Starfish Aliens aside, everything can be a cute girl.
Lolita fashion is a style of fashion originating from Japan, characterized by puffy skirts, frills, loads of accessories, large ribbons and a huge emphasis on keeping a cute, innocent, elegant, Victorian doll-like appearance. There may be Fairy Tale elements thrown in for good measure (though not always). Corsets and gowns are usually worn as well.
Lolita fashion is a subculture with rather obscure origins. The origin of the meaning is complex and remains unclear, but it is likely that the movement started in the late 1970s and 1980s in the streets of Japan, which is to say Lolita fashion wasn't started by a certain designer or shop but by the people. It almost coincided with the formation of other fashion subcultures such as Visual Kei, though it didn't gain much attention until the 1990s, due to the ever-increasing popularity of the style among Visual Kei artists, one of the most notable being Mana of Malice Mizer, who coined the term "Elegant Gothic Lolita" to describe his own line of fashion merchandise. Other styles soon became popular, and the subculture soon spread to Tokyo where it became popular among the Japanese youth. Eventually, Lolita fashion would gain worldwide popularity and become popular in scenes outside Japan.
The Lolita subculture has always been a female-dominated scene, but in recent years, crossovers with the Visual Kei scene has made it fairly popular among men as well, with a few male artists and fans (known as "Brolitas") adopting the style.
The fashion has a complex nature, and there are rules as to what can be called Lolita. Outfit ("coordinate") and accessory choices range from subtle to extreme, and other aesthetics can be thrown in and made to work with the basics of the style, as long as it sticks to being (mostly) cute and feminine. With that said, Lolita fashion can be divided into many subsets, the most common being:
Brands that specialize in Gothic Lolita include: Moi-Meme-Moitie, Antique Beast, Atelier Boz, Atelier Pierrot, Alice and the Pirates and Baby the Stars Shine Bright carry some Gothic as well.
Sweet Lolita: also called "Ama Lolita" or "AmaLoli", characterized by brighter, more colorful aesthetics, focusing more on the cute than elegant. Fairy Tale themes are very common; sweets, pastries, toys, flowers, fruits and cute animals are commonly used themes as well. Coordinates tend to be colorful and highly intricate, and bright colors such as pink, pastel yellow, white, sax blue, pale yellow, lavender and red have become the norm. If that wasn't enough for you there is Over-the-Top (OTT) Sweet Lolita which takes it to a whole new level, known for very fancy, very colorful hair, dresses with energetic pastel prints, coordinates consisting of nearly the entire pastel rainbow, and elements of Decora in accessorizing, creating an image of extreme childlikeness. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is well-known for a more flamboyant and costume-y version of Sweet Lolita.
Brands that specialize in Sweet Lolita include: Angelic Pretty, Baby the Stars Shine Bright and Metamorphose
Punk Lolita: Defined by less emphasis on the Lolita image and more on darker, punkier styles. It draws heavily from punk fashion (Heavy Metal fashion is fairly popular as well), but stays true to the Lolita silhouette (though not always). The image is usually stripped-down and very difficult to achieve, and is usually characterized by blouses, band shirts, jackets and skirts instead of dresses. Boots are worn instead of Mary Janes or platform shoes. Leather accessories are very common, sometimes used in excess. Zippers are also used as decorative accents and a typical Punk Lolita coordinate will involve plaid. Punk Lolita usually features Anime Hair in oneformoranother, and styles start looking a bit more like Visual Kei than Lolita. Less-flashy Punk Lolita styles resemble Emo or Perky Goth styles to some extent. While not a Lolita designer, Vivienne Westwood is very popular in this scene for her Japanese punk fashion collections.
Punk Lolita used to be very popular in the beginnings of Lolita fashion, but it has now diminished in popularity, with Sweet Lolita taking the center stage.
Brands that specialize in Punk Lolita include: Putumayo
Classic Lolita: arguably the "parent" style where the other styles draw inspiration from. It is a mature and modest style that draws heavily from Rococo and Victorian-era clothing. The stylings are between the Gothic and Sweet styles, with more emphasis on creating a natural-looking appearance: it is Darker and Edgier (though usually just more mature and elegant) than Sweet Loli, but Lighter and Softer than Gothic Loli. Coordinates are usually exquisite and more grownup-looking than in other styles, with A-line skirts, corsets, muted colors and classy fabrics like florals adding to the look. Accessories are kept to a minimum, but the Nice Hat is fairly common, as well as very beautiful, intricate jewelry. Kanon Wakeshima is this.
Although more commonly associated with understated elegance and considered the more subtle styles, Classic Lolita does have an Over-The-Top element, becoming extreme opulence with large bonnets, and overload of accessories like pearls, cameos and roses, and skirts layered over skirts, some of which are at ankle-length.
Brands that specialize in Sweet Lolita include: Innocent World, Mary Magdalene, Victorian Maiden and Juliette et Justine. Check Triple Fortune for examples of opulent OTT Classic Lolita.
Shiro Lolita: Lolita all in white. The hair is usually bleached to match with the white fabrics. Most outfits showcase a wedding theme, complete with kid gloves and veils. Common with Guro Lolita at times due to the typical "broken-bloodsplattered-doll-all-in-white" look.
Kuro Lolita: Lolita all in black. Hair is usually raven-black, and accessories are kept at a minimum. Most outfits showcase a funeral theme. Usually crosses over with Gothic Lolita, which generates a lot of confusion for the average person, considering how stylistically similar the two subsets are already.
Hime Lolita: What happens when Disney Princess meets Lolita fashion with influences from Hime Gyaru. The Hime Lolita style focuses on achieving a very extravagant, high-end, wealthy noble/princess look. Outfits are usually very colorful, embellished with gold thread, regal patterns and plenty of gems and sparkles. Accessories associated with royalty and nobility, such as crowns, tiaras, scepters and robes are used frequently. The style is quite rare, due to the cost involved and the complexity associated with the style. Hizaki of Versailles is well-known for this.
Baby the Stars Shine Bright puts out some extremely luxurious and elegant dresses for this, and Triple Fortune does too.
Wa Lolita: Characterized by an emphasis on traditional Japanese styles. Dresses resemble kimonos with long kimono sleeves and puffy bottoms, and traditional footwear like geta are worn instead of doll shoes. The overall style bears some resemblance to Touhou characters. Generally quite rare, due to the possibility of looking like a hot mess when you wear it being pretty high. Metamorphose occasionally releases Wa Lolita dresses.
Qi Lolita: Similar to Wa Lolita, but uses Chinese clothing and accessories in place of Japanese. The outfit is usually a qipao modified to accommodate a petticoat, and bun-covers as hair accessories. Kasen Ibaraki and Hong Meiling from Touhou showcase this style. Also quite rare and such dresses are more commonly produced by independent online shops on Taobao (Chinese Ebay, which explains a lot)
Guro Lolita: The subset of Lolita that concerned parentshate; it is Bloodier and Gorier than other Lolita styles, and also the darkest, most extreme style of them all. The style follows the basic Lolita silhouette, but focuses on a "broken doll" image and features a whole lot of Gorn, complete with distressed fabrics (white being a favorite color, as it contrasts well with red), torn-up clothes, bandages, messy hair, heavy makeup and fake blood. Slasher film-inspired elements such as fake wounds, slit wrists, bloody weapon props and corpse paint are very popular. The style takes cues from Emo at times, and might come across as being as wangsty, but keep in mind that Guro Loli does NOT promote self-harm in any way. A lot of Guro Lolis base their style off medical themes and zombies. Generally not an everyday style for Lolitas and usually reserved for certain occasions.
Sailor Lolita: The Sailor Lolita look incorporates a nautical or schoolgirl theme, and may include sailor collars, ties, hats, nautical stripes, pleats and such. Outfits tend to start looking like Lolita versions of Japanese school uniforms. Sailor Lolita is actually quite common (albeit seasonal); brands like Angelic Pretty, Baby the Stars Shine Bright, Metamorphose, Innocent World and Victorian Maiden usually release Sailor Lolita collections in the summer.
Casual Lolita: A more toned-down, contemporary version of Lolita fashion, usually worn when Lolitas need a break from too much frills or in their mundane life when they either can't or don't feel like dressing up. The image is stripped down to include nothing more than the basics, with only a few touches of more elaborate Lolita styles. Motifs are kept to a minimum, and designs usually draw inspiration from contemporary styles of clothing with the use of cardigans, hoodies and smaller headbows or hats like berets. Though the aesthetics are simple, it treads a very fine line between casual and Lolita, thus there can be certain issues in pulling it off. In general, the key to remaining Lolita in donning Casual Lolita would be to definitely include the silhouette of the puffy skirt.
Ouji/Boystyle: Sometimes referred to as "kodona", this is the Spear Counterpart of Lolita fashion. The style aims to look like a young anime boy and includes blouses, shirts, puffy shorts, knee-high socks, male anime character or host hairstyles, top hats and leather shoes. . Though primarily targeted for boys, many girls also choose the style. Jyou and Omi of Exist Trace showcase this. Alice and the Pirates is quite handy for frequent releases of this style.
Elegant Gothic Aristocrat: Arguably the darker, more Badass version of Boystyle and Lolita. The style focuses on awesomeness and elegance. Expect to see the various forms of Badass clothing (Badass Cape, Badass Longcoat, Badass Long Robe, etc...) being worn by someone somewhere in the sub-scene. Also expect to see cool headgear being worn. If headgear aren't worn, expect to see '80s Hair and other full-looking hairstyles. The style usually bears a resemblance to Edwardian, classic gangster, or Mafia fashion styles in its least impressive form, and royal fashion in its most extreme. Crosses over with Visual Kei. As an androgynous style, it caters to both men and women, and Aristocrat outfits can be worn by both sexes. Versailles is this. Gackt used to be and still has elements of this. Moi-Meme-Moitie is an example of a brand that regularly has EGA clothes.
Moi-même-Moitié: Mana's fashion label, founded in 1999. Popularized the Elegant Gothic Lolita and Elegant Gothic Aristocrat styles. The label sells clothes, bags, accessories and other merch.
Angelic Pretty: a fashion company created in 1979, and specializing in Sweet Lolita clothing known for their bright, highly-sought after designer printed dresses, and more general cuteness than elegance. Generally accepted to have started OTT Sweet Lolita.
Baby, the Stars Shine Bright: created in 1988, focusing on Sweet Lolita although its general aesthetic of lacy elegance allows some of their dresses to fit into other styles like Classic and Gothic Lolita. Its sister brand Alice and the Pirates was created in 2004 with a darker, more Gothic spin, and produces a lot of clothes for Pirate Lolita.
Baby, the Stars Shine Bright is the brand featured in the Lolita movie, Kamikaze Girls.
h.NAOTO: a fashion designer specializing in Punk and Gothic Lolita. He has designed Lolita outfits for Amy Lee as well as for Gackt, Hangry and Angry, Psycho le Cemu and more.
Media inspired by, makingreferences to, or showcasing Lolita Fashion (although the accuracy of the portrayal of the fashion is debatable):
Anime and Manga
All of the dolls could be seen as different types of lolita in general. Hinaichigo is a Sweet Lolita, Kirakishou is a Classic Lolita (or a slightly more refined Sweet Lolita, take it either way), Shinku is an Aristocrat, and Kanaria is more like a mix of Classic Lolita and Elegant Gothic Aristocrat.
Gothic Metal and Symphonic Metal artists in general dress up in extravagant outfits that serve as a reflection of their fantasy-based themes. Commonly used styles are Elegant Gothic Lolita, Hime Lolita and Classic Lolita for women, and Boystyle/Aristocrat for men.
Usually taken Up to Eleven when such bands are female-fronted or have female vocalists; not only do they dress up in ostentatious attire, but also act like Lolitas and (though not always) take their Lolita personas offstage. Tarja Turunen of Nightwish and Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil are particularly notable. Of special mention is Amy Lee of Evanescence, who brought the style closer to the Western Goth fanbase.
Versailles. Of special mention is their guitarist, Hizaki who is a manwearing a full Rococo-inspired Hime Loli dress.
Some ex-Visual Kei/post-Visual artists have worn Lolita clothing in one form or another to rather epic results, examples include Dir En Grey's Shinya and Blood Stain Child's Ryu.
Victoriandustrial violinist Emilie Autumn drew some ire from the Lolita community a while back by titling a song about sexual abuse suffered as a child "Gothic Lolita". Autumn explained that she was trying to refer to the book, but appreciated Lolita style, and the fuss eventually died down. She now has something of a fanbase in the Lolita community, many of whom dress up for her concerts, though she herself does not wear Lolita.
Lolitas in Japanese video games (and some Western games) are almost as ubiquitous as their Anime counterparts, due to Periphery Demographic appeal.
Pokémon has a few characters (and some Mons) showcasing Lolita design elements. One of the most recognizable lolis in the series is Sinnoh Champion Shirona (Cynthia in the English releases). Another one is Mai (Marley), one of five trainers the player can team up with in the Gen. IV games. The Gothitelle evolutionary family from Gen. V showcases the Gothic Lolita style.
A new trainer class called "Fairy Tale Girl" appeared in Generation VI, coinciding with the introduction of the Fairy type and exclusively specializing in said type, which dresses in Sweet Lolita style.
In fighting games, it has become increasingly common for cute bruisers to be depicted as wearing some form of Lolita clothing, often as a way to highlight their Badass Adorable tendencies.
Kamikaze Girls - the main character Momoko. Notably a piece of work that is actually dedicated to the style and one that portrays it completely accurately (though a version of Lolita in 2004 that is rather outdated compared to Lolita today,) even getting Lolita brand Baby the Stars Shine Bright to supply the clothes.
The Lolita subculture, as well as the people associated with it, provide or have provided examples of the following tropes:
Always Female: Lolita fashion is primarily targeted at a female youth subculture. In recent years, however, males are starting to get into it as well, due to the increasing popularity of Lolita styles in the Japanese music scene (in particular, Visual Kei) as well as in various Anime series.
Ambiguous Gender: Mana of Malice Mizer, the Trope Maker and Trope Namer for Elegant Gothic Lolita, and Hizaki of Versailles fit this trope to a T. Also happens a lot in the Boystyle scene, due to the high number of female-to-male crossdressers in the scene, but maintaining a highly androgynous appearance is the hallmark of the Aristocrat style, where achieving an elegant but genderless appearance is generally observed.
Anime Hair: Developed alongside Anime and Visual Kei. Currently, Sweet Lolita hairstyles tend to lean more towards Magical Girl styles, while darker Lolita styles tend to be more subdued. Hime Lolita with Hime Gyaru influences tend to require a curled, bouffant hairstyle. Aristocrat hairstyles lean more towards '80s Hair and other "big" hairstyles, but not always.
Badass clothing: Has become the norm for the Ero, Gothic, Guro, Kote and Punk styles. The Elegant Gothic Aristocrat style is built on this.
Berserk Button: REPLICA vs. BRAND. Bringing this up on any Lolita fashion forum is guaranteed to cause trouble and drama, with neither sides sparing words and generally being very, very vicious. Both sides, ironically, claim that the opposition cares too much about labels.
Broken Base: The whole scene tends to be this, considering the large and ever-increasing number of those who adhere to specific sub-sets, and also depending on how seriously certain individuals take dressing in Lolita.
Classy Cravat: Very popular in the Gothic, Classic and Aristocrat scenes.
Cleavage Window: A common element in some more mature designs such as in Classic, Gothic and Hime, though it is usually nothing more than decolletage in adhering to Lolita's standards of modesty. More common in Ero Lolita outfits, for obvious reasons.
Coat Cape: Sometimes seen in Boystyle, especially designs with more Punk or costume-y influences
Coat, Hat, Mask: A fairly common combination in the Aristocrat style, and adds to the dark, mysterious look.
Cool Crown: Often seen in Hime Lolita and is a recurring motif in the fashion.
Cool Shades: Rarely used, but not unheard of, especially with Lolitas who have Visual Kei leanings or those trying to look casual.
Crack is Cheaper: Lolita is widely known for its overall high quality, expensive fabrics and intricate construction, regardless of brand and/or style. New outfits easily cost $300USD minimum, possibly more depending on the particular brand and popularity. Add that the matching accessories (and there are a lot) and it's little wonder that the first piece advice given to beginners is to save as much as possible. Even used Lolita clothes (from any brand and style) don't sell for less than $100USD. It's possible to acquire a wardrobe on a budget, and in fact many within the fashion do just that, but it requires:
A lot of experience (a understanding of what makes a Lolita outfit and knowing good quality fabrics and construction means one could find Lolita just about anywhere).
Skill (handmade outfits is a hallmark of Lolita fashion).
Patience (to wait for a certain piece to go on sale or sold secondhand).
Compromise (buying a much less expensive dress from an independent brand that is not of bad quality, but quality-wise will usually fall short of the quality of brand dresses.)
Darker and Edgier: Kuro Lolita, being a darker version of Classic. Gothic Lolita is even darker than Kuro, and Guro is arguably the most extreme of the styles, being more explicit and more disturbing. Punk Lolita is seen similarly as well.
Spear Counterpart: Boystyle, a sub-set of Lolita where girls dress up as prettyboys with puffy pants. Aristocrat, while an androgynous style, is also considered as this.
Dress Code: The basic requirements for Lolita are as follows: a puffy Pimped-Out Dress, frills, ribbons, a general look of modesty, elegance and cuteness, and stylish accessories. Anything more is fine (in fact, Lolitas are actively seeking out more and are trying to outdo each other), but anything less would not be considered Lolita under normal circumstances. Punk Lolita averts this, since it loosely adheres to the formula, with only the silhouette as the basic requirement.
No Dress Code: Though the subculture does allow personal freedom and exploration when it comes to creating personal styles.
Difficult but Awesome: Arguably so. Lolita is infamous for the extreme difficulty of pulling the look off (considering that one must adhere to a specific set of dress rules but said rules tend to be ill-defined) but when done properly and creatively, the end result is nothing short of awesome.
Dude Looks Like a Lady: More common than it seems in the subculture. Justified by the fact that many important personalities in the Lolita subculture are feminine-looking men.
Emo Teen: Possible aesthetic choices for Gothic Lolita and Guro Lolita.
Fairytale Wedding Dress: Any of the styles, with Shiro Lolita, Hime Lolita and to a lesser extent, Gothic Lolita, fitting this trope to a T.
Fandom Berserk Button: Cosplay to some extent, as Lolitas feel that it cheapens their dedication to wearing the fashion. Mentioning Meido or associating it with the scene would incite some negative reactions as well. Pure Goth or Emo aesthetics are considered in bad taste within the community. But the worst is associating it with the sexual connotations thanks to its shared name with the infamous novel and its subject matter, to the point where bringing it up even once in Lolita discussions or merely mentioning it around a Loli will cause all sorts of reactions, ranging from disgust to rage to viewing you as a Lolicon or another Troll, or at least another Face Palm.
Fanservice: Generally averted and looked down upon in the subculture, as Lolita seeks to de-sexualize females and members of the subculture try to avoid and erase any connotations or implications caused by misassociation with the abovementioned novel. Subverted in the Ero Lolita scene, though, as it emphasizes the Hotter and Sexier side of the subculture, while maintaining the modesty the scene tries to promote.
Frilly Upgrade: Happens rather frequently as members of the subculture delve deeper and discover more styles.
It actually makes sense to upgrade one's wardrobe as one discovers more styles, and, according to many Lolitas, may actually be helpful in getting used to the subculture and its demands. Given the cost of outfits and difficulty of acquiring them, many newbies to the subculture start off by making/buying at least one outfit (preferably a simple one, to keep costs down) and just stock up on inexpensive but decent accessories over time (as an expansion pack of sorts) while saving up cash for higher-end outfits and accessories until they can make/purchase their desired coordinate set. The same process applies to Lolis who wish to change styles.
This is basically what happens in Lolita Cosplay, when Lolitas lolita-fy the clothes of fictional characters. Add lace, ruffles, femininity, and you're set!
The same can be said for the fashion in general. Most styles are based off classic European designs, and some Lolita models are European, but the style is more popular in Japan than anywhere else. Ditto for Japanese Lolita designs that become popular elsewhere.
Giant Poofy Sleeves: Ubiquitous in almost all styles, and extremely common in all styles with the notable exception of Ero Lolita and Aristocrat.
Gorn: The defining feature of Guro Lolita. Can be very subtle and tame to so extreme that wearers of Guro Lolita tend to look like female Black Metal artists.
Graceful Ladies Like Purple: Lavender is common in sweet lolita, and other shades of purple like plum are featured (although somewhat uncommon) in other styles as well.
Hair Decorations: Lolita fashion calls for elegant and cute hairpieces like bows, corsages and lacy headdresses.
Hell-Bent for Leather: Punk Lolita frequently make uses of leather accessories, though it isn't a requirement. Ero Lolita have made this a defining feature. with some designs having leather accessories all over the place.
High Collar of Doom: Some Aristocrat styles have this. High collars in general are common in Lolita alongside the Peter-pan collar.
Man in a Kilt: Uncommon, but they do exist in the subculture, especially in the subculture's fringes. It is helped by the fact that many Visual Kei bands and artists have worn Lolita outfits and flaunted them frequently in live shows and music videos.
Meido: Invoked in so many styles that outsiders tend to associate this trope with the subculture.
The Merch: A very large part of the Lolita experience. One cannot be a part of the subculture without some form of Lolita clothing. Thankfully, the market for Lolita clothing is HUGE, though there can simply be too many clothing lines to choose from especially with the rise in independent lolita brands.
Nausea Fuel / Nightmare Fuel: Guro Lolita. The idea of cute Victorian doll-like girls havingslit wrists and drenched in their own blood would simply be sickening enough to incite outrage among those outside the subculture.
Nice Hat: A common fashion accessory associated with the more sophisticated styles. Very popular in the Aristocrat, Boystyle, and Classic Lolita scenes, to the point that it's as common as showing hair, especially for members of the subculture who have day jobs, are keeping a low profile, are wearing them for some other reason, or simply showing off.
Nice Shoes: An essential part of all Lolita styles.
One Size Fits All: Many clothing lines make clothes in one size that can make it difficult for larger girls to fit into.
Pink Means Feminine: One of the most common colors in the fashion, especially Sweet Lolita, where it gets overused.
Pimped Out Cape and Pimped-Out Dress: For men and women, respectively, this has become a requirement. Use was pioneered by Gackt and Mana of Malice Mizer, respectively, and is now so ubiquitous that one cannot be called a part of the subculture if he/she doesn't wear these.
Serious Business: The common stereotype of Lolis holding tea parties in heavily decorated rooms while listening to Classical Music (or any music with "classical" elements) doesn't sound too exotic at all; in fact, some lolis follow what is called a "Lolita lifestyle" where anything that adopts a similar aesthetic to Lolita (elegance and antiquity) is included in their lifestyle.
The lifestyle itself and the stereotype are exaggerated — some followers of the lifestyle go to extremes, lolifying most, if not all, aspects of their lifestyle to the point where it is nearly impossible to determine any dividing line between re-enactment/performance and actual lifestyle. Some just wear the clothes occasionally.
She's Got Legs/He's Got Legs Usually seen in Boystyle and Ero Lolita, respectively. Though the fashion's ideals of modesty usually means that most Lolitas will be wearing tights or socks to cover their legs.
Too Many Belts: Many styles. Special mention goes to Pirate Lolita for associating this trope with the style. Ero Lolis make use of useless garter belts. Aristocrats often make use of seemingly useless belts as well.
Useless Accessory: Plenty, including: anklets, bags, belts (see above), bonnets, bracelets, feathers, hats, hoods, lace, ribbons, scarves, etc. that occasionally serve no other purpose aside from being worn alongside a Pimped-Out Dress. The OTT versions of the various styles, as well as Kote Lolita, have made these a defining feature.