17 Oct 2017

Musings on Style in Lolita

This is a topic that I have thought about for quite a while. Lolita fashion is one that, compared to many other fashion substyles, alternative or otherwise, is quite strict in terms of what makes a Lolita outfit (‘the rules’ or strongly advised guidelines), arguably making it less friendly for personal styles (which fits with the Japanese notion of belonging to a group, but against the Western notion of individualism). Yet at the same time we often find ourselves commenting that an item is “very much me/you” or identifying the wearer of an outfit even if we can’t see their face thanks to their distinct style. This is an interesting duality that I would like to explore, although whether I’ll reach a conclusion of any sort is a mystery even to me.



Having accepted the risk that I’ll sound like Captain Obvious, we can safely say that one’s individual style in Lolita fashion develops after gaining confidence in navigating the rules, the basics and having practised coordinating for some time. Trying to do something too distinct too soon is dangerously close to making a poor coordinate, especially when your wardrobe isn’t yet ready to accommodate and blend the different elements. You have to know what you’re doing to be able to bend or even break ‘the rules’ whilst still creating a balanced coordinate. To use an easy example: the coord without a blouse. To make it work you have to have an understanding of fabrics and cuts, especially of the neckline, as well as know where to add things to make the taking away of the blouse look and feel truly purposeful. Most people who do it poorly will often say either that it’s too hot for a blouse or that they don’t own one/a matching one yet, thus running the risk of creating a coord that will not feel balanced enough and will end up looking poorly put together rather than reflect one’s individuality through the choice to go blouse-less.


Look how the level of detail, the bringing in of a
theme and the understanding of construction created
a perfect blouse-less coord. I can't imagine anyone
else doing it better or wearing this exact coord!
Photo by Emily Valentine Photography.

Seeing as I already mentioned the need for cohesive wardrobe that works together well, accessories are probably one of the biggest elements that allow individual style to shine through. First and most importantly, accessories not only help to tie an outfit together, e.g. through even distribution of themes or colours, but are also the pieces that will vary the most between individuals. You may have two people with the same dress, blouse and shoes, but through different accessories that they own they can put together vastly different coordinates. Secondly, thanks to the ease with which accessories can be found offbrand or crafted, there is a greater likelihood of finding truly unique accessories that no other Lolita will have, which will also reflect our own style. Lastly, one’s taste is reflected not only in one’s choice of clothing, but also in their favourite type of accessory. One person will be very into rosettes, whilst someone else will have an impressive collection of necklaces. The fact that someone loves one or the other is in itself an element of their individual style, as they are more likely to incorporate a matching piece from their collection into every coordinate. Similarly, I know people whose Lolita coords are very simple, yet do not feel like the themes, ideas or colours in there are underplayed or underused because every accessory is there for a reason and they’ve given it very careful thought. Simple outfit doesn’t equal bad, but the difference is that someone confident in their own style will create a simple outfit with some sort of prominent feature or thought in it whereas someone who isn’t will more likely do a template followed-the-rules kind of outfit without considering what direction they want to take or whether they want to make something a feature or get any kind of an idea across.


However, what is probably the biggest influence in letting your style shine through in Lolita fashion despite all of its ‘rules’ is your own personality – which also often happens to be the reason why we work towards having our own style within this fashion. Very few Lolitas have no other hobby beside Lolita fashion and often these other interests or preferences lend themselves well to inserting into our coordinates. I know people who are very into vintage and antique fashion, so their coordinates will always have some sort of element of that: a more historically accurate accessory (e.g. a smaller full bonnet instead of a headbow) or a hairstyle from that era. There may be many others owning and wearing the dresses that they do, but none who would wear and pull off the looks that these people are doing. Even when one’s other hobbies and interests don’t transfer very well onto Lolita fashion, people have preferences, inspirations and interests within it that can work towards creating their own unique look. Despite the preference for patterns instead of prints in Classic Lolita, have you ever seen two who look exactly the same when not twinning? Classic Lolita is a surprisingly vast and inclusive substyle with a lot of room for individuality: one’s eye for finding the exact colour matches, a preference for a certain style of shoes, intricate hair accessory arrangements, even a certain makeup trick or look. The devil is always in the detail when it comes to style – even more so when it is almost only the detail that will distinguish your ‘follows the rules coord’ from someone else’s ‘follows the rules coord’.

You can instantly tell which anime she's a fan of.
Photo by Jatzu of Freefal Creations.


Rarely, although it happens, you will stumble upon someone, most often online, whose style is defined by the ability to successfully pull off lesser known and tricky substyles. There’s a reason why not every Ero Lolita coord is instantly recognisable as Ero and it’s because it treads an incredibly fine line between Gothic Lolita and simply ita. Similarly with substyles such as Punk, Wa, Steampunk and even to an extent Casual. These are all tricky to pull off due to having to balance rules and guidelines from two separate and quite distinct styles – do too much on one side and you lose the other. In my books for a coord in these substyles to be successful, it has to be instantly identifiable as Lolita in that substyle, not that substyle with elements of Lolita. That’s a tough balancing act, so those who excel at it, given how niche these are within an already niche alternative fashion, deserve to claim this as something that makes their individual unique style.


Punk Lolita is incredibly hard to do and this is as close to perfection as I've
ever seen it.
Photo by @aliceinthesouthlands, taken from CoF. 

Ultimately, all of these are usually subtle elements that are at play, which may be difficult to pick up on unless you know the wearer fairly well. Having said this, if you obsess over whether you have your own style within Lolita too much, it could get very unhealthy very quickly, so focus on doing what makes you happy and simply observe how other people do it. What makes your coords truly yours will come through with enough practice in your cording skills, even if it can’t be categorised into a neat one-word label. You will know which things will feel ‘you’ and which won’t, which is the only guidance you need.


Do you know many people with distinct styles within Lolita fashion (personally or online)? What sort of things do you think make you – you? Or maybe you’re still looking for it? If you are, happy experimenting and I hope you find it!


2 comments:

  1. This was a very interesting read! Style is such a tricky thing to pin down but some people definitely have it, whereas some people just wear clothes.

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    Replies
    1. That's exactly it: some people wear clothes and some people have style. It's interesting to see where the boundary between the two lies in any fashion, but especially in Lolita, where if you don't "follow the rules" you risk being called an ita and have nasty things said about you by anonymous trolls, it's interesting to see. I've come across people in Lolita fashion who would be like "I only ever wear pink, that's my style", but there's so much more to having your own style than this and it really got me thinking, especially as I ended up having a discussion along similar (but not quite the same) lines with a few comm members already.

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