Many of the students attending the Japan festival this year put little thought into their clothing as they walked out the door. Other students, however, put thought into each detail of their elaborate, often Victorian-era-inspired outfits, including ornate dresses, colorful wigs and a complex mix of colors and accessories.
This style of fashion is called “Lolita,” and it’s perfectly at home at the festival, because it stems directly from Japan, where it’s most popular. It’s one of the largest alternative fashions in the world, and the trend has been growing in the United States since its start in the ’90s.
Vladimir Bane, student, expressed that her clothing drew heavily from her interest in history, particularly World War I.
“All history interests me,” Bane said. “I love going to the WWI museum. It’s a weirdly encouraging and beautiful time. Walking around the museum, you can get lost in your mind thinking about what you’re seeing. You leave encouraged.”
Despite the companionship of Lolita wearers, people outside of the community are typically not so accepting. The judgment from others who don’t understand the true meaning and origins of Lolita stems largely from the classic novel of the same name, which chronicles a young girl involved in a sexual relationship with an adult man. The innocent, childlike look of Lolita fashion often gives people the wrong impression on what the wearers are trying to say.
“The fashion became a rebellious statement against modern days,” Bane said. “A statement against the sexualization of literally everything, a statement against fast-fashion, a statement toward accepting everyone with gender being of no matter. Lolita, especially in western culture, is thought of as a kink.
“Sweet Lolitas seem to get the worst of it,” Bane continued. “Due to the name of the fashion and the bright colors and cute prints of their clothing, some people will call them out on the street telling them they are supporting pedophilia or worse. The negativity is intense.”
Shanna Kelly arrived at the festival in typical sweet-Lolita fashion. She wore pink — a pink dress, pink high-heels, and accessories in red and white. Her brown tights matched the brown bows adorning the cats printed on her puff-skirted dress, and she completed the look with a long, light-mauve wig.
“My inspiration for this look was, basically, a chocolate cherry or strawberry,” Kelly said. “I thought that this sort of monochrome outfit would look nice, so I picked out different things from some of my other outfits and put it together. I’ve always considered myself cute, and this sort of fashion just highlights that about me. I think it’s the ultimate cute, and that’s what I want to be — so, I feel happy wearing it.”
The point of sweet Lolita, the most popular branch of the fashion, is to appear as “kawaii,” or as cute, as possible. The style sprouted from the gothic scene in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan, where women would dress in elaborate outfits reminiscent of romantic and Victorian fashion trends.
During the five years Kelly has spent in the Lolita community, she has become the co-director of Naka Kon, a Kansas-City-based anime convention that attracts many Lolita wearers and is a perfect way for members of the community to learn more and connect with one another.
“The thing with Lolita is, we all just like excuses to dress up and get together,” Kelly said. “That’s why we’re at the Japanese festival, too. This is a Japanese fashion, and it just goes hand-in-hand with us dressing up and mingling with people who like the same things.”
For many that don’t feel connected with the frilly, “cute” clothing typically associated with Lolita, there are plentiful subcategories on hand. The boys’ style tends to be more masculine and gothic. That said, all forms of Lolita are open to all genders, with neither binary nor any other gender identity being barred from the girly dress style nor the gothic-aristocrat boys’ style.
Juliet Ross, student that drew from many of her past outfits to assemble a pirate look for the Japanese Festival. She paired a black and white shirt with maroon sleeves with a blooming white flower eyepatch and carried a black and white trunk
“I like to be able to show off my frilly, over-the-top outfits without it being too weird,” Ross said. “Because, if you dress up with a bunch of other Lolitas, it’s not going to be weird. The whole theme for my outfit today is a pirate prince — you don’t have to have an underlying theme, but that’s how a lot of people put their outfits together.”
Whether people dress in Lolita to feel more themselves or to show off their extravagant clothing, the style certainly brings more genuine passion than people unfamiliar with the fashion might expect. Far from being a kink, Lolita is more a way to connect with others who want to defy the modern status quo.
Bane’s passion for Lolita and fashion in general has led her to create her own clothing brand. Although Bane has been working on perfecting her brand from a young age, this past year has shown intense progress. Bane works with Nicole Stone Design, a graphic designer based out of Kansas City, who, Bane said, is the “logic behind [her] madness.”
“I’ve been doing prints, experimenting with the prints, getting fabric samples, seeing how everything looks and works,” Bane said. “This year has been my year. I’ve always loved fashion, but it’s only lately that I’ve been discovering who I am, and that’s what’s been driving me into the fashion industry.
Bane continued, “When you look at someone, you can’t see their soul. You just see their flesh. [When you] decorate yourself, it allows you to build up your confidence and your ideal image for the outside world. People can just look at you and see who you truly are.”