Photos: "The Cartoonish Femininity of Lolita Fashion"


Would I be taken less seriously if I showed up for work dressed like one of the Village People? Well… maybe not if I was a cop or a construction worker. But in the white-collar world we reserve the costumes for Halloween.

Whether Hayward could be taken seriously in goth-loli attire depends very much on where she is. As an artist, it’s fine - maybe not so much if she was a trial lawyer.


My daughter has gotten into the Con thing and last year we went to an anime themed one. I had seen these Lolita costumes before and pictures of them, but the Con it was the first time to talk to some of the people wearing them. I actually think it’s a very cool look - it’s interesting that it seems hypersexualized in photographs but then when you meet people at the Cons they just seem to be having fun. I had the same reaction to the women who wore some of the skimpier outfits. They didn’t seem to be so much about flaunting their bodies as just enjoying dressing up like everyone else.


I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Japan and been in situations where Gothic-lolita is entirely encouraged (Harajuku on a Sunday afternoon) and entirely inappropriate (Monday morning economics class, much to the chagrin of the American exchange student who couldn’t understand why everyone was looking at her).

I’m inclined to agree with Boundegar above; it’s not necessarily the femininity of the clothing in question as much as the overt sexualization of any clothes in a formal situation that is frowned upon. If I turned up to a business meeting dressed in anything more masculine (or indeed, feminine) than business casual it would be frowned upon; the same goes for overtly feminine clothing worn by women. What we generally consider to be formal clothing tends to be gender-neutral; the fact that this is considered “masculine” speaks more about the neutrality of male clothing than any gender-specific norm.

(I’m going to get shouted at for perpetuating heteropatriarchal norms in 5…4…3…2…)

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So much cosplay at anime cons is kind of like this. Anime itself can be crazy sexualized (thanks in no small part to Japan’s rather backwards cultural norms about gender roles), but the women I’ve known who have cosplayed definitely feel like they’re in control of the situation. I wonder if part of it is the phenomenon of empowering sexuality…

I think it’s an interesting conversation to have. A suit-n-tie is crazy masculine, but is pretty standard for most interviewees I’ve seen these days. At work, most of my female co-workers just wear pants because it’s comfortable (and one of them has pink hair, so she’s not shy about proclaiming her femininity).

The broader thing is about social norms – why is it that “business casual” is acceptable, but stuff like this isn’t? The “costumes” we allow as a culture are pretty arbitrary – what might it take to change them?

I’ve heard people give career advice along the lines of “you should dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” I guess that assumes you don’t work in an office environment that frowns upon space suits and/or people who’ve secretly aspired to porno.


I dunno about sexualized - more like hyper-gendered. Is that a word? But the frilly dress is meant to say virginal purity, not whore of Babylon - that’s a different kind of goth altogether.

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yes there is probably a better word for it but in the Madonna/Whore equation it’s the Madonna side

Just adding to this, and I am totally becoming an old fart, but I don’t think young people know how to dress appropriately sometimes. I think we as a whole have gotten much more casual in our dress, but it seems some people forget there are times to dress much more formal.

On the occasion I make it to church, everyone is dressed way down from 30 years ago. Nice jeans and button down shirt is considered dressing up. I see kids though in basically athletic dress.

When I was recently in my unemployment rut I went to every interview in my suit. Back in the day you always went to an interview in a suit. Nothing super fancy, just a well fitting black Kenneth Cole. Even though I am in a creative field, I took my dad’s advice and cut my long hair, “In case you get that one guy who doesn’t like long hair on men.” While I am one notch above total slob in every day dress (jeans and a tshirt with something geek related), I clean up well. I had several comments from interviewers about me being dressed nice, and a couple who specifically thanked me for showing up in a suit. “What, people don’t wear suits to interviews anymore?” “You’d be surprised.”


White collar “suit and tie” fashion affectations, particularly ties, are far from gender neutral. They may not emphasize secondary sexual characteristics, but everyone recognizes the association with gender norms.


If the people who are into this kind of thing refer to it as “Lolita Fashion” then sexuality is clearly one aspect of it. Nabokov’s novel wasn’t infamous for its depiction of road trips.

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With the title of the article, and some of the accompanying text, it seems like the author is still struggling to get over the initial negative judgement of this fashion and the people who take part in it. Which is a little sad.

We’re all so keen on difference and individual expression, so long as people are different in the correct and proscribed manner.

Nor for its hot, steamy sex… much to the surprise of people who have never read Nabokov.


[quote=“Mister44, post:9, topic:51129, full:true”]
On the occasion I make it to church, everyone is dressed way down from 30 years ago. Nice jeans and button down shirt is considered dressing up. I see kids though in basically athletic dress.[/quote]

This has been going on for centuries. To you, a tuxedo is probably dressy attire, but historically the tux was more like a tee-shirt or pajamas being worn outside the home, eliciting the same reactions as yours to Youth Of Today. A tuxedo is probably considered formal-wear by most people today, though even a generation ago was much more clearly semi-formal. Meanwhile today, semi-formal might now mean “wear a suit” (depending on where you are). Even the most formal attire a man can wear today (eg white tie / tailsuit) is yesterdays “nice jeans and button down shirt”, as men started casually wearing their comfy country riding coats in the city, instead of “proper” attire.

Historically speaking, fashions may be cyclical, but comfort wins and wins and keeps winning :smile:

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This is precisely the difference between the terms “sexual” and “sexualized”. The former suggests that a person has an intrinsic component of sex, that it is integral to them. The latter implies that a person is some neutral, naturally non-sexual thing which is somehow made sexual by outsiders for its own purposes. So when prudes and moral-outrage campaigners complain about “sexualization” I like to point out that they are perpetuating the very paradigm of abuse they are complaining about. The sex isn’t natural, people have no agency, and eventually it “just happens”. I think people, and kids particularly, have a healthier outlook and make better decisions if the recognize that their life is partly sexual and that they most directly experience the pleasure and responsibility of it.

Having said all of that, I agree that cosplay and lolita fashion tend to be more about play and being comfortable as one self and playing with self image.

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“I can’t see a thing in this helmet!”

It’s all a pretty funny echo chamber IMO: bands reacting to comics and art, comics and art responding in kind, people reacting to bands, bands popularising the look elsewhere (ala Stefani’s Harajuku Girls) and it all feeding into itself again and again.

I don’t think the kind of lolita subculture that exists in Japan is anything like the subjects of these photos (thought they pretty convincingly pull off the look) because people in Japan live the lifestyle. The kids at Harajuku are sort of an anomaly that feeds and evolves the subculture in that they’re a very obvious, highly photographed example of it but probably not entirely representative of the gothic lolita subculture as a whole as I’ve been told by various people during my time there that typically the kids at Harajuku are actually kids - high school kids that dress up as something to do with friends on the weekends. When they get out of high school they may still continue to dress in the same way, but they’re not likely to be hanging out at Harajuku on the weekends if they do, they’d be living their lives in the way any of us would, but just in gothic lolita fashion while they do it. It’s not a costume: it’s their clothing.

I had a student who became my friend and she was so entirely immersed in the sub culture that she’d come to lessons in the middle of Tokyo’s sweltering summer, wearing the most epically complicated, lace covered dresses. In lessons I’d ask her about the subculture and she’d frequently tell me about parties she’d been to on the weekend. I eventually went to one and it was pretty awesome:

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People don’t merely “recognize” associations, as if these come from some mysterious outside place. If everyone is recognizing these associations, who is making them in the first place? It seems statistically improbable on several levels. Along with the notion that people were socialized into and agree upon gender norms at all. And I also strongly suspect that you are reading this in my voice.