'Lolita fashion is a subculture in Japan influenced by Victorian and Edwardian era dress. Also including the costume dress worn in the Rococo era in France, Lolita fashion is best known for its cross over into Gothic style and the wide array of sub-styles represented by its practitioners. Most often, Lolita fashion refers to those who wear skirts or dresses to their knees, a petticoat, long, often times monochromatic socks, and a wide array of accessories covered in lace or ribbon. The goal in many cases is to imitate the appearance of a child or a doll.
The current trend of Lolita fashion began in the 1970s with early brand such as Milk and Pink House presenting the first true Lolita production lines. Later, sweet gothic Lolita brands such as Baby, the Stars Shine Bright and Metamorphose temps de fille started up and stretched the genre even further. It was not until the 1990s though that the genre truly took off and the dozens of different brands currently available found a foothold. The advent of Visual Kei bands such as Malice Mizer who wore Lolita style clothing had a major impact on the growth of the sub-culture and today it is so common that the most popular brands can be found in common department stores across Japan as well as in the specialty shops of Harajuku.
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Since its inception in the 1970s, many different types of Lolita fashion have developed, all of them using the basic format of the culture as a starting point and going in many different directions.
In Japan called gothloli, Gothic Lolita fashion is a hybrid of the gothic style that was founded in the 1980s in response to the New Wave movement in Britain and the classic Lolita style developed in the 1970s. Gothic Lolita culture in Japan is different from other countries in that it combines with Lolita style, utilizing the dark makeup and clothing of the former but maintaining the cuteness of the latter. Even the darker makeup styles will often be combined with lighter colors to keep appearances true to roots but light. Color schemes are often black, dark blue, and other dark colors while white is used liberally to contrast the darkness. Religious symbols such as crosses and ankhs are used liberally as well as coffins and bats within both clothing and accessories. Famous Gothic Lolita brands include Mana’s Moi-meme-Moitie.
Rather than the Victorian styles of the other Lolita fashion, sweet Lolita utilizes Rococo and manga as its influences, combining the childlike fantasy aspects of the sub-culture into light colors, billowy clothing, and pastel, makeup that often emulates the color and tone of a doll. Common aspects of Sweet Lolita fashion includes colorful prints, ribbons, and lace in clothing, multiple Alice in Wonderland references, cake, and a lot of fruit prints and references. Jewelry is often themed after fantasy motifs with stuffed animals, hearts, and card symbols (from Alice in Wonderfland), alongside plenty of bows and ribbons in hair. Two of the best known Sweet Lolita brands include Metamorphose temps de fille and Baby, the Stars Shine Bright.
The classic Lolita look focuses more intently on mature use of 18th and 19th century dress with small, intricate patterns, muted colors, and lighter colors in the clothing. The dresses will often use an empire waist while the shoes and accessories are more practical and true to historical counterparts. Makeup is more muted with natural colors and slimmer dresses emphasize natural silhouettes. Popular brands include Victorian Maiden, Juliette et Justine, and Innocent World.
The combination of punk fashion to Lolita is relatively new and involves a wide array of different brands and styles. Generally, this hybrid includes the use of punk patterns, safety pins and chains, screen printing, and short hairstyles while still maintaining the basic elements of Lolita fashion such as the dresses and blouses. Boots are generally added to the mix along with jumper skirts. Popular brands that fit this subset include h.NAOTO, A+Lidel, and Putumayo.
This subset combines the use of traditional Japanese clothing into the Lolita fashion trends using kimonos and Lolita products together. Most often, the bottom half of a kimono will be altered to include the use of a petticoat or skirt. The patterns and accessories are usually covered in Japanese flowers and designs as well.
This is the male form of the Lolita fashion with the men’s clothing of the 19th century used. This can include everything from knickerbockers to short trousers or knee socks, top hats, or billowy men’s shirts. Colors are usually black, white, red, and blue, and makeup is used in small amounts to draw out more color.
Most of the Gothic Lolita fashion today was directly influenced by the Visual Kei bands of the 1990s. These bands, who were largely built around the concept of visual expression in their music, became incredibly popular and so too did their elaborate dress. Singers such as Mana, who headed Malice Mizer even started his own fashion label and coined terms like Elegant Gothic Lolita.
After the style was created though, it continued to have a profound effect on the pop-culture of Japan, appearing in magazines, spawning new television programs, and becoming a mainstay in Manga and Anime that would eventually reach other countries and further spread the Lolita fashion trend.
Published by KERA magazine, the Gothic & Lolita Bible is a quarterly publication that includes a wide array of information about the fashion trend. Largely touted for in promoting Gothic Lolita styles, the publication contains full color fashion tips, photos, catalogs, patterns, and recipes. Recently, it was made available in English for the first time as well.