3.26.2014

How I learned To Wear Frills and Fight Like A Girl

In these modern times, Perth’s city streets finds itself occupied by fashion trends of the micro skirts, the strapless, the backless, and the magical disappearing shorts. Sometimes, it takes a petticoat, some tights, and whole lot of bows to make some waves.

Lolita fashion is a Japanese street fashion recognised by its intricate and doll-like appearance. Its mainly influenced by the clothes and general aesthetics of the Rococo and Victorian periods. Originating in Japan in the 1980s, it has gradually evolved into many sub-styles, and both incorporates and sets its own current fashion trends. The most common sub-styles seen are Sweet Lolita, Gothic Lolita, and Classic Lolita, each having their own unique look, motifs, and guidelines.



[Perth Lolitas at Japan Festival, in Forrest Place]

While it is nothing out of the ordinary to see Lolitas in the streets of Harajuku, wearing Lolita outside of Japan warrants a different kind of attention. Its a small but growing community in Perth, and people are yet to understand the elusive Lolita. I've found myself walking down Murray Street wearing Lolita, and been met with eyes filled with shock, awe, curiosity, confusion, and sometimes ridicule. People never know whether to stare, look away, or search for some kind of stage; like a performance is about to take place. Mostly people stare. Sometimes, people react positively and want to tell us how much they love our look. Others want to admire the details on our outfits, and ask to take a photo. Small children might approach us and ask if if we are a Princess. But its not always a pleasant or neutral experience. Occasionally, people will yell at you, call you a “freak” or "slut", laugh at you, or discretely take photos of you without asking permission. There is always a degree of caution taken when wearing it in public, so we often travel in clusters. Even during my travels in Japan, I noticed how elusive Lolitas can be. They were just getting along with their day, shopping for groceries, maybe even walking to work. They weren't asking for attention, as they would always block tourists from taking their photos. 

I understand the strange fascination people have. I too, have been on the otherside. Seeing one is comparable to seeing a unicorn in the middle of Hay Street. What many fail to understand is that, some girls wear Lolita every day and its become their normal wardrobe. It’s not playing ‘dress-up’, it’s their identity, their skin. They aren’t asking for your attention because Its not for you. Having crossed over into that circle, I can tell you Lolitas might not look at you, but they are always aware of you looking at them - even if they choose to ignore it. However, of the lolitas I know, most of them will gladly speak to you about our fashion and actually pose for you, if you approach them respectfully. Like any situation, when confronted with something new and alien to our eyes, the only true way of understanding it is to educate yourself and immerse yourself in the experience. So let me share mine with you so far.

I was welcomed into the frilly world by my friend, who is also a Lolita. Its been less than a year, but the vast amount of information I’ve learned from wearing this fashion and living the lifestyle has astounded me. It really is this whole other world that has you speaking its own language. I don’t mean Japanese. There’s a whole glossary of terminology, and a world-wide community that exists to unite us all, and help us find, purchase, and sell Lolita clothing. Because Lolita is an expensive lifestyle, and acquiring items outside of Japan is by no means an easy feat. An individual outfit can cost anywhere from roughly $100 to $1000. Even Lolitas with the highest-paying jobs understand the importance of being frugal. While most will have to learn on their own, its undoubtedly an advantage to have people from the local community show you the ropes, and answer the many, many questions you would have as a beginning Lolita. Without help, you can end up wasting your money, or worst-case scenario get scammed.

Yet wearing Lolita fashion has brought so much joy into my life, not just from the fun of wearing pretty clothes. I've made many new friends who have become quite special to me. I've made room in my life for fun social activities such as high tea outings, ice-skating, picnics, and museum outings. It’s frivolous, feminine, and it continues to grow into my life. As a woman in her twenties, I already came into Lolita fashion with a fully formed understanding of who I am, as a person. But I suspect that for many of the younger girls who enter it from their teens, it can pave the way for discovering their own true selves. 

When I began immersing myself in this world, there were a few questions that would repeatedly come up in my own mind. Why do I wear Lolita? What does it mean to be a Lolita? I thought people might ask me, and I wanted to have a real answer. It turns out I didn’t need fully formed answers to those questions because I was never asked to vocalise them to anyone. My friends either loved my new interest, or haven't been bothered to bring it up - which doesn't bother me either. My parents just think its kooky, fun, and something I picked up when I was in Japan. But another interest of mine started to make me ask those questions again.

Gradually over the years, I’ve been learning what it means to be Feminist. Its a perspective I’ve always been interested in but had never taken the time to truly examine my own life through. It was only after careful consideration and a lot of reading that I began to be aware and unlearn the behaviours that continue to keep women in the dark, and keep gender equality escaping us. Now, you might think these two things are completely exclusive from each other, and no attention needs to be paid. You aren't wrong. There's nothing wrong with enjoying Lolita fashion, for what it is. But as I've grown older and witnessed the effects of gender inequality, I can't help but feel a responsibility to be a strong role model to other girls. Its a responsibility I welcome. And while its far from being upsetting, its just something I’m aware of and have wanted to reconcile within myself. I didn’t want to suggest that only feminine qualities make a woman beautiful. I didn’t want to shame women who are overtly sexual in the way they dress. I didn't want others to look at me and wonder if there was something deficient about me, like I wanted to deny the harsh realities of the outside world.

When I addressed the lack of modesty in how girls are dressing these days, it wasn't to slut-shame them. I made this distinction, because I’m hyper aware of the strong statement Lolita fashion can make. Even before I started learning the ins and outs of Lolita fashion - I was already aware about its many misconceptions; Of misplaced child-fetishising, and that infamous book which shares the same title. I’m not going to argue about the merits of Nobokov’s novel. I genuinely don’t think that argument is pertinent to Lolita fashion. If its association is misguided, than why argue whether its good or bad literature? But it can’t be ignored that Lolita fashion can be confrontational and makes a strong statement. 

On the outside, Its easy to get swept up in the thrills and frills of such a fashion. Any girl can agree that wearing pretty and luxe clothing makes you feel special and beautiful. There’s poofy skirts, lace, adorable prints of animals, desserts, bows, bonnets, and its super cute. What's not to love? It’s about being your most amazing self, inside and out. Lolita fashion takes this idea further by allowing you to transform, time travel, or fulfill your childhood dreams. You can become your most elegant self. You can live life in the Victorian era. You can be the princess you’d dreamed of being as a child. It's fantasy and escapism at its best - but it isn't costume. I don’t want to be someone else; I want to be me.

I’ve heard that for some people Lolita fashion is armour. Wearing these clothes gives them the strength to face the world. I respect the thoughts and feelings of these women, but I struggle with this description. To me, it suggests that underneath is something vulnerable and breakable. That’s not me. Lolita fashion is my sword, not my armour. I'm the same person despite how I appear. When people yell obscenities at me in the street, I get a thrill seeing their reaction when I yell back something far more offensive. Because that’s me. Being overtly feminine shouldn't make you assume that I'll take whatever you throw at me laying down. I can enjoy frivolous, feminine pursuits. I can also be feisty, opinionated, and exercise wit that will give you whiplash. 

For me, Lolita fashion is about female empowerment. When I don my wig, and put on my petticoat, I’m celebrating my most feminine qualities, and taking ownership of my body. I get to enjoy the company of other women, who are as intelligent, fun, and complex as me. I can walk the streets without being ogled by men. Even if they’re still staring, its because of something I’m in control of. Being passionate about something frivolous as fashion does not take away my value as a person, or my ability to identify as a Feminist. It reminds me of my innocence; of the times before I worried about how boys saw me. It reminds me of the bonds of girlhood; and how important it is to have female friendship in my life. This patriarchal society will pay attention to me, without me having to show any skin, and without me having to raise my voice. Because its this person, behind the bows that you need to be paying attention to. I can wear pink, frilly skirts, and still take over the world because I’m a girl.




[ All photos belong to Christian Clowes: http://fotoleaf.co/profile/14 ]

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Dani :) I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading! x

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  2. this is amazing hun. I am proud of this post and it's written beautifully. I'm glad you found a new hobby and it proves that you're never too old to learn and be passionate about something new...take me, I'm sure you've noticed I recently have taken up calligraphy. a few of my friends are also puzzled at my new love (which is also an expensive hobby, what hobby isn't though?) and finding it so ironic so I still love tech...but it's been very soothing! :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Mish, that means a lot :) Yeah, I noticed your new interest calligraphy - it looks so cool :D I love the little quotes you write out as well!

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