Decline Designs

Lolitas, my closet, and swaps!

October 18th, 2008 by Michelle

I stumbled across this letter to Jezebel (I’m guessing they published something on the lolita subculture at some point before the letter) and found it really interesting, you can find the original post here.

Hey Dodai,

I’m the girl on the left of the picture. Your post was very thoughtful and well-written. Thanks for that; very few intelligent pieces on Lolita fashion exist, and as such, I felt the need to respond to the question you posed, and to the commentors below.

Lolita culture in the US is most definitely feminist. I would not be part of it if it were regressive. Lolita is incredibly female-positive in that it takes these traditionally female signifiers like lace and bows and makes them ultra-visible in a deliberately subversive way. Simply daring to be visible and loud while female is rebellious in and of itself, but daring to be visible in a way that celebrates femalehood (in a non-Pussycat Dolls way) is very feminist. I’ve noticed a trend of denigration of traditionally female things—pink is for idiot girls like Paris Hilton, fashion is for stupid girls, etc. Lolita celebrates these things with dresses titled “Poodle Parade,” “Magical Etoile,” & “Dreaming Macaron” and brands called Metamorphose Temps de Fille (the transforming time of the girl), Angelic Pretty, and BABY, the Stars Shine Bright. There are so many food and sweets-based prints in Lolita, and in a pro-ana world it’s personally pretty refreshing to see people celebrate foods that are not celery and Diet Coke.

We certainly do not do this for the attention of men. In fact, the fashion frequently alienates them. Frequently, female sexuality is portrayed in a way that is palatable and accessible to men, and anything outside of that is intimidating. Something so unabashedly female is ultimately kind of scary—in fact, I consider it to be pretty confrontational. Dressing this way takes a certain kind of ownership of one’s own sexuality that wearing expected or regular things just does not. It doesn’t take a lot of moxie to put on a pencil skirt and flats. It’s not, as some commentors have suggested, some sort of appeal to men’s expectation that women should be childlike, or an attempt to pander to pedophiles. Pedophiles like little girls. They don’t like grown women who happen to like dresses with cakes on them. I’ve never been hit on by a pedophile while in Lolita. We don’t get into it because it is some sort of misplaced pedo complex or anything, and the objective isn’t simply to emulate little girls, despite the name Lolita. “Lolita,” I’m guessing, is another example of Japanized English—as in, “picking English words without regard to their connotation and putting them in insane contexts”—since the little girl of the novel was really a tomboy. Either way, to have the fetishes of an incredibly small portion of men dictate what I wear is ridiculous! To do so is to misunderstand the objective of Lolita, which is really a harmless subculture that does not infringe on anyone else, or infantilize women in general. It is not a symptom of any cultural ill just because its aesthetic inspiration comes from a period when women were subordinate to men. Why should I be worried about sending the ‘wrong messages’ to men? Why is that my personal responsibility? Isn’t that like saying “she was asking for it”? Is the state of feminism that precarious that my wearing a bow on my head is threatening and regressive? Where is the philosophical debate about men who wear short-shorts or sandals and how they make their gender look bad?

Lolitas are usually into the fashion because they are into fashion in general: if I have a sewing or fabric question, I ask a Lolita, because she knows raschel from cluny and broadcloth from poplin from ten yards away. More than half of my loli-friends go to fashion school. We appreciate the clothing on a very technical level. The brand names do not exploit workers. The people who sew the clothing are usually lolitas. Japanese brands do not outsource the sewing work to China, which is part of why it is so expensive. If you look at a dress closely, the craftsmanship is immaculate.

The nytimes article, while it did justice to the clothing itself, didn’t have the space to really represent what the Lolita ‘culture’ is like. It is about female community! Lolitas dress up mostly for one another—for other women. The girls group together, go out on meetups, and have close bonds. Some of my closest friendships have been formed through the fashion; last weekend I spent more than eighteen hours helping with another girl’s fashion show, and housed other girls who were helping out too. We are a very diverse group. No one is excluded on the basis of race or size or even gender (there are boys who dress in lolita: “brolitas”). It is refreshing to be part of a fashion that connects and unites rather than divides. We do, however, tend to shun those who insist on being ‘ladylike,’ because clothing should not change who you are or how you act—besides, if you’re going to dress this ridiculous, it’s pretty necessary to have a sense of humor about the whole thing.

Really, if you want to know where to ‘place’ Lolita in the continuum of progressive or regressive, my answer is—Why does it need to be placed at all?

Sorry that this is so wordy! I had a lot on my mind.


This is one of the reasons fashion and clothing, esp. in subcultures, absolutely fascinate me. I had never thought about lolita subculture in that way before. I’m too tired to really ruminate on it much right now but maybe later *shrugs*. Still pretty interesting stuff if you ask me.

I said I would post a picture of my closet, I finished emptying out the rest of the Goodwill bound stuff and this is what remained:

Keep in mind, these are ALL of my clothes. Everything except for a skirt and a sweater (that I crocheted and don’t hang up for fear of stretching it out). Interview clothes, school shirts, etc. And no, I don’t have some kind of freak closet. Actually, I do, the only closet in this house is in the bathroom and looks like it was added as a last thought. Hah. Anyways! Obviously, I needs me some clothes. I’m doing some thrifting this weekend and I’d really like to find one other shirt at least to wear to work, a black tank to wear under my zebra print cardigan (75% silk, $4 at the DAV!), and another pair of black pants. As far as everyday clothes go, I would love to get more long-sleeved shirts for winter, more skirts and dresses, def. some tights and leggings, and maybe another pair of jeans to paint on, as a pair I loveddddd went in the Goodwill stack. Too small any more.

Pictures taken so I could post ‘em up at PRD for swap, which brings me to my next topic. Through another blog (wish I could remember which one - I think it was an old post on Bits and Bobbins), I found a link to SwapStyle and a Flickr group which operates on the same principle. Just from a quick glance around, the Flickr group looks like it has much more interesting things up and is a little easier to navigate, I find the navigation at SwapStyle rather cumbersome. I’ll probably post a few things up there that aren’t doing so well at PRD, I’ve got a few pairs of Irregular Choice heels I never wear. At any rate, swapping is definitely a great way to get stuff for really cheap (like, cost of shipping cheap) and it’s less wasteful than just tossing it out.

I did finish the choker but don’t have pictures yet, as I can’t find my damn mannequin to put it on. I just realized I could have put it on myself and taken pictures, but it’s kind of a PITA to put on by yourself because of the lacing. The reason I found it so frustrating is because I made these sugar skull beads to sew on, spent probably close to or over an hour painting them both.

Only to stitch them on to the choker (which is crocheted out of a cotton blend yarn) and find it all messed up because of how heavy they are. FINE. Whatever. I’ll replace my kickass beads with plastic skull beads that aren’t as cool but still look alright. Only to realize after weaving in all the ends that one of the skulls was stitched on higher and further out than the other. Soooo I had to rip it off and try again. The next time I started freaking out because I thought one of them was stitched on higher than the other. After looking closer (and hysterically asking Matt for his opinion) I realized that it just looks higher, as there are shell stitches around the bottom of the choker and one skull is over the apex of a stitch, one is between stitches. Insert large sigh of relief.

I am super psyched because one of the incredibly kind members of Craftster PM’d in relation to the Great Etsy Fiasco TM (which will be posted on more tomorrow) me to let me know that her local Ross has two different kinds of Marc Ecko bags, and to see if I wanted one/which one I wanted. So, as of sometime next week, I will be getting this bag for $30 w/shipping:

Sweet? I think so.

Still on the search for the perfect pair of flat boots to get when I get paid. I really like the Frye Veronica Shortie:

(which look cuter when broken in, believe you me - I saw them in a few photos on the iCiNG blog and that’s what made me go “Oohh, I could use a pair of those!”) But I’m not sure if even I can justify spending nearly $300 on a pair of boots. Granted, boots that will probably still be around ten years from now, but still. However, there is a very similar pair of boots by Red Wing on eBay right now for $40 + $10 shipping, which is much more justifiable. Kind of sucks ’cause money’s tight now though. But I’ll probably bid on them at least.

I think I may have screwed up my ankle by trying to yank it out of some high-top Vans without unlacing them properly first. I hope not, though, because not too long ago I sprained the same ankle and couldn’t wear heels for a week and change because of it. If I can’t wear heels now due to sheer laziness when unlacing shoes, I will be PISSED. Yes sir.

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