So Am I a Lifestyle Lolita Yet?

This is a question that has been rattling inside my head for a while and which the pandemic-induced lockdown has amplified. In this day and age being a lifestyle lolita isn’t necessarily the ultimate dream for the majority of us, as may have been the case in the ‘00s and ‘10s, though there are still plenty of lifestylers out there. The idea is certainly not dead - the question is: does it apply to me and to my lifestyle? And is this something permanent, a development that lockdown enabled or merely an opportunity that lockdown provided that might not last once it’s over? That’s what we’re here to find out.

Lolita lifestyle: the “ideal”

With so many variables and ways to interpret this concept, the one example we can all agree on as a lifestyle lolita is Momoko from Kamikaze Girls. If we were to deconstruct her character into components of a lifestyle lolita, we’d get these elements: dressing in the fashion daily; engaging with the fashion in other ways daily; engaging with hobbies that fit a Rococo lifestyle; and trying to live a life that’s as self-indulgent as it would have been in Rococo France.

It sucks when you want to be nobility in Rococo France and instead are stuck in XXIst century rural Japan.

The obvious criticism here, besides the fact that Momoko is a fictional character, is that Momoko is a teenager. We only know what her lolita lifestyle is during that time of her life, when she is dependent on the adults in her life, father and grandmother, for basic necessities (water, food, shelter). Moreover, we only get a glimpse of her life as it was common for teens in the early 2000s. Based on what we know about Momoko, we can confidently guess that she probably would continue with that kind of lifestyle as an adult in modern day, e.g. through attending BtSSB’s annual tea party or becoming an avid Instagram user. However, this isn’t enough to transfer that picture onto an adult (or at least post-compulsory education) life. Momoko’s age is never mentioned, we only know that she’s in high school, so if we estimate her to be around 15, then assuming the novel/film were set in the time they were created in (2002 and 2004 respectively), that would mean that Momoko would be in her mid-30s now. So whilst I have every faith that she would still wear lolita and love it, whilst I’m confident that she’d move to Tokyo as soon as she was able to enable that lifestyle further, would she really be able to spend all days embroidering, reading books and shopping? She was a hustler, but her hustling was only ever to support her hobbies, not livelihood, and rent in Tokyo ain’t cheap.

Even as an obvious lifestyler Momoko had to abide by the rules of the mainstream society, at least sometimes.

In other words, although the lolita community can agree that Momoko is one of the most iconic examples of a lifestyle lolita, not only is it not a real-life example, it’s only applicable to those able to depend on others to support their basic needs. The only people able to become lifestyle lolitas like that: dressing in the fashion daily, engaging with it daily and creating a lifestyle resembling French Rococo nobility - would be the very privileged and financially well-off few. Which makes that kind of lifestyle practically unattainable for the vast majority of us, minors and working adults alike.

Of course, Momoko's hustling was a bit exaggerated for the sake of the story, so it's not like high school kids can afford the lolita lifestyle as easily as Momoko did anyway.

Lolita lifestyle: the lived reality

Having said this, we know that lifestyle lolita isn’t a myth. From as early as the EGL Livejournal days, we have had people identifying as lifestyle lolitas, and even today there are plenty who consider themselves such. Which means that this isn’t a dream reserved for the handful of Momokos of this world, it’s something that real-life people do. True, they will still be the more privileged ones, let’s not forget that lolita fashion and its lifestyle are non-essential hobbies focused on luxury, nonetheless becoming a lifestyler is a realistic possibility and continues to be fairly common within our community. So what qualities do they share? Is wearing the fashion daily and doing embroidery in your spare time still a requirement? Is there more to this or have the “requirements” softened over time?

I’ve looked through EGL Livejournal, as well as the Facebook group The Secret Garden - EGL Lifestyle, and it doesn’t seem as if things have changed that much between the early 2000’s and 2020. The idea of whether lolita fashion (or any fashion) can be a lifestyle continues to be contested, and it is up to the individual to decide whether this is a label that they want to use to describe themselves. People agree that wearing lolita regularly, be it daily or as often as possible, is important, but not necessarily mandatory. Again, we live in the mainstream society, Momoko too had to conform to wearing the school uniform or PE kit, and even in its simplest proto form lolita fashion is not always practical or appropriate.

Although both outfits are lolita, there is a distinct difference between what I wear to run errands and what I wear to a tea party.

One description of lolita lifestyle which I really like comes from an EGL LJ user back in 2007: the lifestyle is about “taking the virtues of the fashion (modesty, femininity, extravagance, elegance, etc) and living by them”. This is what Momoko was trying to embody through what she wore and what she did, and what I think a lot of lolitas, lifestylers or not, could understand and relate to. The problem with this is that, of course, those virtues are not exclusive to lolita fashion. Other styles, cultures and subcultures can also value modesty, femininity or elegance, all at once or individually, e.g. vintage or historical fashions, as well as cultures where more traditional definitions of gender roles and expectations continue to prevail. After all, what is modest, feminine or elegant is very cultural, even the basic distinctions of East and West will define those slightly differently.

Each of these outfits is modest, feminine and elegant. Some even use lolita pieces or ones I wear with lolita. Two of these looks I've worn to the office and one on a date night. None of them are lolita though. Where does that put me on the lifestyle lolita scale?

This is probably what the real argument might be about. When we talk about “lolita lifestyle”, there is an assumption of exclusivity, that a lolita lifestyler is only into things that relate to lolita or that lolita is the only lifestyle that they adopt. Again, probably in big part due to Momoko being the most notable representation of that idea that we have. However, whilst Momoko could’ve been that into lolita fashion and could’ve wanted nothing to do with other things, this was predominantly a character building technique. Juxtaposing her 100% into Baby the Stars Shine Bright’s world against Ichiko’s 100% into being a yanki biker gang girl made us see their relationship as all the more touching and the story of polar opposites finding a common tongue all the more poignant. But in real life, had Momoko enjoyed visual-kei in her frills or had Ichiko found herself baking cute cupcakes in her spare time, we wouldn’t think of them as any less lolita or any less yanki. We know that human beings are complex and capable of having more than one aspect to their personality. To equate lolita lifestyle with the only lifestyle one could possibly have is incredibly simplistic and this idea is damaging towards those who do identify as lifestylers as it reduces them to a handful of stereotypical traits.

Whilst Mami is not a lifestyle lolita, her story in Kitai Fuku ga Aru shows very well how navigating wanting to wear this fashion works in modern, contemporary life of a young adult. You can read my review of the complete story here.

Meanwhile, even a casual glimpse on The Secret Garden Facebook group tells me that the lifestyle lolitas in there are a diverse bunch, each with their own complexities and interpretation of a lolita lifestyle. On the common grounds of celebrating elegance and femininity we have lifestyle gothic lolitas who are also lifestyle goths alongside lifestyle classic lolitas who dabble in mori-kei and are happy with the current cottagecore craze. Whilst many of the lolitas there sew or bake, some are more into films, theatre and music. For every lifestyle lolita who collects china teacups there is one who collects toys. The makeup and beauty enthusiasts happily share their lifestyler label with the gardeners, the painters and the YouTubers.

In other words, the reality of lolita lifestyle is that there is no one set way of being a lifestyler. Everyone does it slightly differently because each person has a different personality and priorities. And for everyone debating whether a lolita lifestyle is even a thing that exists - the very fact that we are having this discussion so many years since the fashion first emerged in its most recognisable form is proof that it does exist.

Lolita lifestyle: my version

Related to what I just talked about, I think the biggest reason why for years I was so reluctant to call myself a lifestyle lolita was because I too subscribed to this made up idea that to be a lifestyle lolita meant to only be a lifestyle lolita and nothing else. This also came with a notion that my lifestyle could only be lolita if it was a direct result of the fashion.

Even if I hadn't discovered lolita fashion, even if I hadn't delved into vintage fashion, a cake stand and desserts like this would still be an aesthetic I admired, even if I didn't actively participated in it.

Looking back at my hobbies, interests and obsessions, I see things common to what other lolitas mention: princesses, historical fashion and history, literature, arts and culture etc. The cultural upbringing that I had (i.e. white cis European woman raised in a Christian culture) naturally made me appreciative of things that lolitas commonly enjoy such as tea, baked goods, fine cuisine, crafts, beauty. As well as other things like an appreciation for traditional European decor like delicate china or florals, and an awareness of significance of certain motifs, from religious like crosses to cultural like Alice in Wonderland. To say that my identity as an adult woman who is into lolita fashion is entirely separate from the kind of culture that I was brought up in and surrounded by would be incredibly naive at best.

Furthermore, plenty of my other hobbies, interests and obsessions, even when they stem from completely different sources, fit nicely under the umbrella term that is “lolita lifestyle”. I enjoy baking and cooking, although the latter is mostly a necessity these days, because I enjoy food, not because engaging with lolita fashion made me enjoy food in a way that was different from before. My exploration of presenting very feminine started with vintage fashion and lolita simply fit into that at just the right time. Reading has always been a part of my life and I was reading much “above my age or maturity” from really early on - the fact that my desire to read some of the literary classics has nothing to do with lolita fashion, that’s just me. (The only literary classic I read because of lolita fashion was Nabokov’s Lolita, for hopefully obvious reasons.)

My nickname, Cupcake Kamisama, is a result of my baking, which developed way before my interest in lolita did. And I loved antique, Rococo-esque decor much before I even discovered lolita. These things compliment a lolita lifestyle, but are not ones that developed in me as a result of my discovering the fashion.

Once this mental hurdle was behind me, once I realised and accepted that lolita lifestyle is not some exclusive thing you subscribe to 100% like Momoko did or you’re not a real lifestyler, there was just one aspect left. Do you need to wear the fashion daily to consider yourself a lifestyle lolita? And this is where lockdown played a big part in spurring this whole thought process on.

Whilst we’ve established that even lifestyle lolitas don’t necessarily wear frills every day, we also know that you can’t be a lifestyle lolita if you don’t wear it at all. It’s a fashion, after all, not wearing it contradicts the idea that it could be your lifestyle. But how often is too often for skipping lolita over another style? And does it matter what that other style is? Right now, as I continue working from home, I am able to dress how I want. This means not only dressing in the pieces that I want, however casual or extravagant, but also at what pace I complete the process. Between my moving and lockdown I probably wore lolita at least once a week, usually at the weekend, but also some simpler outfits during the working week. Sleep is my priority when I work and spending too much time on more elaborate outfits just doesn’t fit into that. Now I can start working in my pyjamas, put on just the clothes during my mid-morning break and finish the outfit with accessories and/or makeup and hair styling at lunchtime. Moreover, since I’m not going out to the office, if I decide that I feel like wearing something else, I have time to change what I prepared the night before and there is no pressure to do so quickly because I need to leave. Being able to do that allowed me to wear lolita outfits that weren’t just casual or passing as fancier normie styles more often, several times per week, depending on my energy levels on a given day.

Only looking at last month's outfits, 8 out of 14 were for work. And although many are simple by lolita standards, even those likely wouldn't get worn if I still worked at the office, had to get ready by a certain time and then walk in them to work.

It is also because of this leisurely pace at which I can afford to get dressed now that I know that this would not be sustainable for me once working at the office resumed. Of course, the metaphorical boat gets pushed out a lot more when I’m at home as I don’t need to concern myself with anyone’s judgement or reaction, but standing out was never really the core problem. Having the time and energy to create an outfit that I liked was because I know myself and how laziness and sleep will always win over the desire to look fancy. As such, whilst my lifestyle currently, during Ye Olde Pandemic of 2020 AD, is no doubts that of a lifestyle lolita, would it still be once pre-pandemic life returns? Would I still be a lifestyle lolita when I dressed maybe once a week, sometimes less and sometimes more? Not because I have to wear a uniform, but because sleep over elaborate outfits?

I think so. And I think that when something resembling pre-pandemic life resumes, all those months spent dressing up will have raised my own standard for what is casual, what is office-appropriate and what is fancy. So while I likely won’t be able to keep up that sort of pace or level of dressing up, chances are that it will still be more than what was even as recently as February. With the only possible exception of other styles getting in the way and demanding more centre-stage time.

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