Lolita fashion really became popular in 90’s with Visual Kei (visual type) bands such as Malice Mizer with the performers wearing costumes similar to Lolita wear; when their fans began imitating their stage looks, the Lolita fashion went through a veritable boom.
You might have heard of Lolita fashion referred to as “Harajuku Girls”: this name is not appropriate, but is due to Gwen Stefani’s song “Harajuku Girls”, to the line of cosmetics she created on the theme and to her four Japanese-American back-up dancers (Love, Baby, Angel and Music – named after the cosmetics, themselves named after the album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. – it’s a whole marketing concept!). Harajuku is in fact a Train Station in Tokyo near where adepts of Lolita Style meet on Sundays. The Harajuku Girls’ influence has led the way for Lolita fashion to become very popular in the western world; there are even commercial patterns for “Japanese Street Style costume” for girls (although I know this is probably seen as an insult by Lolitas everywhere).
So let’s look at what makes each of these styles unique.
Basically, imagine everyone’s favourite Goth, Abby Sciuto, in a frilly blouse and short poufy skirt!
Derived from the Sweet Lolita, the Country Lolita resembles Dorothy more than Alice. Stick to gingham, fruit items such as strawberries and cherries, and don’t forget your straw hat and basket!
The Classic Lolita is a more mature looking Lolita inspired by Baroque, Rococo and Regency styles. On the Lolita meter, they are between Gothic and Sweet: not too dark and not too colourful either. A more muted palette is aimed for here, as are A-line shapes and empire waists. Focus on intricate designs; this Lolita is less whimsical and more functional.
Same style but toned down; it is best described as “dressed-down Lolita”. Keep lines and accessories simple and not over the top and you should be okay.
Take your basic Lolita look and mix in typical punk style such as plaid (preferably a Royal Stewart Tartan), ties and chains: Voilà! You have a Punk Lolita. Oh, and as Punk fashion began in Britain, it is more than acceptable to throw in a Union Jack.
Wa Lolitas, or simply Wa Loli is a more “kimono-esque” look. The bell shaped petticoat is still there, but it is worn with a wrap-around top with long kimono sleeves and an obi. Fabrics and prints used here are inspired by traditional Japanese fashion, while hair accessories can include kanzashi flowers. Make-up wise, anything from natural to geisha works. Shoes can be modern platforms, or the more traditional geta, or even okobo or pokkuri.
Similar to the Wa Lolita style, Qi Loli finds it’s inspiration in traditional Chinese fashion. Chinese brocades, mandarin collar and frog closures are a must!
Hime is the Japanese word for Princess, and this Lolita style is all about European Fairy Tale princesses and Marie Antoinette. It is a very elegant look which is characterized by miniature crowns, tiaras, extravagant hair or large hair and dresses. Go for pearls and roses, and keep the make-up natural.
We’ve all seen Sailor Lolitas in Anime; just think of Sailor Moon! This Lolita style gets its inspiration in nautical wear: sailor collars, ties, sailor hats, and stripes, gold buttons, lots of navy and white with red accents, and of course, ships anchors and wheels patterns. As for make-up, natural is again the best way to go.
A Shiro Lolita or White Lolita can wear any Lolita style, as long as her entire outfit is white or cream (even shoes – black shoes on a Shiro Lolita is a terrible faux pas).
Kuro Lolitas or Black Lolitas are the colour spectrum opposite of Shiro Lolitas: they wear only black. But just as Shiro Lolitas, Kuro Lolitas can wear any Lolita style.
From what I’ve been reading, Lolitas don’t like Cosplay or Costume Lolitas (which is what I guess I would fit in).
“Cosplay Lolita, or 'Costume Lolita,' is not a subset of Lolita fashion, but it is still important to know the difference between Cosplay Lolita and the actual fashion.
Cosplay Lolita is often looked-down upon because it's usually seen at Anime Conventions being worn by those who don't really understand Lolita fashion and are happy to throw-on a costume quality eBay dress for the weekend. A lot of the time Cosplay Lolitas believe that Lolita is a costume instead of a fashion movement.
Cosplay Lolita generally doesn't conform to the actual standards of Lolita fashion and usually includes very low quality materials, such as thin cottons or shiny fabric, synthetic Rachel lace, satin ribbon, square-dance petticoats, cat/costume-ish ears, and poorly done corset-style lacing, stompy goth boots, lace gloves, low-quality coloured wigs, leg warmers, stripper-esque high-heels, low-quality lace parasols, maid outfits, and short, un-modest skirts. Cosplay Lolita takes the lovable elements of Lolita fashion such as bows, lace, frills, and pushes them to the extreme, usually covering a dress with too many of these things, and entirely removing the classy image that most Lolita fashion tries to convey.
Make-up for this style can be anything from Mana-esque white-face, heavy eye-liner, thick Goth eye shadow and black lipstick.”
(Excerpt from LolitaFashion.org - Cosplay Lolita)
While I would argue that the Lolitas seen at Anime conventions are maybe emulating an anime character (and therefore not necessarily going for the proper Lolita look) and/or are perhaps on a tight budget (hence the cheap lace and accessories, and the readily available petticoats and Goth or stripper shoes), I can understand the frustration at seeing the classy image that Lolitas work so hard at portraying being perverted by neophytes, especially when it comes to skirt length and general modesty. I guess it’s like my reaction to "Halloween party quality" costumes at a Medieval fair or the use of a round crinoline under a supposed 18th century dress.
But fear not: LolitaFashion.org has some suggestions to go from Cosplay Lolita to Elegant Lolita in 7 steps.
Ōji, meaning “Prince”, or Kodona as is it is called in the western world, means “Boy style”. This is a dandier look which can be either laid back or extravagant.
Clothing includes pants, capris or knickerbockers with some detail to them (like lace at the hem), suspenders, ties or bowties, bowler caps and long socks (to cover the legs). The more extravagant styles can also include spats, canes, top hats, capes, etc., but it is important to keep the boyish look of the outfit.
This is the one of two “Unisex Lolita”; it is usually worn by women, but can also be used by men. Women can wear a few feminine touches in their accessories (such as high heals), but keep the make-up to a minimum (although black eyeliner is okay). Hair should be either short and boyish, or tucked away under the cap.
Aristocrat or Elegant Gothic Aristocrat is the most mature of the Lolita looks and the other unisex (men can be Aristocrats too): there are no cutesy motifs, skits are generally worn long, but they can be short, and they are worn with high corseted ,corsets of all types, fitted jackets with tail coats, frilly shirts and cravats, top hats, veils, etc.
Hairdo should be more mature as well: buns and other up does, long, short, or even curly, though it is recommended to stay away from barrel curls. Make-up is mature and a little darker, but extreme make-up (and for that matter hair) are reserved to special occasions such as clubs, gatherings or fashion shows.
All in all, the Aristocrat has more in common with the western Goth (or Romantic Gothic to use the proper term) than with say, a Sweet Lolita.
The last Lolita style is the Guro or Gore Lolita (also known as Horror Lolita). Take your basic Lolita (although a Shiro Lolita base works best) and add bandages and blood spatter. (And now you know why I kept this for last and did not use a picture – and if you’re not a regular reader, it’s because I hate horror flicks and anything bloody and gruesome). Apparently it’s meant to look like a broken doll but… I don’t know about you but none of my dolls ever bleed when they were broken. I guess it’s a question of opinion (and mine is “Yuck!”).
Far from me to want to insult anyone by “costuming” myself as a Lolita for Otakuthon, but it would make for a great outfit. Oh! I know, I’ve wanted to make something out of sushi printed cotton for years, do you think it would work? In any case, you know that I would do my research right, keep with the knee length bell skirt and skip on the cat ears!