Archive for online culture

Are We Asking The Right Questions?

As Bodyline’s popularity continues to rise in the lolita community, so do the debates over its validity in the community turn increasingly more heated. While the general idea of the argument–brand versus non-brand–is essentially the same debate that has plagued lolitas for the past decade, it does give rise to several new questions that the community as a whole must ask ourselves.

Are Replicas Okay? Does the price tag matter? Do you care where your clothes come from? Do you care whether they were factory produced or sewn by hand? Do you care about whether your clothes were produced in a sweatshop or by happy, well-paid employees?

What concerns me is that this argument is almost always eclipsed by the first question. Why do we talk about the moral responsibility of a buyer to purchase the original Angelic Pretty Fruits Parlour print rather than the Bodyline knockoff, when what we should be discussing is whether or not the Bodyline Fruits Parlour skirt was produced by child labour? Why does a person who denounces Bodyline always cite “replicas” as a reason not to support it before they cite “sweatshops”? Why are pretty designers like Maki and Asuka more likely to be defended than the faceless factory employees who may be working in poor conditions? Why is the fact that Bodyline began as a sex shop more often discussed than the fact that they charge $33 for a full dress–a fraction of what any seamstress could charge and make a living wage from?

I don’t claim to be an expert on labour practices around the world. I don’t claim that the t-shirt I am wearing complies with fair trade standards, or that I have never purchased from Bodyline myself. I cannot even claim that I have any legitimate perspective on this issue.

What I do know is that, to our knowledge, the majority of lolita brand clothing is produced in Japan. And knowing this, I have always been a little proud to support it. The knowledge that the clothes are made with love, by people who are doing what they want to be doing, was one of the many things that set my lolita clothing apart from my non-lolita wardrobe. I want to believe that my precious garments were not tarnished by unsavory origins. I want to believe that nobody was harmed in the making of my outfit.

Maybe we will never have all the answers on what goes into our clothes. But I would like to see us at least asking the right questions.


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The Rule Book

Lolitas have a reputation for being one of the most elitist, rule-bound subcultures on the internet, and this reputation is perhaps not entirely undeserved. If you visit any lolita website or community, what are you likely to see? Extensive categories and sub-categories of styles. Endless guidelines about everything from skirt length to lace quality to the thickness of your shoe heels. Advice over how to wear your hair, how to do your makeup, and whether to tuck in your shirt. For the uninitiated, the world of lolita is a dizzying change from hyper-casual mainstream fashion.

What any seasoned lolita will tell you, though, is that the longer you are in the fashion, the more likely you are to bend, break, relax, and challenge those rules which we so greatly pride ourselves upon. You become less concerned about categories: after all, lolita is lolita, even if an outfit may be punk or classic depending on who you ask. You are less afraid to introduce elements into your outfits that are unexpected. You are less afraid to act “un-loli.”

I frequent a number of lolita communities, and the tone of those communities is dramatically different depending on the “age” of the majority of members (that is, how long they have been lolitas). Almost without fail, the communities in which the members are newer will be the most stringent, rule-bound communities there are. They are the ones who are most concerned about whether their hair is lolita. They are the ones who worry about whether their outfit can be classified as sweet or shiro.

I often see newbies warning each other over “purists” possibly attacking them for their ideas about lolita. What is funny is that the things they often warn about are those very things which most experienced lolitas are less concerned about. Crazy hair styles. Unusual shoe choices. Ironically, they worry about older members condemning them for breaking rules, when they are the ones who are far more likely to condemn each other for breaking those rules.

The reason for this is easy to see, of course. Newbies are still finding their way in this fashion. They are still grasping new concepts, still working out what looks good and what is better avoided. For a newbie, the easiest possible way to navigate lolita fashion is by following those rules to the letter. That is, after all, why so many sites go to such great lengths to set out as many guidelines as possible: it is simply the best way to explain the fashion.

Lolita will never be as relaxed as most other subcultures. There is simply no way to construct a lolita outfit without navigating a specific set of requirements such as skirt shape and length. But obsessive? Rule-bound? Elitist? Maybe those stories about us are just a wee bit exaggerated.

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Changing Tides

Various events have been preventing me from making a lot of updates to this blog recently, and for that I apologize. The good news is, one of those big events is that I have moved in with two of my very good friends–friends who are both lolitas.

Yes, I have infiltrated their natural habitat, all Steve Irwin-style, so that I may better understand the lolita’s elusive habits. Long has the academic community debated over such questions as, “What does a lolita eat?” “How does a lolita attract her mate?” “What are a lolita’s nesting habits?” and “How does she make her hair do that?” I feel that this is a most thrilling opportunity to find the answers to these questions, and report them to you, the reader.

On that note, this blog began primarily as a place to more formally discuss my thoughts and opinions, but I wonder whether it’s missing a more personal element. Perhaps I should be posting more about my regular lolita excursions, my outfits, my hair woes, and things of that sort. I don’t want to bore anyone with my mundane life, but I do think this blog might benefit from being able to put a face to my name. Any thoughts on what you would like to see here?

And just so this won’t be a text-only post, let’s talk about Polyvore. In case you have not yet discovered this piece of procrastinating fodder, Polyvore is a site that allows you to make collages from pictures you find around the internet. Specifically, it is intended to create outfit collages from store stock photos. This makes it, needless to say, lolita coordinate heaven.

The upside of Polyvore is that it does most of the work for you. With a few clicks, you can copy (or “clip”) the item photo, and with a simple drag and drop, you can place it in your new collage (called a “set”). If the photo has a neutral background, Polyvore can even delete the background color, allowing your item to float free. You can layer and arrange things however you like, something people like to take advantage of.

The downsides of Polyvore are the clipping limitations and the frustrations of poor stock photos. Some sites are blocked from clipping (such as the Jesus Diamante site, oddly enough). Polyvore also does not allow you to clip from image hosting sites such as Flickr, Photobucket, or Tinypic. As such, you may have the perfect item for your coordinate, but no way of getting it into the clipper. As well, some brands are notorious for their lackluster stock photos, which are small, blurry, and set on an overly-busy background. Sometimes, I find that my set looks better with a poorer item using a better stock photo, than an amazing item with a poor photo.

Still, one of my favorite aspects of Polyvore is the community part. There are various lolita-related groups to be found, including Sweet and Gothic, Pour Lolita, Gothic, Victorian, and Lolita, and my personal favorite, The Lolita Fashion 50, a group that challenges you to create a coordinate for each of 50 prompts. In addition to the communities, people can comment on sets and favorite them. The favorite system works as a sort of rating system on communities, allowing “popular” sets to rise to the top of the list.

My own sets can be found on my profile, but here is one of my personal favorites.

LF50: 9. Pirate
LF50: 9. Pirate by Ellorgast featuring All Saints accessories


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Beneath the Frills

Kamikaze Girls

Originally uploaded by Loving Bryan Adams

There is a reason why I don’t end up writing a lot of lifestyle articles on this blog. I’m not one of those people who thinks that “lifestyle” is a dirty word in the lolita world, but I do feel that the concept is somehow overblown. I guess you could say I sit somewhere in the middle of the lifestyle debate. After all, any lolita who claims not to be somehow changed by their fashion–whether it’s in how they act, in their interests, or simply their makeup and hair care habits–probably wasn’t all that devoted in the first place. You would not be here if something about this fashion did not get under your skin.

On the other hand, I think it would be a shame to completely form one’s own identity around a single interest. Isn’t that the very definition of “otaku” in the original, derogatory sense? Why limit yourself so much that you must eat, sleep, and breathe lolita when there are so many other wonderful things in the world?

And what is a lifestyle lolita, anyway? I have seen lots of interesting articles related to the topic, but never a firm definition of “a lolita lifestyle means this.” In debates, I have often seen lifestyle lolitas claim that the anti-lifestylers have the wrong idea about things, but my requests for an explanation were never answered by any.

The result is that I often hear mixed messages. Should all lolitas listen to classical music or to J-rock (and does this mean electric instruments are only okay if the lyrics are Japanese)? Should lolitas never work, or should they be completely independent? Should she act like a little girl or like a demure young lady? Should she be confident or helpless? Should she sew her own clothes or be a complete consumer?

And who decides these things, other than a handful of bloggers who are every bit as human as we are, who buy the same brand and follow the same trends? Novala Takemoto? I often see lifestylers quote Novala to me, but have they already forgotten that his character Momoko was anything but a role model? Momoko begins the story as selfish, shallow, and bitchy. Her personal lolita “rules” are over-the-top and ridiculous–such as refusing to work or eat anything other than sweets. Her growth as a character throughout the book and movie is marked by a relaxing of her rules as she learns to value friendship over her ideal image of herself. And in the end, it is not Momoko who becomes a model for Baby the Stars Shine Bright, but crude, violent yankee Ichiko.

But in their own personal lives, people can and should do what they want. If following a lolita lifestyle, however you define it, makes you a better, more fulfilled person, then that can only be a good thing.

I do, however, feel that there is a more insidious consequence of pushing lolita as a lifestyle. The moment you begin to say “lolita is about the person, not about the clothes,” you are opening up a Pandora’s Box of questions about who this person is meant to be. Not only how she should act, but what about everything else about her as a person? What race is she? How tall and how thin? What sort of hair must she have? Must she be rich, educated, and privileged? Must she be a (biological) female and heterosexual (or asexual)? Must she have perfect skin, lacking in glasses and visible disabilities, with the voice of an angel and the manners of a saint?

The fact is, the vast majority of lolitas agree that people of all shapes and sizes and colors are worthy of their frills. And in the end, isn’t it better to be welcoming than exclusive, to accept people no matter who or what they are, or where they come from? This may be a solitary fashion, but it’s a community, too, and I would pick an interesting, diverse one over a boring, clonelike one any day.

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Our Lady of Preteens

lolita from Agnes B.

Originally uploaded by alex itin

When I started this blog, I kind of went in with the misguided hope that only those with a knowledge of and interest in lolita fashion would find their way here. Sure, there would be some foreigners casually wandering into our safe fairy tale castle made out of sugar and lace, but they would be harmless beings who quickly found the door when they realized their mistake.

I don’t cater to the uninitiated here. You may notice that I lack the usual disclaimers proclaiming “lolita is not a fetish,” “lolita is not cosplay,” and “lolita has nothing to do with the Nabokov novel by the same name” (although that last point is debatable and very intelligently explored by Yumemiru). After five years in the fashion, it seems silly to still tag this disclaimer onto everything I do. I have no interest in educating the masses.

And then a few days ago, as I was casually skimming my blog stats, I came across a recent search engine term used to find this blog. It went like this: “preteen little nymphets.”

Of course I’m not naive enough to be unaware of people in the world who may be Googling sexually precocious preteens, but the idea of being associated with such gives me the sudden pressing urge to vomit on my shoes. Imagine: my writings, my thoughts, my personal emotions on a page, being read by some creepy pedophile who unintentionally found his way here thanks to some unfortunate wording, when in fact he was looking to get his jollies.

I have had people tell me, “well if you don’t want people to think that, you should have called yourselves something else!”

“But,” I insist back, “it was named by a bunch of Japanese teenagers in the 1980s who probably had no idea what they were talking about. It’s not my fault!” Well, but is it?

Alright, so one of my favorite dorky pleasures is linguistics, so lets take a look at this word objectively as it is used by western lolitas. It is true that western lolitas inherited this name from their Japanese aunties in the lolita world. But it is also true that there are two alternative terms that I have seen used for the fashion, both of which have been employed by western lolitas but are currently shunned by the community at large.

EGL – Ah, EGL. Remember the days when we all thought that this was the technically correct, full name for lolita? And then some smart people were swift to correct us that, in fact, Mana came up with “Elegant Gothic Lolita” to describe only his own line, and that it is simply a derivative term for the much older and more widely-used word “lolita.” True, the acronym involved “lolita” in it, but wasn’t it so convenient to not have to say that part out loud? But there are a few reasons why, even with this convenience, lolitas prefer not to use it. First, it is inaccurate. Lolitas are sticklers for accuracy, and to have their very name be imprecise is simply unacceptable. Second, it has connotations that every lolita is both gothic and elegant, when in fact 80% of lolitas would rather wear pink and baby blue than black. Last of all, it means pretending that all lolitas follow Mana. Non-Mana fans take issue with this, if only to stamp out excessive instances of whiteface.

Gosurori – Ah, this is a fun one. “Gosurori” is a romaji approximation of how the Japanese say and write “goth loli,” or gothic lolita. True, lolita is once again in the title, but how could anybody guess that when you mangle the word with a fake Japanese accent? In addition to that whole “saying we’re all gothic” thing mentioned above, “gosurori” sounds frighteningly weeaboo. If there is one thing lolitas as a whole hate, it is being accused of being a weeaboo. Better to be on nymphet searches than a weeaboo.

So then, we can actually say that, through rejection of the alternatives, the English lolita community did actually choose their name. That doesn’t mean that we can go and choose a different name now, because lolita is entrenched in the language–it is used in the Japanese source material we depend on, as well as our own “official” publications. But more importantly, it is used by the ten thousand or so members of EGL on LiveJournal, as well as the many thousands more who are not part of that community.

So we’re stuck with it–does that mean we have to like it? Maybe not. But maybe we don’t have to be ashamed of it, either. The Yumemiru discussion about the relationship between the fashion and the book “Lolita” makes an excellent argument about the character Dolores being an ordinary girl–not a seductress, as she is portrayed by contemporary media. And in fact, it has been suggested elsewhere that if people are getting the wrong associations from the name due to such misinformation, then why aren’t we talking about the need for society to change its perception, instead of about whether to change the name?

Why is a “Lolita” considered a nymphet, when the character Lolita was a sexually innocent victim? Why, indeed, is there a “lolita complex” and no “humbert complex?” Many girls see lolita fashion as an act of reclaiming femininity. Maybe, while we’re at it, we should reclaim the name lolita for ourselves. Instead of being ashamed of our name, why not celebrate it?

Lolita comes from the name Dolores, which is short for “La Virgen María de los Dolores”, or “Virgin Mary of Sorrows.” This is one of the titles granted to the Virgin Mary (another being the Latin “Mater Dolorosa,” or Mother of Sorrows), referring to the seven sorrows in her life. Whether you subscribe to a Christian faith or not, she is an undeniable symbol of grace and compassion. As the Mother of Sorrows, she is represented with seven swords piercing her heart–an iconic symbol of strength.

This is quite appropriate for lolita fashion, which aims to be nonsexual in appearance. Though perhaps “virginal” is a little too strong a word, there is a strong feeling that lolita should be, in some way, pure. Additionally, lolita is a source of strength–sometimes, it is simply a source of confidence (if only the confidence you need to walk down the street in those frills). Other times, it can be the thing you draw on just to get through your day.

This would not be the first time that lolita adopts a religious symbol for itself, either. La Virgen María de los Dolores is right at home among Moitie’s crosses, Baby’s stained glass print, and the brand name Mary Magdalene, not to mention that unfortunate Juliette et Justine dress depicting Jesus on the cross.

Maybe the symbol doesn’t stretch too far. But for myself, I’m pretty happy to call myself a mini-Our Lady of Sorrows.

And, Mr. Creepy Pedophile with a thing for preteens, I see no reason why I should adjust who I am for you.

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Fairy Tale Prince

old photo needed for sale again

Originally uploaded by pink_emmie_bat

I have noticed a curious thing in the boystyle world.

It regards girls who wish to be princes.

But not just any prince. They want to be your prince, or her prince or somebody’s prince. They want to be a prince who finds the princess.

I have become increasingly aware of girls who wish that they had a lolita for whom they could be a prince. Or girls who confess to other lolitas that they would like to be their prince. Or girls who would dress boystyle, if only they had a lolita to link arms with. Many of these girls go on to emphasize that they are not interested in girls sexually.

Is this a curious inversion? Lolita is often portrayed as a style for the self. Lolitas dress to please themselves, even at the expense of potential mates. Yet, if these common sentiments are to be believed, boystyles like kodona, oujisama, and aristocrat are the opposite. They are not worth doing if they are not done with or for another person.

Or is this more symptomatic of the common desire to connect with other lolitas? To be part of a matched set? To be special to another person? Is it more romantic to imagine the perfect pair to be the heterosexual prince/princess couple rather than the sisterly princess/princess one?

Or is it simply because boystyle is commonly seen as less exciting than lolita, and it is less fun to do it without somebody to balance out the boyishness with some serious frillage?  If that were so, why is it girls who have never worn boystyle and/or have never met other lolitas who tend to express these desires?

Lolitas who long for an oujisama at their side are often criticized for treating boys as their accessories. So what are we to say about the girls who wish to be accessories?

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On the Topic of Meetups

Meetups are an interesting part of the lolita world. Here is an occasion where a bunch of strangers who are united by a primarily online subculture come together to celebrate their united frilliness.

It can be a recipe for fun, or for disaster.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I met some of the most amazing people through lolita. I am proud to call some of these girls my best friends. But the fact that we became such good friends is, shall we say, a little bit incidental.

A standard lolita meetup can consist of any number of activities, from the expected tea parties to the unexpected trips to Denny’s. It can be made up of any number of people. Very often, at least a few of these people are strangers. The final, and perhaps most important aspect of this activity, are the pictures. A meetup is not a meetup if photos are not taken and, later, posted.

The part about taking pictures has a fascinating impact on the perception of meetups. First, these are people who likely met through the internet. They enjoy their time off the internet, in the real live world, for a few hours. They then post photos of this real event, thus folding it back into the scheme of the online community. When these photos are posted, they become part of the overall culture of the online lolita scene. People who were not even there are then engaged by being able to see the photos, comment on them, and discuss the outfits and the activities that took place. They may be judged by the community, and whether their photos are a valid contribution. The photos, then, are the only link between the online lolita community and the activities of lolitas offline.

There is an often-overlooked result of these meetup photos, and that is how it makes lolitas–especially those lolitas who have never been to a meetup themselves–view meetups. The meetup is often built up as the second best experience a person can have as a lolita (the first being either living or simply shopping in Japan). When they see these magazine-quality pictures of smiling girls in beautiful dresses, many cannot help but imagine a meetup as some utopic haven of ruffles and bows, a place where everybody is beautiful and kind, a place where one’s future BFF is waiting with her delicate breath held, twirling a ringlet curl around her manicured fingers while she stands on tiptoe in her Rocking Horse shoes.

That would be quite pleasant, actually.

In reality, of course, lolitas are just people. And quite often, I have found, they can be as shy and awkward as any young girl would be when meeting several strangers from the internet for the first time. This is the problem: that lolitas go to meetups expecting it to be like coming home to the best friends they never had, but instead they get stilted conversation and some clumsy attempts at bonding. And why should it be any different? When you walk into a classroom, or a new job, or any new social situation for the first time, do you ever feel anything other than uncomfortable?

I believe that this is why people are often disappointed by their first meetups. It never turns out to be what was expected, but of course, can you be sure that what they expected was reality? Can a bunch of girls really bond over nothing more than frilly skirts, or do they need a little bit more to connect? And can that connection be expected to take place in a large group in the span of a few hours?

But you can bet that when the photos for that meetup are posted, every girl will be smiling.

(Disclaimer: I know that not every meetup involves photos, not every meetup involves strangers, not every first experience was a bad one, etc. etc. etc. We could sit here all day looking at exceptions.)

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