I’ve been reading Kansai Cool, Christal Whelan’s book on culture in the region around Kyoto, Japan. It has a short but entirely fascinating chapter on the Lolita subculture.
What’s striking to me is just how closely the explanations given by Lolita adherents resonate with those I’ve heard from ostensibly quite different subcultures elsewhere in the world.
There’s a sense that the orderly aestheticism of the scene is a reaction to the confusion of the world, creating a structure of your own to sidestep the one forced on you. There’s the choice of clothing with the explicit intention of rejecting sexual attention:
“If I didn’t dress in this totally conspicuous and bizarre way,
I’d make friends and be popular with boys.”
The ornate dress then is clearly not worn to be sweet and demure, or become the object of someone else’s desire, but instead is an act of defiance. The hyper-feminine clothing creates a boundary around those who wear it. Empowered by an aesthetic that allows an imaginary flight from Japan, Lolitas seek sanctuary in a foreign time and place largely of their own invention.
And in the end Lolita emerges as — almost — the pursuit of feminism by the unlikeliest of means:
The outlandish costume challenged prosaic futures as office ladies (OLs) who prepare tea and make endless photocopies. Lolitas criticized the norm by standing outside it in bold visual contrast. They may have been merely stalling for time, but in that interim Lolitas created a space in which to dream of a possible self within an imaginable Japan.