Lolita Fashion and Being Lady-Like in the XXIst Century


Generally speaking, when we talk about a lolita lifestyle, it tends to be based on things from the past. Some often say that it’s based around things that are princess-like or lady-like and indeed guidelines like The Princess Code have circulated amongst lolitas fairly widely. Yet still when the subject of lolita lifestyle comes up, those who believe it exists often talk about things, activities and values that seem quite dated by XXIst century standards. So while I won’t get into the discussion of whether lolita lifestyle even is a thing (that’s for you to decide for yourselves), I will share a few thoughts around what I think it means to be lady-like in the XXIst century and how these ideas and values tie in with lolita fashion.

James Tissot Young Lady in a Boat - but how much in common
does a XXIst century lady have with her?

One Should Be Educated

By which I don’t just mean formal education through school, although obviously you shouldn’t skip classes and you should try your best at school, kids. A lady should strive to be educated and to further her learning at every opportunity. She can expand her knowledge in any area that she sees fit and finds interesting, be it aerodynamics, history of fashion or the development of Tetris. I firmly believe that one should aim to educate themselves about things that relate to them personally and socially, which means having at least a basic grasp of politics and economy of your country (so know who’s who and roughly what’s happening). At the same time, to be educated heavily relies on recognising when and where you may lack knowledge – and to be able to admit that in the spirit of the ancient proverb that ‘he who knows not and knows that he knows not is ignorant – teach him’. Once you realise that, it is your responsibility first to educate yourself before asking others to educate you on the path to becoming a more learned person overall.

Why is that lady-like? Well, in this day and age, when information is widely available and easily accessible, it is even more embarrassing to be (or be seen as) stupid, uninformed or ignorant. Without pursuing knowledge about the things that interest you, you’ll at best be forever stuck in very similar kinds of conversations. At worst, someone could take advantage of your lack of knowledge/information or of your unwillingness to double check and cross-reference the information given to you. An educated person, on the other hand, has more scope to enter into meaningful, insightful, deep conversations and debates whereby they can share their own knowledge and learn from others. As dated as that is to say now, the art of conversation was always the domain of the ladies. An educated lady also won’t be taken for a fool and hopefully will avoid unpleasant situations, ranging from being made to look a fool to being scammed.

Whether you decide to learn a skill (like a language) or gain knowledge
(historical, political, social etc.) - learn and educate yourself!

How is that related to lolita fashion and any related lifestyle? For one, as wearers of the fashion we are constantly accosted by others to educate or inform them about what is it that we’re wearing. Being educated about our own fashion is our most basic weapon against misconceptions and mislabelling. Just from learning about lolita fashion you should find yourself learning more about fashion of the upper classes of the past, social movements which gave rise to the fashion and various socio-political aspects that stem from that (feminism, individualism, rebelling against social norms, gender etc.). The fashion in itself is a statement of non-conformity and femininity, but in a way that isn’t immediately recognisable or readable to the Western eye like gothic subculture is. Therefore, it is vital that we educate ourselves about issues such as feminism and power in order to understand what is it that we’re wearing and why it is so threatening to the fashion’s outsiders. As well as to be able to convey that to others when asked that inevitable question of “what are you wearing?” or “why are you dressed like that?”.

One Should Be Cultured

Just like “to be educated” means something slightly different to different people, so does the concept of being cultured. This can be both high culture and pop culture, whichever seems more immediately relevant to yourself, although personally I believe in balance between the two. There are some things from both that are considered necessary to know, like certain books or pop culture tropes. An easy example would be the works of William Shakespeare and a trope like fridging. Depending on your nationality and any ethnic/cultural background you come from, there will be other kinds of culture that would be considered canonical for your peers and that you should familiarise yourself with in order to be thought of as cultured. After all, for the Russians not knowing War and Peace is considered far more uncultured (and probably also uneducated) than to have not read any Shakespeare because of the importance of Tolstoy’s works to Russian culture and heritage. However, generally speaking, it matters more that you strive to achieve that goal and to experience these things, not which kind of culture they best represent.

This is strongly linked with the idea of being educated. Education is often reliant on the knowledge of culture (if you doubt that, try completing a crossword or quiz-based game show in a language you’re learning – you’ll quickly realise how much cultural knowledge you need in order to answer the questions). Culture is also the thing that we tend to discuss a lot amongst each other: did you see this, have you heard that song, what do you think about X etc. The lady-like art of conversation is most easily pursued and practiced by those who engage with culture, whilst the dedication towards being educated makes that conversation less superficial and, hopefully, more interesting.

Especially these days, it matters less what book
you read, as much as that you do read and then form
your own opinions about it.
Image from Pinterest.

And similarly to being educated, lolita fashion is part of a wider pop culture (in this case both Japanese pop culture and alternative fashion), but also a culture of its own. We make references to films, books, songs, memes, events, people and more, so that any newcomer spends as much time learning about the fashion itself as they are navigating all these references and untangling what’s what. But we’re also not isolated from the rest of the world and our fashion in turn is influenced by other kinds of high and pop culture, from classical music and historical fashion to other high and pop culture (Japanese and Western), and whatever other kinds of interests we may have. Just like we would consider someone a newbie with a lot to learn for not recognising Misako Aoki as a lolita model, we would likely shun a lolita who’s never even heard of Phantom of the Opera, for example (something that was referenced in our own lolita fashion prints, but that’s also well-known outside of the fashion). In other words, to strive to be a cultured individual is as relevant to living in the XXIst century as it is to being a lady-like person wearing lolita fashion.

One Should Be Kind

This looks at another aspect of being lady-like, one that’s considered most (arche)typically feminine. It shouldn’t need explaining further, however, there are some aspects of it that I would like to clarify.

First is that being kind isn’t an exclusively feminine trait. This should be a universal human value irrespective of one’s gender and/or gender expression. Kindness is appreciated equally when coming from masculine or feminine people. It should not be used to berate others as lesser (toxic masculine culture can view kindness as weakness through its associations with femininity) nor as an expression of sexism (e.g. holding the doors open for someone – it’s not just gentlemen doing that towards ladies and it’s not inherently patronising or sexist).

Secondly, being kind does not equate being a pushover and assertiveness does not exclude kindness. The two can and should coexist. Whatever act of kindness you may have granted to someone once, this does not entitle them to receive that constantly if you’re not willing to give. Similarly, just because you exist as who you are doesn’t force you to show kindness to others just because they extort it. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world and many of us still need to consider personal safety first. Especially as women, we’re taught that when a man tells us to smile, it’s safer to either do it or ignore it instead of challenging – but it should be an act of kindness that you grant, not a ransom demanded in exchange for your safety (physically as well as emotionally).

Things got very serious there for a moment, but the point is that whilst being kind is fundamentally a good thing, as well as something we think of as lady-like, it should be kindness given on your own terms.

Being kind to others: helping them tie their waist ties.
Being kind to yourself: not calling yourself horrible names
when it's a bad waist tie kind of day.
Image from Strawberry Kimono's Tumblr.

As far as lolita fashion is concerned, it’s a double-edged sword. Being kind needs to apply as much to yourself as it does to others. In theory, it’s easy to be kind to your fellow lolitas. Little acts can go a long way: complimenting someone’s coord, offering help in tying waist ties, rephrasing your concrit as to not hurt someone’s feelings, supporting someone less confident than yourself at a meet and many more. But in amidst all this, remember to also be kind to yourself. This includes not berating yourself for your outfit, not comparing yourself to others and not setting yourself impossible standards. It also includes basic things like eating food that’s good for you (the sizing of lolita fashion can trigger someone’s eating disorders, so being kind to yourself is necessary to balance your health with enjoying the fashion) and recognising when you might need a break (small, like skipping the meet after a tiring week, but also big, like from the community/fashion/social media etc.). Showing kindness towards yourself will give you the strength and confidence to then show kindness towards others, as well as to stand your ground and defend yourself or your opinions when necessary. To me a true lady doesn’t compromise on her identity or values, but without being kind to herself first she cannot develop the confidence to stand up for what she believes to be right.

Everything else either directly follows the things mentioned above or is secondary to them as far as being lady-like in the XXIst century is concerned. Whether you believe in the existence of a lolita lifestyle, the above are pretty fundamental values that would enrich anyone’s life and lifestyle, whatever it might be. Whether you want to follow some of the other guidelines for being lady-like or whether you consider them old-fashioned or relevant to modern life, is up to you and by all means employ them if you feel that this would add value to your life. As a lolita, but also as a feminist and as an intellectual, the above are the three values that I aim to adopt in my own life and lifestyle – including lolita fashion.

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