200810010258Look, we’re as baffled by the whole “Gothic Lolita” movement as anyone, and a New York Times profile is usually a sign something has jumped the shark:

The Lolitas are here and in full bloom. Theirs is a world in which the childhood fantasy of Alice in Wonderland seems to collide full force with the Addams Family. Its myriad influences include Victorian children’s wear, the French Rococo period, goth-inspired darkness and Japanese anime. Many Lolitas make their own clothes or have them specially commissioned.

However, a letter to Jezebel by an actual Goth Lolita may shed some light:

We certainly do not do this for the attention of men. In fact, the fashion frequently alienates them. Frequently, female sexuality is portrayed in a way that is palatable and accessible to men, and anything outside of that is intimidating. Something so unabashedly female is ultimately kind of scary—in fact, I consider it to be pretty confrontational. Dressing this way takes a certain kind of ownership of one’s own sexuality that wearing expected or regular things just does not. It doesn’t take a lot of moxie to put on a pencil skirt and flats. It’s not, as some commentors have suggested, some sort of appeal to men’s expectation that women should be childlike, or an attempt to pander to pedophiles. Pedophiles like little girls. They don’t like grown women who happen to like dresses with cakes on them. I’ve never been hit on by a pedophile while in Lolita. We don’t get into it because it is some sort of misplaced pedo complex or anything, and the objective isn’t simply to emulate little girls, despite the name Lolita.


  1. Cosplay isn’t my thing either, nor certainly the Gothic Lolita subset thereof, but I gotta admire anyone who can defend and describe the appeal of their hobby as articulately as that commenter on Jezebel. Would that I could have spoken so well about the glories of comics years ago when everyone thought I was crazy for reading them.

  2. What a thoughtful and well-written response. And the necessity for a post like this is definitely highlighted by the first comment in this thread — women doing something for their own enjoyment and not for the pleasure of men? Gross!

  3. I met a charming GL on the bus ride from the NY Anime Festival Friday night. She seemed quite normal, aside from her joy of finding a bone saw for her boyfriend. (Not for her to use, but for his collection.) While I respect and admire the Jezebel post, I do find something quaint and charming about Victorian gothic fashion. There were quite a few corsets for sale at the NYAF, and the dealer room had more of a Science Fiction Convention vibe than a Comicbook Convention vibe.

    Now, I wonder, what is the male equivalent of GL? Are there Gothic Dandies? Or does it swing more to the Sweeney Todd/Mac the Knife aesthetic? I think the Victorian voluptuary would be more popular… someone who is mannered and well dressed, but enjoys the occasional glass of absinthe or hashish. Someone bored with the dull reality of existence.

    As for fashion jumping the shark… that does not happen until the fashion industry starts co-opting the subculture and turning it into a mass market. Exhibit A: Grunge.

  4. Torsten: I think the current male analogue for GL is the Steampunk aesthetic. But that doesn’t really work either, because Steampunk is ungendered. There is a lot of Victorian/Edwardian/Gears/Bracers/Newsies Caps sort of thing.

    I really enjoy these aesthetics, if only because it means people are wearing clothes that actually are tailored to FIT!

  5. If you read such books as the Gothic Lolita Bible series from Tokyopop, you’ll see photos of men who dress in the male version of GL fashions. In Japan, at least.

  6. This entire entry seems to scream “Old Comic People Are Old” and seems to be a version of “Biff! Pow! This phenomena you have preconceptions of, it turns out, is not quite what you may have thought!”

  7. I’ll go the NYT one further. I have talked to people who like to dress as Stormtroopers and Klingons, and they seemed relatively normal too.

    Okay, so I’m lying to make a point. I don’t speak a word of Klingon.

  8. I’m feeling old now -ah, to be young again.
    So let me see if I get this straight. Japan as we know has a “cute” fetish, it’s also a by and large still a sexist country. And western feminist women embrace this?

    I know people here are saying that’s a well-written response, but really we all think that because look at her! She is “owning her sexuality”, not sure what that means -but ok… then further she states pedos don’t hit on her -how would she know?
    News flash: men by the way aren’t intimidated -they are maybe weirded out: maybe don’t want to appear as if they are pedos.
    Is this a throwback to being able to be cute, gentle, and submissive, but you know do it in a fun way? Is that the current zeitgeist?
    Do we have a date for Dave Sim to break him out of his celibacy?:)

  9. I don’t think there’s such a simply dichotomy here, or such an easy “either/or” between Gothic Lolita (or Lolita) being a feminist/subversive fashion choice or a regressive one. A lot depends on the person doing it. Someone like Ellie, the woman who wrote that piece, is clearly actively and consciously expressing something very feminist in her choice. It’s deliberate. I’m sure not everyone involved does the same, but I think it’s dismissive and rude to suggest she can’t be expressing that simply because you don’t like the style or interpret it differently.

    Who gets to determine what is and is not “owning your sexuality” for a woman? The woman herself? The culture? Men? I think we need to look at that a bit more closely given some of the responses here.

    Also, and I think this is really important, there’s a big difference between something being inherently sexual and having a sexual connotation placed on it. We have sexualized schoolgirls, not the other way around. The schoolgirl fetish is an indication of a problem with adults, not teenage girls. And I would put this in the same category. The fashion is not inherently sexual. It’s far less provocative than most stuff actually aimed at little and teen girls, with bare midriffs and low cut tops and low slung jeans. And I think there’s a very valuable cultural commentary involved in women wanting to express with what they wear things are generally thought of as very “girly” or “cute” as an adult. It’s usually interpreted as being regressive, but I think that’s short-sighted. Because “girly” isn’t seen as a positive thing by our culture so I find it interesting anyone thinks this is for men, or some kind pandering to “weakness”. If we think things like lace and poofy skirts indicate that, that says VOLUMES about what we think about certain aspects of femaleness.

    I think a huge part of the issue here is the term “Lolita” is misused and not at all representing the same thing here as it does in Japan. It’s a word that was used for the sound, not the meaning we give it. And anyway, our interpretation of Lolita tends to focus on the idea of the “female teenage temptress” which isn’t the point of the book either. That’s, again, us sexualizing a child and missing the point. And because of that we misinterpret a lot of the fashion that uses that term.

    Plus, a lot of Gothic Lolita stuff is very gender bending and inspired by different fashion movements and times. It takes skill, since it a lot of it is handmade, and certainly encourages creativity and DIY. I don’t think it should be dismisses so quickly.

  10. I don’t think girly or. eh, boyish -or masucline or feminine traits should be looked down on, even if we do (or don’t) do it for each other, even if it’s sexual or not -oddly enough she says they diss ladylike behavior, but maybe she was overreaching in trying to make a point.
    I actually hadn’t read the whole piece when i first responded -only the excerpt by Heidi.
    It’s intersting for sure: and hard to make out what is rationalizing and what isn’t. But hey as long as everyone is having fun, noone gets hurt -and I’m all for dressup and live in LA so the weirder the better: but they say it’s a state of mind, a life style and I don’t fully undertsand how beyond dress up what this is.
    I’m not dissing her for dressing how she does (Ok, jokingly maybe, but even she said you have to have a sense of humor about it) -I merely meant to point out she isn’t saying much: I know she is against mid-riffs, but what is she for? Why dress up like a little girl? Just to break with the previous generation fashion-wise, where’s the substance -or is it all just style?
    I know some of it is gender bending but mostly it appears to be about the girls, eh, I mean, women -and I realize it takes skill… but is the fashion saying anything beyond widening what is acceptable: like having women dressing like little girls?

  11. @Jeanine Schaefer

    I don’t care whether people are dressing up for their amusement, mine, yours or none of the above.

    I’m still entitled to find it … creepy.

    Ditto with dressing up as a Wookie, Doctor Who or Red Sonja unless you’re ten years old.

    But what ever floats your boat, y’know?

  12. Mariah said:
    “Because “girly” isn’t seen as a positive thing by our culture so I find it interesting anyone thinks this is for men, or some kind pandering to “weakness”. If we think things like lace and poofy skirts indicate that, that says VOLUMES about what we think about certain aspects of femaleness.”

    Reading that, are you saying: that this movement is a zeitgeist of women reclaiming “girly” -that women don’t have to be masculine, or have masculine qualities, or penis envy:) in order to be considered strong: that it is ok to be girly and with that there are inherent strenghts, albeit different strengths. Or are you just sayng that lace and poofy skirts are cool, too, fashionwise. You did add how it spoke “VOLUMES”…. kinda cryptic -I just want to make sure I know what that is.
    I think saying men are like boys is considered in society a weakess as well. And if it’s so gender-bending than why is proving you are “girly” so important?
    It would be kinda fun if people came to work dressed up as wookies:) Just playing.

  13. Oliver:

    I don’ts think it’s as simple as just “dressing up like little girls”. Fashion has never been that simplistic. Especially for women. Fashion, for us, has a lot to do with body control. With the way we’re sexualized and objectified in the culture. Fashion can do all kinds of things and is often an outward reflection of what we want to convey. Whether it’s conformity, creativity, subversiveness, etc. What women wear has everything to do with how we feel about ourselves. What you see, who sees it, our body shapes, how we alter, conceal, or flatter it.

    So, yes, it does go beyond dress up. Just like makeup goes beyond face painting.

    In certain ways, Gothic & Lolita fashions are a reaction to the fashions we see that are most mainstream. Whether it’s short skirts, belly shirts, cleavage revealing, etc…many grown women don’t feel comfortable in those clothes. Nor do they feel comfortable in those that are supposedly more “adult”, which again, unless we’re talking business attire (which since the 80’s tends to try and make women look more androgynous), tends to push our sexuality as it appeals to men. Not what we may personally feel attractive or comfortable as.

    It’s also about the individual. Some people dye their hair pink because they like the color. And other people dye their hair pink because they see no reason to look like everyone else and like to use their body or hair as a canvas for expression. Tattoo’s and body modification fits here as well.

    With Lolita, there’s a emphasis on details, certain qualities of doll or very “dressed up” costumes, etc. I honestly don’t know too many actual little girls who dress this way. It’s far more ornate and “over the top”. Which is deliberate. Much like corsets force the natural, curved female shape into a more exaggerated form…this is a much more exaggerated version of “girly”. Hence all the Victorian influence. I think it’s possible to take things that are from a more repressive time, reappropriate them, and make them represent something else. Something more positive.

    But I can’t give you a mission statement about it any more than what Ellie stated. I’m sure plenty of people just like the way it looks. But I’m sure plenty of others do it consciously and with a deliberate eye on what it means in a larger cultural context. Partially for themselves, but partially to explore what is and is not an “acceptable” level of the things we generalize as “girly”…like, pink, lace, dresses, etc. In that way it is confronting us with our own preconceived notions. And that definitely has a purpose.

  14. Oliver: the gender bending part refers to the fact that in Japan many young adult men dress up this way. One of the most frequently used models in the Gothic & Lolita Bible is male. And some styles of it are the opposite of girly, very androgynous and steampunkish.

    I think that if we think that things that are considered culturally “girly” are negative, then we need to explore why. Most things that are gendered as female are not considered desirable or strong. And we often categorize women who like makeup or fashion as “superficial”. And yet women who act in ways that are gendered as male are considered to be strident and “bitchy”. Culturally, we can’t win. Because we aren’t allowed to be individuals. And men, by the way, suffer from this same problem of the way we define masculine and feminine. It assumes certain “roles” and doesn’t really do anyone any favors.

    It’s not about proving anything, actually. It’s just expressing it. I doubt that women who prefer jeans and a t-shirt are interested in Lolita fashion. But if you like dresses and lace and the like, you might attracted to this particular fashion. With more of an emphasis on the costume aspect of it, because, again, I think it’s an exaggeration rather than a representation of what we consider “girly”. And it’s rather clear that this style is mostly for the appeal of those wearing it, since the most common reaction I’m seeing is confusion or being “creeped” out. (Which is fine, btw. Be as creeped out as you like.)

    I just think it’s valuable to look at our reactions to this, what we assume it means, why we might like or dislike it. The fact that it’s provocative at all means that, if you believe fashion can be a form of art, it’s doing something right.

  15. See as far as just pushing to offend or to push the boundaries of what is acceptable I get that. As far as I know that was what the punk look was about… I get the hippie movement, and the 80s movement, grunge etc
    But noone can tell me what this about?

  16. My point exactly. Thank you.

    That said, I will henceforth avoid commenting on fashion-related posts as the subject is clearly beyond my ken. And Barbie.

    Mariah Says: And it’s rather clear that this style is mostly for the appeal of those wearing it, since the most common reaction I’m seeing is confusion or being “creeped” out. (Which is fine, btw. Be as creeped out as you like.)

  17. oops a little to quick on the trigger there. I posted that before I saw your last post. Got our wires crossed, I guess
    You said:
    “I think that if we think that things that are considered culturally “girly” are negative, then we need to explore why.”
    And while we agree that calling a man a boy is a negative -movement seems to have men embracing androgeny, and the women embracing their femininty. Or am I reading this wrong?

  18. Oliver: I think the idea in this particular fashion movement is about embracing a specific kind of “girlyness” or femininity. Your mileage on that will vary, since we don’t all define it the same way. I think it’s between a kind of exaggerated costuming fashion as an artistic expression, and an expression of the more exaggerated gender stereotypes.

    It’s like the whole boys like guns, girls like dolls thing. Okay, but not every boy likes guns, and not every girl likes dolls. But some do. And we’ve taken to making that a negative (ie. things that are “girly” are “superficial”). And there are reasons for that, because gender stereotypes can create a lot of problems. Usually because you don’t conform to it…but sometimes because you do. So this takes it to a certain extreme to, in some cases, make a point and confront us with our own assumptions about that. I personally think some of it is framed as a: what is feminine? question, with no set or easy answer.

    Also, it’s important to note, lots of people dress this way sometimes…others all the time. A certain sub-culture has been established with it, but it’s not that different than people who decide to dress in certain retro of vintage fashions all the time. In fact, it has a lot of cross over.

    And I’m not sure what you mean by calling a man a boy. Generally calling a grown person a child suggests immaturity. “Girly” means something else, though it does contain the diminutive idea that it’s silly, frilly, and childish. A way that women have been defined for years. Which is why I can see where this is deliberately re-appropriated that idea via fashion, and confronting us with our preconceptions about what that means.

  19. Michael:

    Who’s stressing? It’s called a discussion. You don’t have to participate or even read it if it doesn’t interest you.

  20. Michael,
    what is stress to some is merely a good time for others, I guess: I like talking about ideas.
    So “girly” means something else -I kinda figured, but wasn’t sure: so yeah, it’s about embracing feminity and giving it a good vibe -and like you said about gender stereo types:
    “Usually because you don’t conform to it…but sometimes because you do” I’d say that applies to the differences mostly in the US and Japan: that either way feminity has been given a bad cannotation.
    But isn’t the movement maybe indirectly saying then masculinity is bad? Do the women mostly date androgynes guys within the movement? Or are they dating Cowboys or something?

  21. Actually, I’d like to retract the word “stressing” It doesn’t fit what I wanted to say at all. “Nonsense” works much better.

    Also, replace “boring” with “dull.” For cadence purposes.

    Lastly, just because I think something is ridiculous doesn’t mean it doesn’t interest me.

  22. Michael: If it interests then it might be more helpful to frame your comments in a way that encourages discussion. As opposed to just making statements about how it’s “nonsense” or something “boring” or “dull” white girls do. That’s not constructive or useful, it’s just dismissive. And mostly irrelevant to any conversation on it.

  23. Michael: If it interests then it might be more helpful to frame your comments in a way that encourages discussion. As opposed to just making statements about how it’s “nonsense” or something “boring” or “dull” white girls do. That’s not constructive or useful, it’s just dismissive. And mostly irrelevant to any conversation on it.

    Also, I took the time to write up explanations on this as way to explain (for those interested) why it can be considered more than just creepy or weird or superficial. I know it’s the internet, but a response like yours was just disrespectful. I don’t comment on threads if I don’t have anything constructive to add.

  24. Oliver: No, I don’t think it’s saying anything about masculinity one way or another. In that sense it’s only a personal reflection of fashion preferences and expression of the aforementioned gender ideas. It’s just saying “girly” doesn’t have to be bad. And in that sense, they probably are more open about androgyny or the opposite, very masculine dress. And frankly, only androgyny has a possibly “negative” connotation since human beings can get really upset if they can’t immediately identify via gender.

    The movement doesn’t seem to dictate who you should date, like, or what kind of job you should have. I’m sure some people could extend it to a kind of lifestyle, but people do that with or without this sort of fashion-as-commentary. The people who dress this way are still individuals with individual preferences. People do often date those with similar aesthetics…but I’d say it’s as likely they’d date someone with an affinity for costuming and fashion, and possibly also gender exploration.

  25. Maria,
    thank you for taking the time -I find it fascinating: and while we can’t take your words as some manifesto of the movement it gives a lot of insight. Time will tell how much the movement catches on.
    It stands to reason that people usually date others within their milieu: such as most hippies dated other hippies, most punks dated other punks etc… which is hard to dispute and you agree with… I guess I was initially just wondering if it would be more like a characture of males and females each dressed in an exagerated sense -but it seems to be skewed towards femininity and none-masculinity. And while you say they might possibly be more open towards more masculine dress -that masculine dressed guy, from how I read it, would not be part of the movement.

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