Advanced Coordinating: #7 - Beyond Lolita


This is such a big topic that I may have bitten off more than I can chew. It took me a while to find an angle that I wanted to tackle this from and that allowed me to pass on my hot takes in a cohesive and comprehensible way. In fact, it probably would’ve made more sense to leave this topic further down in the series, focus on some of the other aspects of advanced coordinating first before approaching something that sounds like an exit to the world outside of lolita fashion. However, there are so many outside influences within lolita fashion already and so many lolitas eager to do all sorts of style mashups that it seemed appropriate to try now. So that hopefully some of what I say can give you the tools and the confidence to realise whatever mashup is itching to emerge from your imagination and to put to sleep the worries of being called ita for trying that.

There are two ways of looking at a topic such as “Beyond lolita”, both complex enough to warrant entire posts of their own. For the sake of leaving space for the other things I’d like to discuss in this series, I will condense these as much as possible, whilst leaving in as much detail as I can. The two angles are actually best described as directions: that of going in and going out. In other words, talking about “Beyond lolita” is having conversations about the outside things that influence this fashion, as well as another one about the unrelated things that we project through the lens of lolita fashion.

When you stop to think about it, the outside influences on lolita fashion are how some of the minor substyles or popular themes emerge. Wa lolita is just a blend of two distinct fashions. Sailor and military lolita are simply incorporating those sorts of cuts with our coords. Hime lolita, despite the current lack of understanding of its origins, came about as a result of the extravagance of hime gyaru finding its way to marry with the lolita silhouette. Whilst lolita fashion encompasses so much more than that, arguably its most important pillar is the silhouette - and there is a lot of fun that you can have within that parameter. How else would we have such diversity of looks that are still recognisably lolita fashion?

Introducing an outside influence into lolita comes with a set of decisions and compromises to make. The better you understand that non-lolita thing you are bringing in, the easier those decisions are to make. Because the key is to blend them with balance: too much of one and it overpowers the other. Start by breaking down what is the most important thing that makes this other thing its own. Just like when we break down what is the most important part of lolita fashion, the shape is what we identify first, other influences will have their own things. Once you have that, you could look for aspects the two have in common, then start building your coord armed with that knowledge. Hime lolita worked because it was the hime gyaru hair and makeup styling imposed on a lolita silhouette then supplemented with princessy accessories that both styles are rich in. This exercise becomes harder the less specific your particular outside influence is, for example distilling something like the dark academia aesthetic to a few core elements will take you more time to nail down - but that’s the risk you have to accept when reaching beyond lolita with your coords’ influences and inspirations.

Ultimately, there isn’t a template that I could give you on how to do that successfully. Going beyond lolita is a very personal thing, everyone wants to showcase something different in their own unique way. Looking at the, by now iconic, comparison of cosplay vs cosplay lolita may give you some pointers on what to look out for, but it boils down to very similar things as having a solid lolita coordinate does: balance, depth, intentionality, quality of pieces, the overall styling and attention to detail etc.

Art by Kira Kira Shoujo.

What you bring into the mix depends on you. This is why the risk is worth taking because it allows us to express ourselves better through lolita, to share another facet to who we are using clothes that we love. Bringing our unique point of view to an outfit is like telling the world another part of our story in a way that they can see and hopefully relate to, even if not necessarily consciously understand. For example, I’m pretty open about the fact that as much as I enjoy gothic lolita, it tends to end up looking more classic when I try it. It seems that for all my fondness for the occasional darkness, that darkness doesn’t feel like me unless it’s softened with some elegance. As such the first time I wore Haenuli’s Just One Bite for a Halloween meet in October of 2019 was one of the most gothic ways that I’d worn it so far, where stuck to playing up the print and its darker themes. I still like this coordinate, I felt good whilst wearing it, but in comparison to the other looks I’ve done with it this one is solidly in the middle in my own personal ranking. Once I’d stopped trying to fit myself into the gothic mold and find ways of wearing this dress that feel closer to my heart, it inevitably ended up bringing inspirations outside of lolita fashion. Like a more old Hollywood glam in this look from September 2020, where the hair and makeup styling together with the accessory choices and the cut bring in just about enough balance and intentionality to pass this as an ero lolita coordinate. Or like this more folksy witchy look from June of this year, which was a way for me to blend some of my heritage and the musical influences that were inspiring me at the time with lolita fashion. Both of those feel a lot more me, not only because they’re less traditionally gothic, but also thanks to the other aspects of my style and personality that I was able to bring to the fore here.

Just because a dress is gothic doesn't mean that that's the only way you can wear it. Don't let such things stop you.

On the flipside of that, to me going beyond lolita fashion is to truly embrace and live the words that we so often use to explain ourselves: that these are just clothes. Because they are. Clothes for us to express what and how we feel - which sometimes means embracing that we’re using garments intended for lolita fashion in ways that their creators did not have in mind and that do not fit under that label anymore. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, I’ve found that the longer and more regularly someone wears lolita, the less they care about which arbitrary label fits their look best.

Whilst I had noted down to talk about things “Beyond lolita” previously, my original take was mostly the first side that I have talked about. What spun me back to this angle was a comment left by vivchibilove, who had asked for a guide to “wearing lolita pieces in different ways. Like the spectrum from the most normie you can make a lolita piece, to a casual but definitely alternative outfit to undoubtedly very much lolita. How to use lolita pieces and inspiration in your everyday style and how to use stuff from your normal wardrobe in lolita!” Just like what influences one brings into lolita is highly subjective, so is how one chooses to wear their clothes. The short answer is that only you can decide what to wear and how, and that if you know enough about what makes something lolita fashion or stops it from being so (which I’d expect the intended audience of these posts to be able to recognise), then that’s all you need. Put the outfit together in a way that you like, visualise your concept, identify what are its key points, execute it, and then see what label it might fit under, if you even need or want to put a label to it. As I said earlier, there isn’t a template that I can offer because everyone’s style, preferences, options, references, possibilities and many more differ so widely. Moreover, some non-lolita styles will be easier to blend with your lolita items, like vintage fashions, Western goth, preppy looks, while others will be a big stretch e.g. athleisure (no pun intended) or what society considers to be sexy mainstream wear.

However, what I can offer is a visual representation of what I would consider the full spectrum of ‘normie to lolita’. In fact, if I were to split that spectrum into identifiable categories and points of formality/extravagance, then it’d probably go something like this:

Transcription: Completely normie → Normie but with slightly more lolita-inspired styling → Casual lolita → Regular lolita → Themed but not OTT lolita → OTT tea party extravaganza

The first hurdle is that what is OTT for one person is casual to another. What is casual for me could be pretty dressed up for you, which is also what makes creating a universal template or checklist impossible. Moreover, there are cultural differences to consider, such as what degree of formality different occasions call for (e.g. British Christmas is extremely laid back and casual by my standards as a Polish person for whom Christmas requires at least your church Sunday best) or what those levels of formality even are (things like skirt length, how much shoulder is visible, how deep a neckline is appropriate etc. - some cultures still equate formality with modesty while others not so much).

As such, the above categories are heavily based on how I wear my clothes, on the occasions that I’d find myself reaching for something. For example, what I term to be “regular lolita” is my term for ‘the happy middle’ or the ‘by the book’ version of this fashion, where the outfit meets all the requirements of a lolita coord and is neither too much nor too little. To me that’s something that I’d be comfortable wearing to a meetup, like grabbing lunch, but also it’s something that’s even good for a weekly grocery shopping trip. But for another person that style could be what they wear every day, while for yet another it’d be what they wear to a convention once a year when they can dress up some more. The pictures you see below have been arranged in the same order to showcase how the scale looks like for me. The most notable are usually the extremes, the no petticoat look on the completely normie side and making everything as big as I can on the OTT tea party extravagance side. Someone else might not have as many levels in the middle. For you there may be no way to wear lolita in a ‘completely normie’ way. And that’s ok. These are your clothes, so it’s your decision how far beyond lolita you wish to take them.

The OP examples featuring Lady Sloth's Look at My Dreamy Sky OP.

The JSK examples featuring Haenuli's Lovely Memories JSK.

The skirt examples featuring Song and Temple's Fairytale Library skirt.

As a fitting break from the usual format of these posts, my suggested inspiration this time won’t be lolita. Because whilst there are lolitas who are fantastic at blending all sorts of things with this fashion, at incorporating things we never would’ve considered and making them theirs, I also am a firm believer in finding inspiration anywhere and everywhere. Someone wearing a diametrically different style to yours may not seem like a source of inspiration, but there is plenty of value in seeing a point of view you otherwise wouldn’t have. And amongst the many people like that whom I follow, @dandywellington is the number one inspiration for me. I don’t wear menswear, vintage or otherwise, I merely and occasionally dabble in ouji, which Dandy doesn’t. However, it is clear as day that the man has heaps of style and his own perspective. I enjoy looking at how he puts things together, but also listening to him explain his reasoning. Some of the biggest tips or sources of inspiration that I’ve employed into my own style came from his Instagram and YouTube channel. Take what he said about menswear, for example: “because the silhouettes largely haven’t changed in decades, it’s all about the details”. Sound familiar? Yes, lolita fashion’s silhouette also remains largely unchanged, even if it’s a far younger style than vintage menswear. In the same video I just quoted he also said that there is not one source of inspiration for himself, that he likes to pick different tricks and ideas from different people - which I 100% feel and what I apply to how I wear lolita. If what you want is to wear a ‘traditional’ or ‘by the book’ lolita, then that’s fantastic, be the best version of this that you can and search for inspiration from the traditional sources like magazines, brand ads and other lolitas. But if your goal is to use lolita as a base for self-expression, looking beyond it at totally unrelated things for inspiration is a good first step to take. And on my part I wholeheartedly recommend Dandy Wellington as one of those sources of inspiration.

Some of Dandy's incredible outfits, all showcased on his Instagram page.

It feels like I have condensed a lot of very grand and somewhat abstract ideas into one post. It certainly feels like I had to use the big brain myself and hopefully I have accomplished conveying all of that. My aim was to avoid splitting this post into more specific discussions about either of those points of view on the “Beyond lolita” topic. The Advanced Coordinating series is meant to be broad so that anyone can take my opinions on board without feeling like I’m imposing a particular type of lolita onto you. My way of wearing this fashion isn’t the alpha and omega, so whatever your own style or preferred fanciness level is, I want you to be able to find something of value in these posts, something to get you thinking about how you wear it. Nonetheless, there may genuinely be areas that you’d find beneficial for me to elaborate on, in which case flag them in the comments. And if your question does feel too specific for another post for this series, I will do my best to point you towards a good source of inspiration or a source of mentoring.

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