On Nostalgia and Why I Don't Feel Like Wearing Oldschool


This is a word that’s been thrown around a lot. As defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary, it’s “a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past” that so many of us have been experiencing recently. And by “us” I don’t just mean lolitas - the whole spike of interest in cottagecore aesthetic during the early pandemic days is nothing if not collective nostalgia. Though within the lolita community we have been experiencing it for a good few years longer than that as the styles from our fashion’s early days, now referred to as oldschool, have gained popularity and visibility. Reading Bunny’s post precisely on that topic made me stop and this post is a response of sorts, mostly to expand on some of the points that she made, as well as share my own thoughts and experiences.

* FRUiTS issue 46 page13

Not for the first time in my life I questioned whether it is possible to feel nostalgia for things or times that we have no first hand experience of. The above definition from CED seems to suggest that it is, though in my heart I’m still not convinced. The definition may fit the situation, but something tells me that there may be a better word to describe those same feelings when referring to things we only know from second hand sources. If I ever find it, I’ll be sure to share it.

Oldschool lolita is one of those things. Despite getting my first piece in 2011 (arguably just as this particular look fell out of favour for a brighter, more OTT one), I was mostly oblivious to the wider lolita world until 2013/2014. My personal interest in oldschool lolita tends to be either historical in nature, in wanting to learn more about the fashion as it was before I discovered it, or as an admirer - often both at the same time. I never had any interest in wearing that particular look myself, I had a few tries at it and didn’t feel the same excitement or sense of completion as I do when I wear other kinds of lolita. Granted, my attempts were simply the best that I could do with what I had, so I fully accept that maybe I haven’t found the right kind of oldschool look for me.

Probably my best attempt at oldschool lolita to date (August 2019).

However, I doubt that this is the case. It’s more probable that I enjoy looking at others wearing oldschool without feeling the urge to wear it too because, whilst the look of that style evokes nostalgia, it isn’t my nostalgia. Several of my friends love and totally rock oldschool, and every time I see them wear it, I am in awe. No word of a lie, the closest I ever came to wanting to wear oldschool and feel that same energy and connection with the early days of the fashion myself in the tangible way of wearing it was when I saw @househaunter wear the Elizabeth JSK. But this was promptly followed by a realisation that what I felt wasn’t the urge to wear oldschool lolita. It was a desire to be like @househaunter herself - and that’s simply impossible. It’s the same as when I was feeling nostalgic during From Up on Poppy Hill: it’s impossible for me to live the life of a Japanese schoolgirl in the 1960s because time travel doesn’t exist and even if it did, it doesn’t allow for assuming another identity.

Although nostalgia itself is defined as the mixture of pleasure and sadness, it is heavily tinged with longing for the positive things. When people say they’re nostalgic for the 80s, they don’t mean the AIDS crisis, Margaret Thatcher’s austerity policies, dread of the Cold War escalating into a nuclear conflict - none of those things. They mean the excitement of pop culture, the bright and gaudy fashion, the music that made them feel like dancing... They want to bring back the feelings of happiness and innocence of their childhood/teenage years, when through lack of either understanding or interest the Big World Events didn’t matter as much as what to wear to the school dance or whether to spend all your allowance savings on one big treat or a big haul of goodies.

We think of certain times in our lives as simpler because our priorities were different, not because the times actually were simpler.
Photo by cottonbro.

As such I can objectively see from my sidelines that oldschool lolita, with its more organic styling and less of a care for ‘the rules’, follows that same idea of returning to simpler times with fewer cares that governs all of nostalgia. At the same time, almost paradoxically, because oldschool lolita is to me far more tangible and relatable than life of a 1960s Japanese schoolgirl, it makes me less inclined to indulge in that particular nostalgia to the point of wanting to experience that feeling myself. Nostalgia is about romanticising the past to a lesser or greater extent. Having no direct experience of the 1960s in Japan at any age make it easier for me to romanticise, and by extension be nostalgic for, since I can idealise that experience in my head precisely because I’ve little way of knowing what that was actually like. On the other hand, trying the oldschool lolita look myself was a tangible enough experience to make me realise that this isn’t what I ultimately wanted - or that it didn’t help me connect with the emotions that I wanted to feel. There is plenty within the same timeline of late 90s and early 00s that I am personally nostalgic for because I’ve experienced those and they do relate to things I associate with happy, carefree times of my younger days. Oldschool lolita wasn’t directly a part of those times, so wearing it feels more like putting on someone else’s style and tapping into someone else’s headspace than like living the nostalgia of simpler times that I can’t bring back for myself.

This is where my lolita nostalgia steps in. For me this is rooted in that 2013-2014 era because it’s permanently linked to some of the happiest times of my life and when my true lolita beginnings happened. The combination of being a carefree student in Japan with the countless memories of laughing, goofing around, doing fun things with a wonderful group of people, and my own blossoming interest in lolita fashion for its own sake mean that that is my nostalgic era. Even though by then the fashion overall has surpassed its simple stages, arguably was in the second wave of its most OTT form to date, having morphed from OTT Sweet to OTT Classic/Sweet-Classic, it was nonetheless my time of being an innocent newbie soaking all those feelings up for the first time. It didn’t matter whether my coords followed the rules or where certain elements of my outfits came from. All that mattered was that I got to wear them, to put this frilly fashion on, feel pretty in it and have a fantastic time with my friends.

I wouls still very happily own many of these (two I actually do).

Moreover, now that I’ve been wearing lolita so much more regularly, another facet of nostalgia is manifesting itself through what I choose to wear. As already mentioned, nostalgia is definitely something that’s heavily romanticised, making us yearn for an idealised version of life - one that may have never actually existed in the first place. After all, Momoko didn’t want to live in actual Rococo era France, but in the version of it that she dreamt up in her head based on what she imagined. And similarly not many of the cottagecore fans want to actually drop everything to become farmers, a very tough and demanding life that’s far removed from the slow, leisurely version we envision through moodboards and floral print maxi dresses.

The ways in which I wear lolita fashion these days, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic, fits neatly into my own “aesthetic dream”. Or “dreams”, plural, to be exact. Because as a perpetually undecided person, I’m unable to commit myself to just one aesthetic and thankfully I have been able to express myself and tap into the various kinds of nostalgia that I experience through this one fashion style. Sweet and retro lolita tap into nostalgia for the look of the 1950s, colourful, feminine and happy in that pinup poster girl way. Classic lolita taps into the nostalgia for life from sepia photographs of the past that predate most people alive in my family today. Even ouji, my tertiary style, taps into some form of nostalgia for the opulence of a Tudor court life which I only ever knew from television and paintings. As my go-to style, lolita is how I express my current moods and inspirations.

Whatever this is nostalgia for, I was certainly feeling it to the full!

So many of my outfits link to some sort of nostalgia, some of which I have first hand experiences of, but many of which I don’t. Yet the reason why the coords linking to nostalgia for things I don’t personally know still do the trick for me is not because they are authentic to whatever thing I’m nostalgic for. Rather it’s because they satisfy the emotional need and fit into the fantasy of what that thing is to me. My early lolita days were not linked to oldschool and this style was not a part of my experience of the 90s/00s era. This is why I don’t have that same emotional connection with it, whether that be when I tried to wear it or when I look at others who do, friends and strangers alike.

And this is why I don’t feel like wearing oldschool lolita myself and don’t have that same experience of nostalgia when I think about this style. Despite completely understanding and to an extent feeling the desire for those simpler times - without the judgement of online meanies, without the pressure of trying to meet some arbitrary standard set by social media algorithms, without having to make adult decisions of ‘pretty dress now or a new household appliance’, filled only with the unadulterated joy of wearing clothes that make you feel happy and powerful, and sharing that feeling with others who wear it.


  1. You know what...that's EXACTLY how I feel about old school, and never thought to articulate it! Nostalgia is a tricky thing and there tends to be assumptions in all kinds of communities that we get nostalgic about the same things, but while that's broadly true, it's not entirely true.

    1. Yeah, the assumption that we're all nostalgic for the same things is an odd one in hobby groups and circles. Because whilst I can understand why people of similar age and from similar places could expect certain things to be universally nostalgic, with hobbies and interests we're all coming at it from different backgrounds, experiences, and moments in time. It's very reassuring to hear that I'm not alone in my feelings towards oldschool lolita. It can often feel like the oldschool revival enthusiasm is domianting the conversation a bit, and whilst I'm happy that people have found their moment to gush, since we're all mature enough to know to move to a conversation that interests us more, not seeing others who feel the same or at least similarly can be a touch alienating.


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