Harajuku district in Tokyo is renown as the cute, crazy and cool capital of fashion subcultures around the world. Every week 1000s of fashion fanatics, shopaholics and costume connoisseurs from all over Japan and beyond flock to Haraduku’s lanes, boutiques and malls. There they stock up on the latest trends, spy on emerging street styles and strut their stuff around local landmarks with high hopes of having their portrait papped for the fashion press.
The Lolita look is one of the original and still most popular styles amongst teenage girls in Japan today, as it symbolises everything sweet and “Kawaii” (cute) that Japanese culture obsesses over. On my 2nd morning in Tokyo I headed straight to Maison De Julietta who are acknowledged as the leading Lolita salon. Based in the heart of Harajuku’s most famous shopping center Laforte, they offer a wide range of Lolita’s most popular fashion brands and styles, cosmetic makeovers (including wigs and eyelashes), in-house fairy tale themed photo shoots and most importantly, an insight into the sugar coated style secrets of Japanese youth culture. How could I resist?
Watch the magical makeover in under 2 minutes
At 33 I have no shame in dressing up like a doll. Why? Because in Japan you can! And since 2001 when Shoichi Aoki Fruits book filled the fashion section at my universities library I became fixated on Japan’s outrageously outlandish fashion subculture scene. Yes art college was full of alternative dressers, my friends and I most certainly turning some heads in our time, but the Midlands wasn’t really cutting it in comparison to the authentic, eccentric, exotic and down right mental street style trends that exploded out of this brilliant book. People weren’t just taking inspiration from history and music for a Saturday night on the town, but actually walking around, even competing in broad daylight to dress in a way that interpreted larger than life fantasy characters from film and cartoons. How was this possible? I thought Japan was strict, serious and full of social rules of conduct? I had to go to Japan and see for myself.
What is Lolita fashion?
According to Maison de Julietta *Lolita fashion is inspired by the former Queen of France Marie Antoinette, the Rococo Era and Victorian England. Each young women (normally aged between 15-20) must first decide which of the many subculture themes within the Lolita style she wants to embody. Different themes include but are not limited too;
- Gothic Lolita. Wears all back and has strong smoky eye makeup or lipstick for a dramatic and morbid look.
- Sweet Lolita, uses baby pastel colours and childish prints with soft pretty make up. Emphasis is to look as cute, young and innocent as possible.
- Classic Lolita is more mature with earthy tones of red, brown, khaki and cream inspired by classical instruments and antiques with a vintage victorian arts and crafts aesthetic.
- Prince Lolita is a combination of swashbuckling fairy tales and steampunk style. Girls wear flat shoes, pants, and neck ruffles with monocles and swords as accessories.
Women then dress in a combination of historically inspired garments such as a-line skirts, petticoats, corsets, high collar shirts with leg of mutton or puff sleeves and waistcoats together with accessories like Mary Jane shoes, frilly knee socks, stockings, braces, bows, bonnets and parasols in their desired theme. Bags are available in every design, size and shape imaginable, from giant chocolate bar clutches, love heart handbags, bird cage backpacks, converted books and decapitated stuffed toys.
But being a Lolita lady is more than just fashion. There are codes of conduct amongst the Lolita community that should be adhered too. Good Lolita girls are meant to act modest, timid, innocent, kind and quiet. The perfect Lolita day out would be shopping with friends before or after a european style tea party.
* It is important to note that the Japanese meaning of Lolita is in no way associated with the novel “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov.
Lolita, Decora, Visual Kei, Gyaru, so how do these women and men walk around Japan wearing some of the most outrageous ensembles ever seen? It turns out the Japanese culture is very non intrusive and extremely introvert, therefore it is deemed as a cultural faux pas to directly startle someone by commenting on the way they look, even if you want to pay them a compliment.
This gap in clothing commentary has given birth to a stylish society that are free to create and express their unique visual identity, without fear of criticism, and/or validation from others. That doesn’t mean that people don’t make judgements based on how you look, but it does mean you are free from hearing those judgements. According to my local guide, Michelle from Tokyo Way, many families might be completely unaware that their children dress in these trends as the theatrical subculture styles are generally frowned upon by most elders. It is assumed that the majority of teenagers and young adults leave their families home dressed in normal clothes and get changed somewhere on route to Harajuku. Most people are expected to out grow these sensational styles with maturity, but many will still participate in secret societies, clubs and events throughout their life without any of their friends or family even knowing.
Have you been to Harajuku? Are you a Lolita lady yourself? Do you have anymore insights to Japanese fashion subcultures and trends? Please share your experiences, ideas and suggestions in the comments box below, we would love to hear from you.
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