliance on high quality it really is a case of “cheap, fast and quality/good looking - pick two”, it can plant doubt in people’s minds. Is this what I really want for myself? Or is it actually just a phase I’m going through right now?

And here is the kind of change in thinking that I feel is needed, perfectly summed up by the title of the post. You could be genuinely into this fashion and want to be in it for the long term. But if that turns out to not be the case - that’s ok too and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it. Moreover, lolita fashion is just that - a fashion. It’s a bunch of specific-looking clothes put together in a specific way. There is no contract that you sign with your first lolita purchase that obliges you to a minimum membership you can’t get out of beforehand. There isn’t even a requirement that buying clothing designed to be lolita forces you to wear it as lolita. Once you buy it, it’s yours to wear however makes you happy (as a community we tend to merely ask that you consider the tags and labels you use when sharing things on social media, though we can’t control what you actually do). And if you don’t want to wear lolita more than however often, heck, if you never intended to wear it more than once even, that’s fine!

The fact of life is that not everything in life has a free trial. Some people out there will be lucky enough to be introduced to the fashion by a kind insider who can give them a makeover or go to Tokyo’s Maison de Julietta for a makeover there, the closest things to a lolita free trial there are. The majority of us will have to make some sort of a purchase, likely several, before we decide how we feel about it and can confirm whether it is a phase or not. Similarly with body modifications, people still need to invest in a fake piercing or a fake tattoo if they want to try it out before making it permanent. This is the reason why lolitas advise newcomers to start with something less expensive, be it a cheaper label like Bodyline or a thorough search of the second hand market, so that you can try it out before committing without having to jump into the deep end. Having been there, we know that otherwise you’ll simply never know how you feel about it and it’s much more productive for you to have a guided introduction than go into either extreme. (In this case: either not doing anything at all and forever wondering “what if”, or chucking a big load of money at something and risking finding out that it’s not you.)

Irrespective of current circumstances, whilst a visit to Maison de Julietta is the ultimate "try before you buy" for lolita, it is unattainable for the majority of us, forcing us to commit to something.
Photo from Trip Advisor.

It’s true that this line of thinking will take a few generations to trickle down to those parents/guardians arguing with their teens. Financial autonomy and being independent simply allow for those freedoms of choice, so as long as our guardian figures have that on us, there’s nothing that one can do but wait it out. At the same time, although this will remain true for the permanent/expensive things young people may wish for, I do believe that there’s value in teaching both ourselves and others that it’s ok for things to be a phase. It’s ok to enjoy something occasionally and not want to commit to an all-or-nothing scenario.

We kind of already do when the risks are low enough: try a new chocolate bar because its cost doesn’t make the risk of not liking it prohibitive; get a free trial membership when there is a guaranteed no-fee cancellation if done in time; chance an online clothing purchase because the shop’s/your country’s online purchasing laws and regulations allow for free returns and exchanges within however long. So why is our mentality so different when we apply it to hobbies or personal style? Why do we feel bad admitting that actually, after buying a coordinate from Bodyline, we feel like lolita isn’t for us, yet will happily return mainstream clothing or donate old clothes that are no longer our style without that same feeling? Why can we feel as if we’ve failed when quitting a hobby after a few goes, but don’t feel that so much when cancelling that gym membership after deciding that we won’t use it?

At the end of the day, certain things turn out to be phases in our lives. Some we realise pretty quickly, while others take a while. Those phases may fluctuate or come-and-go, while others will have a clear point of goodbye. And you know what? That is ok. Yes, I have spent something like 3 or 4 years asking my Mum to let me get my nose pierced, then took the piercing out after about 6 years. Doesn’t mean that I failed in my resolve nor does it mean that my Mum was ‘right’ in not letting me get one - simply that I changed as a person and that new version has reached the end of the nose piercing phase. And yes, I have spent good several years being obsessed with Bollywood films, to the same extent as I now am with lolita fashion - but while I no longer follow all the news or aim to watch every release, I can still enjoy the odd film or certain songs without having to name every actor and contributing singer, as well as all the gossip and news around the releases.

Here is your permission to be multidimentional and to not be easily shoved under a singular label. Not only we're capable of complexity, but also growth and development. We need to go through the phase of puberty in order to reach adulthood, and most of us are happy to leave that phase. So don't beat yourself up over other phases that you may have outgrown or may not commit for life to.

Our lives are capable of encompassing and balancing several interests at once, including conflicting ones. Do I envision lolita fashion phasing itself out of my life? Not right now. But then I didn’t think that my nose piercing or interest in Bollywood films would either, yet here we are. If it ever gets to that point, then that will be ok. It won’t invalidate the years I spent enjoying this fashion and it won’t turn out to have been a ‘waste of time’ just because I wasn’t in it ‘til death do us part’, so to speak.

So if you are out there, wondering whether to give lolita fashion (or something else) a go, but are worried that it may be just a phase - I get you. It could be a phase or it could not. You won’t know until you try and if you’re in a position to try responsibly, then why not? The fear of falling out of love with it shouldn’t stop you. After all, it never stopped us when we were children, keen on exploring everything there was to the world, to the utter dismay of our families. Your worries don’t make your interest any less valid, but you also shouldn’t pressure yourself to go all-in or not at all or deprive yourself of something fun because of that concern. Accept the fact that some things in life simply are a phase, of which lolita fashion may turn out to be one of. Or it may not.

Whichever way it goes, that’s ok.


  1. Thank you so much for this article, it's very reassuring! ♥


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