When people think of Japan’s fashion scene, there are a large number of fashions that come to mind. Japan is no stranger to fashion and certainly no stranger to being a pioneer in fashion. Street fashion is rife in Japan with many new styles coming up every so often and older styles coming in and out of popularity. Sometimes, these street fashions take on a life of their own and become a fashion subculture.
What is Lolita?
Lolita (ロリータ) is a street fashion and subculture in Japan that is known for its intricate designs and doll-like appearance. Lolita has expanded to national and international fame. When a person thinks of Japanese fashion, Lolita is usually one of the first styles to come to mind. It is rare to find someone who hasn’t heard of Lolita even in mere passing. Lolita is a staple of Japanese fashion and one that won’t disappear anytime soon.
The term “Lolita” may be a bit off-putting to those who first heard the word from the 1955 novel titled Lolita. However, Lolita fashion has nothing to do with Lolita. The fashion was not based off the book and does not even strive to achieve a child-like appearance.
Despite that some may accuse Lolita of encouraging things such as pedophilia and sexualizing young girls, Lolitas (practitioners of the fashion) and Lolita fans alike will tell you that it isn’t so. In fact, most Lolitas do not wish to be perceived as ‘sexy’. Lolitas do not wish to emulate little girls. Rather, Lolitas want people to look at them as cute, cool, elegant, or even a combination of all three. With such a view, styles like Ero are controversial in and out of the Lolita community. The bottom point, however, is that “sexy” is generally not a desired look amongst Lolitas.
While Japan is often credited for the creation of Lolita and often associated with Japan, its exact origins remain unknown. It is unclear where Lolita originated from first and when it was first created. However, Japan can be credited for the popularity of Lolita and for giving the fashion the breath of life it needed. The movement for Lolita is believed to have started in the 1980s with retailers beginning to sell Lolita clothing. Lolita gained popularity with brands such as MILK, Pink House, and Pretty (now Angelic Pretty) selling Lolita clothing. Today, various retailers sell Lolita and the fashion can even be found in department stores in Japan. One of the biggest retailers of Lolita fashion today is Baby, the Stars Shine Bright (ベイビー、ザ スターズ シャイン ブライト) which specializes in Sweet Lolita but also sells other sub-styles.
Lolita retailers and department stores aren’t the only way to get Lolita clothing. Lolita is a creative style that encourages creativity and “do it yourself” outfits. If you can’t find a retailer who sells what you want or retailers are too expensive, creating your own outfit is always a good option. In fact, many Lolitas prefer creating their very own outfits.
While most Lolitas are mostly in the fashion for their love of intricate and elegant outfits, some have taken it a step farther and begin to live a “Lolita lifestyle”. Lolitas who take on a Lolita lifestyle often emphasize femininity in their everyday lives. The Lolita lifestyle encourages the idea of not just looking beautiful but also living beautiful. Lifestyle Lolitas will put priority on kindness and niceness while also being softspoken. Many lifestyle Lolitas will also take up feminine hobbies such as sewing and baking.
For people looking to get into the fashion or even just learn a bit more about it from Lolitas and Lolita fans, there are many online and offline communities to gain this information. There are many local Lolita scenes both in Japan and outside of Japan. Look around and see if your city/area has a Lolita community and see if you could attend a local meet-up. Even if your local city/area doesn’t have a Lolita community, there are plenty of online communities who would be very welcoming to anyone wishing to join or learn more about Lolita.
What different Lolita styles are there?
Lolita is a very “do it yourself” type of fashion and encourages people to create their own outfits. As such, many sub-styles have been developed. Some of them have never been given a name and never gain popularity. But some sub-styles created do gain enough popularity to become an actual sub-style for Lolita.
Below are the different recognized sub-styles to Lolita, beginning with the four most popular. With 14 sub-styles, Lolita fashion is sure to have a sub-style that would interest anyone.
Sweet Lolita (甘ロリ; Ama Rori)
Often being heavily showcased in fashion shows and sold by most retailers, Sweet Lolita is one of the most popular and most followed of the Lolita subculture. Sweet Lolita focuses mainly on light colors with a cute and cheerful vibe to the outfits. Pink and white are heavily used color for Sweet Lolita outfits. Outfits can also include fruit designs, animal designs, and ribbons to emphasize the cuteness of the outfit. Sweet Lolita is one of the older types of Lolita fashion.
Gothic Lolita (ゴスロリ; Gosu Rori)
Gothic Lolita is a sub-style that is nearly as popular, if not just as popular, as Sweet Lolita is. Gothic Lolita is often showcased alongside Sweet Lolita in fashion shows and has played a large role in the growing popularity for Lolita. Gothic Lolita is believed to have originated in Harajuku in the 1990s. Gothic Lolita outfits focuses heavily on darker colors such as black and red combined with lighter colors such as white. Red lipstick and smokey eyes are often used in makeup among Gothic Lolita outfits but they still keep the natural look that is common amongst all Lolita types. However, white face makeup that is often associated with Gothic fashion is often frowned upon in all Lolita types. Accessories such as chains and parasols can be incorporated into Gothic Lolita outfits. Gothic Lolita outfits often combine cute and cool styles.
Classic Lolita follows Victorian era fashion the closest. Classic Lolita is considered to be the most elegant and refined look among the different Lolita types. It is also seen as the most mature among the Lolita styles. Classic Lolita outfits often incorporate darker colors such as black but is not considered to be the same as Gothic Lolita due to Classic Lolita’s mature look. Most young Lolitas see Classic Lolita as the natural choice when they become older.
With the three main Lolita styles taken care of, there are still more smaller sub-styles to Lolita…
Punk Lolita can be seen as highly similar to Gothic Lolita but Punk Lolita adds a punk effect to the outfits that many Gothic Lolita outfits lack. Items found in the punk style such as safety pins, tattered fabrics, ties, plaids, and chains are all incorporated into a Punk Lolita outfit.
Princess Lolita (姫ロリ; Hime Rori)
Princess Lolita is often characterized by its look emulating the European aristocratic style. Princess Lolita outfits often incorporate the Rococo style as well as tiaras. Princess Lolita is believed to be inspired by the Hime Gyaru trend that gained its popularity in the 2000s.
White Lolita (白ロリ; Shiro Rori) & Black Lolita (黒ロリ; Kuro Rori)
White Lolita is a Lolita style where the outfits usually only use white and cream colors. A “sister style” to White Lolita is Black Lolita where outfits are made up entirely of only black. Black Lolita can often be confused with Gothic Lolita and Classic Lolita. Both White and Black Lolita can be simple or complex outfits.
Ouji Lolita (王子ロリ; Ouji Rori)
In Japanese, the word “ouji” means prince. The Oji Lolita style focuses on a princely look often taking influence from Victorian era young boys. While some may not see Ouji Lolita as true Lolita for not following the silhouette of Lolita, many still consider it to be a part of the fashion. Ouji Lolita is often worn by males but is also worn by females.
Guro Lolita can be translated to “Gore Lolita”. Guro Lolita is more horror-esque than the other Lolita fashions focusing on the portrayal of a broken doll or “innocent gore”. Because of this, Guro Lolita is not often worn as an everyday style like Sweet Lolita and Gothic Lolita are. Guro Lolita outfits often utilize fake blood and bandages to simulate injuries.
Sailor Lolita is a Lolita fashion that focuses on the sailor look. However, Sailor Lolita is not to be confused with sailor looking school uniforms. The two fashions are separate and not the same.
Country Lolita is considered to be a combination of Sweet Lolita and Classic Lolita. Country Lolita uses the cute outfits of Sweet Lolita but often incorporates the darker blacks and browns of Classic Lolita. However, it can be hard to distinguish Country Lolita from Sweet and Classic Lolita. Country Lolita outfits often use straw baskets and hats, fruits, and gingham patterns to simulate a more ‘country’ look.
Wa Lolita (和ロリ)
Wa Lolita is a style that combines Victorian era Lolita dress with traditional Japanese dress. Wa Lolita outfits often use kimonos and hakamas but alter them to fit with the Lolita style. The skirt to the outfit often follows Lolita style while the blouse follows a more traditional style. However, the two can be flipped. Wa Lolita often uses dark colors but some outfits do use lighter colors.
Example photos: One
Perhaps one of the most uncommon Lolita sub-styles, Qi Lolita is similar to Wa Lolita in the aspect that it combines Lolita with traditional dress. However, instead of using traditional Japanese dress, Qi Lolita uses traditional Chinese dress. Qi Lolita often uses qipao dresses modified to fit the Lolita style. Qi Lolita can use dark and light colors alike.
Example photos: One
Whether Casual Lolita can be considered Lolita is up to the individual. Casual Lolita does take a more casual approach to Lolita. While it continues to incorporate the basic Lolita style, the outfits are usually more simple and basic. Simplicity is a big part of Causal Lolita. Casual Lolita outfits can incorporate a large variety of colors.
Ero Lolita is often looked at as taking a more mature and darker approach to Lolita. Unlike Classic Lolita, Ero Lolita does not so much focus on elegance but focuses more on sexy. The focus on sexiness in the outfits has made Ero Lolita controversial inside Lolita fashion and outside. Ero outfits often incorporate pleather, caged skirts, and carry a Western look.