Lesson In “Lolita”

For most people, the word “lolita” carries a vibe of sexual impropriety, influenced by the themes of Vladimir Nabokov’s literary classic. At least in Western cultures, this book, which tells a tale of middle-aged male professor who becomes infatuated with his 12-year old stepdaughter, has so heavily colored the meaning of the word “lolita” that the word is now basically synonymous with “pedophilia.”

Explaining lolita fashion to those who’ve adopted this mindset is not an easy process. The aesthetic of lolita fashion doesn’t make this process any easier–full of bonnets, frills, cutesy patterns, Mary Jane shoes, and tea length dresses, it’s understandable how people who might already have preconceived notions of the very word “lolita” decry the subculture as age play.

Perhaps some insight into the origins of lolita fashion could help, if there were more available sources. A quick Google search brings up few reliable options other than a bare bones Wikipedia page. The contents of the page state that lolita fashion “probably” began in the late 1970s, with the origin of the “lolita” name “complex” and “unclear.” The page also states that fashion is based around Victorian and Edwardian trends, which seems plausible but remains unsubstantiated. Personally, I think the lolita aesthetic is consistent with Japan’s love of Alice in Wonderland–both involve long, princess-like hair, floofy dresses, and an air of daintiness.

But if Wikipedia doesn’t even know exactly how lolita fashion came to be, will we ever know? Was the choice of the word “lolita” to represent a childish, girly aesthetic pure coincidence? Or, was it, perhaps, a standard mistake of cultural disconnect that led to this decision? There are countless English words that have been imprecisely adapted into the Japanese language, and perhaps “lolita” was just another such case.

For your own browsing pleasure, Baby, The Stars Shine Bright and Angelic Pretty are two of the industry’s leading designers. Both brands have flagship stores in the US and Europe. Designs are released, produced, and sold in themed sets, with a thriving international secondhand market. Especially hard-to-find or revered pieces can even go for hundreds of dollars secondhand. See how lolita fashion enthusiasts around the world coordinate their wardrobes by searching and requesting membership to “Closet of Frills: Daily Lolita Coords” on Facebook, a community specifically for sharing lolita outfits.

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