Otakon — a celebration of all things Japanese — draws a lot of cosplayers, as well as fans of Japanese street fashion. Lolita, one of the most popular styles to come out of Japan, draws on Gothic, Victorian, and overtly cute designs for their clothing. The dresses are frilly, the bows are big, and as much as I love Lolita style, I don’t know what or how to being buying and collecting it. Plus, it’s expensive.
A number of my friends are into the Lolita fashion and invited me to join them for afternoon tea at the Henley Park Hotel in D.C. The hotel is visually stunning, and I would gladly spend a night there. The theme was tea with Lolitas, which was pretty apt, since the clothing style suits itself well to a tea party. They were also kind enough to give me some insight into the Lolita scene!
BC: What does Lolita mean to you?
Lady Terentia: It’s the epitome of cute, girly fashion. I have so much fun both dressing up and seeing all the wonderful Lolita fashion that other people wear. There are all different styles for Lolita, and my favorite is Sweet Lolita.
Crissy: When I was a child, my mother would buy me a new frilly dress for every holiday: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. So in my mind, frilly dresses and celebrations go hand in hand. I don’t embrace the Lolita lifestyle the way some followers do, but for me, I think it’s a shame that adults don’t buy new dresses for special events anymore, and I wanted to bring that back.
Avian Firefly: All the pretties! As I brought up pictures of Classic Lolita (my sub-style of Lolita) to show my mother, she said, “oh, it’s like American Girl for grownups.” And it kinda is. Dressing like our dolls, if you were ever into American Girl, was one of the many extras and expensive points of buying American Girl Dolls. If you buy brand, it’s super expensive. If you don’t buy brand, or make you own, it is usually a cheaper alternative.
I like Lolita fashion because it’s cute and doll-like. In Lolita fashion, you can go over the top with your theme and it isn’t weird. Violin dress, violin bag, violin shoes, violin earrings. I have another outfit that is all roses: rose hairpiece, rose earrings, rose jumper skirt, and rose stockings. Or you could be more subdued and not have a theme, just a few color combos — most of my items are browns and ivories. Some of my friends are more color coordinated or have an obsession with tableaus in the edges of skirts.
The many substyles of Lolita make if very easy to find you niche. But to be a true loli you have to be modest: leg coverings, bloomers, petticoat, skirt no shorter than two inches above the knee, and shoulders covered. Usually head coverings, even if it’s just a hair clip, and something to hold in you hand: purse, doll, parasol are required for most sub-styles. Accessories can be scattered throughout depending on your sub-style. I find that Sweet Lolita loves accessorizing to the max.
How did you get into it?
LT: A friend of mine owns many Lolita dresses and let me borrow some several times. I love really pretty and cute clothes, so I really enjoyed getting to wear them and learn more about Lolita fashion.
C: I can’t recall exactly, but my best guess would be that some of my cosplay friends on Livejournal were also into the Lolita fashion scene, and that’s how I was introduced to it. It was so long ago; I remember deciding that I would buy my very first Lolita dress with my very first “real” paycheck.
AF: I got into Lolita through conventions. If I never went to any conventions I would have never known about this subculture of Lolita garb in Japanese fashion.
Do you make or buy? Any sellers you suggest?
LT: I buy, as I can’t sew at all. The dress I wore for this is actually an Angelic Pretty dress that my friend gifted to me (due to my obsessive love of purple). My friend originally bought it second-hand, which I highly recommend for people who would like to own brand but need to be careful about how much money they spend.
Here’s a good site for buying and selling second-hand items: https://egl.circlly.com. And if you are interested in trading, sometimes Lolita communities will hold swap meets, where you can trade Lolita items with other people. It’s useful for letting you get rid of Lolita items you aren’t as interested in wearing anymore in exchange for new-to-you items!
C: I buy. I’m not a good person to ask for recommendations, as I never buy brand, but rather just browse eBay or other online stores for a dress in a color I’m interested in, and then just pick whichever one appeals to me most.
AF: I make my accessories, mostly jewelry, and have made costume Lolitas (EGL Sailor Saturn). But I buy stuff I wear not as a costume. I have bought from Innocent World, Tokyo Rebel, Dongya Lolita (Amazon), Partiss (Amazon), Hugme (Amazon), and Sweet Mildred (Etsy).
Tea and Loli: Do they go hand in hand?
LT: I think they go perfectly together! Just imagine little kids playing dress-up tea party. This is our grownup version where we actually get to live out our childhood play time! And Lolita fashion is inspired in part by Victorian fashion, so tea is very suited to the fashion of that time.
C: Absolutely! I had a very small Loli tea party for my 27th birthday, and we wore Lolita dresses when we went to Alice’s Tea Cup in Manhattan last year. My photographer and I also went to Alice’s after a Lolita photoshoot in Central Park. We just had another Lolita birthday tea party for Christine’s/Lady Terentia’s (note: use whatever handle she asks you to in her e-mail to you) birthday this year, and now our Friday tea party at Otakon.
AF: Well you can go to tea and not be in Lolita, or you can be in Lolita and not go to tea. However, the best way to experience both is to do both at once. In my humble opinion. There is nothing like a group of friends in Loli garb out to tea. I have had the experience three times in the past two years, and it is honestly the best! And I don’t even like tea!