Lolita Style: What it is and is it for me?

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Readers, I have been chatting on my Facebook page (which you can find here) about headbands and mini hats I call “Lolita style.”  Many of you have asked me what the heck that means. I have put together a little hodge-podge all about Lolita style and its sub-styles which I hope will elucidate the matter for you.

***FOR THE RECORD!*** Lolita style is not connected in any way to the Nabokov book Lolita.  They just share the same name for some reason that I have not been able to find.

Lolita style definition: A fashion culture, from Japan, with a  basis in neo-Victorian and Rococo style of dress.  It is one of modesty of dress and quality in apparel.  The “neo” part comes from the dresses themselves, which are generally knee-length with a bell – or more commonly referred to as cupcake – shape made by layers of petticoats (NOT a hoop or stiff fabrics).  The trend started in the 1970s when several labels began marketing fluffy dresses for everyday apparel.  I couldn’t find picture of the store-bought dresses of the three big houses for this (MILK, Pink House and Pretty), but I did find sewing patterns for dresses at the time, and I see some very definite connections.

Lolita 00Lolita 01

This fashion trend struck gold in Japan, and the movement towards “modest and pretty” beat out the American trend of “shorter, shorter” that prevailed at the time.  The style is not geared towards attracting men, rather towards defying the over-baring styles at the time and looking proper yet still cute.  Other fashion labels that sold in Japan jumped on the bandwagon and… behold!  A fashion was born.

To wear true Lolita style, you must adhere to the following guidelines.

First, headwear.  Be it a bow, pretty headbands, a neat hat, or even a tiara, adornment truly goes from head to foot.  Same goes for the fellas.

Second, a blouse.  Shoulders must not be exposed, and most have collars (the Peter Pan collar is well loved here) with buttons down the front.  For men, jackets are pretty much demanded, as it is modest and very Victorian to always have a jacket on.  The shirts are almost always white or black.

Third, the skirt should be bell-shaped or cupcake-shaped, and these should not be shown under the skirt.  Also, the skirt should not be too short, no more than 2 inches above the knee.  Longer is accepted.  No skirts for the lads, as whey pretty much always wear slacks, well creased and in good repair.

Fourth, petticoats and/or bloomers must be worn underneath the skirts to create the bell-shape.  This is in keeping with the modesty part of the style, as this prevents anything private in nature from being seen when sitting.  I think this one is a pass for the guys, as most of us wouldn’t know if you were going commando unless you told us. And we don’t want to know.

Fifth, legs should be covered with knee-length or higher socks or solid stockings.  Not pantyhose. The stockings can be highly colored and elaborately decorated, adding to the style.  The key is knee-length.  Lolitas are not trying to attract pedophiles by looking too childish, so no frilly ankle socks or sheer hose.  Men, put your socks on.  When they might be seen, match to the color of the trousers.  If they can’t, wear for comfort.

Last but not least, shoes should be closed and rounded at the toe; and may be flat, platform, or chunky heeled.  Mary Janes are the most common shoe.  Since the fashion started in Japan, simple flats and even sandals are acceptable, as long as they add to the elegance of the ensemble.  “Hooker heels” are frowned upon, so heels should not be more than 2-3 inches in height.  Boots are very popular with several styles, but nothing too masculine or detracting from the dress itself.  For the guys, platforms are almost a must!  But also accepted are boots and lace up shoes.

Lolita 02

There are roughly (people are mixed on some of theses) 15 sub-styles of Lolita in Japan, and a couple more that have caught on in America which I will quickly discuss here.  Just for the record, the last one “Cosplay Lolita” is not considered true Lolita style to a lot of aficionados… but since it is very popular here in The States, I will list it in this feature.

1. Classic Lolita. Any dress that could pass for a summertime tea party or garden fare could be used in this style.  Those seventies dress patterns would certainly work here.  All the colors are soft, all the accessories tame and underscored.  The main difference that sets it apart is the use of A-line fluffy skirts instead of bells.  And the makeup is light or natural.

Classic lolita

2. Aristocrat.  This style is the most mature looking of the Lolitas, with longer skirts, no prints, and less ruffles and bows.  But it still adheres to the modest and elegant look the fashion requires, as well as the other tenets.  High waist skirts or even corsets are common, as are longer skirts (though not required).  The hair is very well-coiffed, and often in a high bun.  Makeup is often dark and dramatic, with black eye liner and dark red lips.  This is one of the four styles of Lolita that are often worn by men.

Aristocrat Lolita

3. Casual Lolita. A less flouncy version of Lolita style, this one is almost what you might see at a school in the 1960s.  Nothing is over the top, the dress isn’t as fluffy, the accents aren’t as super-girly… and sometimes there is nothing on their head but hair.  Low key is the buzz word here.  Pick a color that isn’t too bold, and just relax.  Basically, how a hard-core Lolita fashionista would wear on her (or his) day off.

Casual Lolita

4. Sweet Lolita. The most over-the-top style in this fashion genre, this one is what most people recognize as Lolita style.  Loads of bows, ruffles, lace and soft colors make up this style, mostly in shades of pink, white, and blue.  Patterns can be used, but they must not be harsh or primary-colored.  Adornments can include motifs such as cherries, cupcakes, or anything cutesy.  Dolls, parasols, overly frilly purses are common accoutrements.  In America (catching on in Japan) the wearing of hugs wigs that match the dresses is gaining popularity, with loads of curls and usually two huge side ponytails, but this is not a requirement of Sweet Lolita.  The key here is to look like a living Victorian doll.  I would love to see a guy wearing Sweet Lolita for this article, but I found none.

Sweet Lolita

5. Country Lolita. A subset of Sweet Lolita, this style is heavy into countrified patterns, especially gingham.  Fruits are popular items in both the hair and dress.  Straw hats or bonnets are often worn, and instead of a purse they would carry a straw basket.  It should be noted that clunky platforms would not go well with this style, but apparently no one wearing Country Lolita has ever actually walked around in the country.  I bet gents would look more like a dandy Huckleberry Finn in this style.  But, alas, I couldn’t find any.

Country Lolita

6. Wa Lolita( Kimono Lolita). Harkening back to the country that created the style, Wa Lolita has kimono-inspired elements.  The dresses have long, bell-ended sleeves and thick sashes (or obi), and the patterns are Japanese-inspired.  The legs and shoes should be dark, letting the dress and hairpieces to most of the work.  Accessories often include flower hair pins, even chopsticks, and the makeup can be dark and Geisha styled (don’t go full white Geisha face).

Wa Lolita

7. Sailor Lolita. An obvious sailor-theme rules this style.  Think dark blues, white and black; sailor colars, big floppy blue bows or a mini-sailor hat, and even matching messenger bags.  The blouses are often pleated but retain their puffiness; and the blouses often have puff sleeves.  Stripes are HUGE in this style, as is natural makeup or none at all.

Sailor Lolita

8. Hime Lolita(Princess Lolita). This style is very elegant, and tends to use more Rococo themed dresses.  The adornents include jewelry (pearls and diamonds, of course) and almost always a crown or tiara, no matter how small and cute.  The hair is extravagant and very put together.  Flounces, ruffles, and bows are common here, lending to many people mistaking Hime Lolita for Sweet Lolita and not going very well into either style.  It was very hard for me to pick some of the Sweets from Himes for this reason.

Hime 2Hime

9. Oji Lolita(Kodona or Prince Lolita). Basically the catch-all for male Lolita styles, this can be either casual or dramatic.  Although girls can wear this style too, it is male clothes-oriented.  The skirt is replaced with ‘prince pants,’ which are knee-length knickerbockers usually with cuffs.  Long sleeve shirts with a starched collar and cuffs are commonplace here.  And if there is any adornment, it is usually a mini-hat tilted to one side.

Kodona 1kodona 2

10. Kuro Lolita (Black Lolita). Kuro Lolita is simply a monochromatic turn towards the blackest fluffy clothes you can find.  Everything is black, with the possible exception of accessories, which can be grey or white.  If too much color other than black is observed, you look more like Gothic Lolita.  Simple pimple.  Queen Victoria herself became an expert in Kuro Lolita style.

Kuro 1Kuro 2Kuro 3

11. Shiro Lolita (White Lolita). Another monochromatic leaning, this time to all-white.  Be sure to have the proper ruffles and bows, or you might look like a nurse; and any color might send you into Sweet Lolita areas you may not want to be in.  Kuro and Shiro Lolitas often hang out with each other, for the opposite appeal.

Shiro 1Shiro 2Shiro 3

12. Ero Lolita(Romantic or Erotic Lolita). Whille Americans tend to use this as an excuse to dress up as “every man’s fantasy”  Romantic Lolita is not the bust-bearing alternative we think it is.  It does show a little more boldness… in fabric choices.  Where usually soft fabrics dominate, here one can experiment with leathers, fishnet, pvc, or bones corsets.  The modesty trait still applies though, so knock it off, porn industry.


13. Gothic Lolita. A very popular choice for both Japanese and non-Japanese aficionados, this style incorporates the modern love of black with a love of strange details.  Stay Victorian, as this is not inspired by Emo or The Cure.  Dark, rich colors are used here: black, purples, burgundies, and any color that could look great as a velvet.  Contrasting colors are often worn here, such as black and white.  Makeup is minimal, focusing on a smoky eye only.  And one should stay away from wearing black lipstick or draining their skin of all blood.

gothloli 2gothloli

14. Guro Lolita(Gore or Broken Doll Lolita). A creepy Lolita style, this basically makes the wearer look like a creepy murdering doll… or River from Firefly.  Often covered in bloody eye-patches and bandages, these girls have been through Hell.  For some reason, they often wear nurses hats… Anyway, any color works for this, as long as it is fairly blood-splattered.  Because of the goriness, white tends to be used the most, because it is the most dramatic.

Guro 1guro 2guro 3

15. Punk Lolita. In this style, the staple that has changed is the rigid neatness.  Instead of soft fabrics, slightly frayed ones can be used.  Chains, buckles, skulls, crosses and safety pins are prominent accessories.  Patterns are often coordinated, but mismatched, like stripes and polka dots.  Layers are key here, to give a slightly unkempt but modest appearance here.  The skirt is often layered, and the petticoats peek out underneath.  Plaids are quite popular.  Ties are also used here, which is weird because they aren’t associated with punks but with Avril Levigne.  These are the Lolita style risk-takers.  Guys that wear Lolita style are often punk, because they can still feel manly and unclean.

Punk 1punk 2

16. Steampunk Lolita. A staple at conventions, Steampunk has been infused into Lolita for those that like to wear Victorian steam, but don’t want to wear the super long dresses associated with it.  Changes to the Lolita style include: lots of leather, lots of beige and brown, weaponry, metal accessories, corsets and belts, goggles, and (for some reason) bustles.  This look can be expensive for these materials, but it is definitely attention-getting.

steam 1steam 2steam 3

17. Cosplay Lolita. The most controversial of the Lolita styles, this one pretty much abandons the concept of modesty.  Mostly used at conventions and in costume contests, participants wear (often) store-bought costumes, often wear anime ears, weird and sometimes nonsensical accessories, shorter skirts and almost no layers of petticoats.  The bust line is often brought down, although I lay that blame squarely on costume designers.  The fabrics are often more harsh, because they are costumes, not a fashion choice.  It is for these reasons that Cosplay Lolita is looked down upon by the Lolita fashion scene.  But, as it is a staple now, I choose to advocate wearing it well instead of ridiculing it.  Don’t wear anything too tight, that you would be embarassed to see on Instagram or Facebook later.  Otherwise, just have fun.  **For the record, I lump all those French maid costumes in this category.**

cosplay 1cosplay 2gothic 3

Hope this exhaustive list helps those of you confused by the term Lolita style on my Facebook page and store.  Now, go out there and frill it up!

Lolita styles



– Wikipedia entry for Lolita Fashion

– “What is Lolita?” From Hello Lace

Lolita Dresses, Fashion Dress blog

Angelic Pretty Japanese only line

Anna House Fashions

Vivcore for vintage style pieces

Celga, Inc. to purchase Lolita items from Japan

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