Lolita Fashion Is Not a Sexual Fetish

Jessie Wan stood alone at the bus stop, wearing a frilly, pink dress with two pom-poms adorned on her pigtails. She’s worked hard to put together her over-the-top outfit and spent hundreds of dollars in the process.

While waiting on the street corner, a car stopped at the red light in front of her, says Wan. A woman rolled down her window and yelled, “Hey sexy, why don’t you get in my car?”

After attempting to get her boyfriend to make fun of Wan as well, the woman drove away when the light turned green, says Wan.

Wan and those like her who dress in Lolita fashion are no strangers to this kind of street harassment.

What is Lolita fashion?                                       

According to The Daily Dot, Lolita is a street fashion that originated in Japan in the 1970s. It incorporates large frills, lace and bows to create a modest, yet outrageous image of femininity.

“It’s a way to consider what is beautiful, not just what is considered beautiful by mainstream media,” says An Nguyen, the co-creator of So Pretty / Very Rotten, a series of essays and comics about Lolita subculture.

Many who choose to wear Lolita fashion are often harassed by those unfamiliar with the style. This is because Lolita is commonly mistaken for a sexual fetish.

Is Lolita fashion a kink?

“A lot of people think we have weird daddy issues,” says one Lolita, who wished only to be called Veronika. “A lot of them ask if we’re in cosplay or if I’m a pedophile,” she says.

“I like to wear crazy dresses and hang out with my friends, not because I have some deep seeded issues with my parents,” she says.

Julia Wichlacz, a Toronto resident who dresses in gothic Lolita says she and her friends often get asked if they are involved in “some sort of sex thing.”

She says this association stems from the 1955 Russian novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, in which the middle-aged narrator becomes sexually involved with his 12-year-old stepdaughter.

Wichlacz says the shared name is unfortunate but likely to never change.

“The fashion is so modest that it baffles my mind that people think it can be a sexual fantasy,” Tia Camilleri, a Lolita from Oshawa, says about the fashion. “You’re the one with the dirty mind if that’s what you’re perceiving.”

“It’s exactly what we say it is. We don’t have any hidden agenda,” she says. “It’s just a fashion.”

“I’ve had a lot of overwhelmingly negative experiences,” says Veronika.

While many people have shouted obscenities at her or touched her without her permission in public, there is something else that gets on her nerves.

“The most common negative thing is people will take photos of you like you’re at an exhibit,” she says.

 “My response is usually if someone starts filming me, I’ll take mine out and start filming them,” she says. “If they can invade my space I can invade theirs.”

Lolita fashion isn’t a costume

Many Lolitas become frustrated when people say they are wearing a costume.

“If I have the time to explain to the people I have encountered, I will politely tell them it’s a Japanese street fashion,” says Wan. “I’m not wearing a costume right now.”

Their outfits, called “coordinations” or “coords,” take months to prepare and often cost a small fortune.

Wan’s newest coord, which features a patterned dress by the popular Lolita brand Angelic Pretty, cost about $500 CAD. Others like Veronika have spent around $1,000 on a dress alone.

Most Lolitas buy and sell online, whether the pieces be second-hand or direct from the manufacturer. Since Lolita fashion is not yet available in the Toronto area, overseas shipping makes purchasing coords expensive, says Wan.

Nguyen and her co-creator Jane Mai discuss this materialistic aspect of the fashion in their work So Pretty / Very Rotten.

“We were questioning our relationship to Lolita fashion,” she says.

“People that are into Lolita are into things that are beautiful but the rotten sense is just the impermanence of everything,” she says.

“There are limitations of trying to find yourself through material things,” she says. “Especially Jane in this book, looks at how people can become consumed with things and lose track of what’s important.”

Why do people wear Lolita fashion?

“People may be hesitant to join the community because they hear of people who have had negative experiences,” says Nguyen. “It’s important to remember the reasons why you decided to go into the fashion.”

“Even though there are flaws and these bad, rotten things, there’s still something pretty about it,” she says.

“I wouldn’t say it’s any different than people coming together to share the same hobby,” says Wichlacz.

“It’s fashion. I don’t think it’s any different than people who have sneaker collections,” she says. “Life’s too short to wear boring clothes.”