Style Out There: Lolitas of Amsterdam-
“There is nothing so immediate as fashion in terms of an expression of ones values and one’s state of mind.”
- Andrew Bolton
Gothic Lolitas, Amsterdam
Day 20 -
Despite its roots placed firmly in Japan, Lolita fashion has seen a diffusion of styles spread out across the world. Traditionally Lolita fashion was a rebellion against the sexual exploitation of women in western society. Turning away from overtly seductive, aiming instead for a historic modesty that is hyper feminine rather than girlish in aspect.
In Amsterdam there is a strong subculture of girls who have embraced the lolita fashion and culture. What was it about this mode of dress that resonated with these young women? Was it an adoration of Japanese street fashion? A love of the feminine design aesthetics? Or perhaps a desire for a lifestyle that the lolita fashion represents?
As i arrived in Amsterdam, i was invited to attend a lolita tea party in Utrecht, a typical activity in the lolita community. Not really knowing what to expect, i was shocked and charmed to see how many young girls were present, and how stylized they all were. It was obvious how much care and attention had been placed into the intricacies of each of their outfits. I learnt that to be classified as lolita there were several rules that you had to follow. The girls broke down the anatomy of the fashion, headwear, blouse, bell-shaped skirt, undergarment, legs, and footwear. Each element is essential in creating the proper lolita aesthetic. Most importantly was a cupcake style skirt, the more layers of petticoats the better.
As i talked with the girls it seemed the overriding reason for adopting this fashion was a sense of playfulness and fun. It reminded me of a quote by Pablo Picasso, where he once said, ”Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." Sometimes the best way to get our creative juices flowing is to get in touch with our inner child. Here was an opportunity for the girls to use their imaginations, to be free and get to play. Something that as adults we rarely do. These events were greatly important to a lot of the girls, as this was their only opportunity to dress up as they wouldn't wear these clothes in their regular lives. There was a strong sense of community and friendship between them all. Everybody was proud of their lolita look and these tea parties or other special occasions were a chance for them to meet and swap fashion notes and give style tips.
As i spoke with one group of girls, i was eager to understand how it felt being dressed up in lolita fashion. As they individually conveyed to me their thoughts and feelings, i started to piece together an understanding of what it might feel like. I shared a story of a similar experience of mine, and the girls agreed that there was definitely a comparison. As a model, ive worn many different types of fashion. However, i will always remember the first time that i wore a bridal dress for a shoot. There is something about wearing a wedding dress as a girl, at least for me, that speaks to that inner child. The fantasy, hope or expectations you have as a little girl about your dream day, and the wedding dress in some ways allowing you to feel magical like a princess. I recall putting on a huge “meringue” shaped dress with tons of petticoats supporting it, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and just being in awe. Its hard to describe that feeling, but you just felt special. Its so radically different from every day attire that you cant help but be captivated by this new image of you in the mirror.
Linda is a very gifted fashion designer, a lover of haute couture and all things lolita. I visited her in her design studio where she showed me her most recent collection. Linda, being a little older than the girls i met yesterday, represents the evolution of a lolita. Her style has changed and evolved as she has aged, still keeping the basic elements but now choosing to adapt them to her personal style. Rather than using more cutesy colors like pastels to convey femininity. She chooses to design with soft fabric textures like lace and velvets to demonstrate sweetness or womanliness. I learnt that she chooses not to take her design inspirations from Japan, instead she focuses on the true source of the style, the French Rococo or Victorian period. An era that had ultimately spawned the fashion trend in Asia.
As we talked Linda conveyed her love of lolita being beyond the physical aesthetics. It gave her an ability to connect to a lifestyle that she admired. She aspired to create a sense of nobility through her fashion. Good morals and etiquette were greatly prevalent in the Victorian period, and Linda yearned for a day that women were treated respectfully like ladies. The clothes provided her with an escape and a chance to fantasize. She expressed, “i realized i could be whoever i wanted to be. And, i don't need to worry about whether other people thought that was pretty. These clothes make ME feel pretty and happy on the inside, and thats all that matters.”
Day 23 -
There is no other city like Amsterdam that exudes such debauchery in its reputation. Prostitution and marijuana is flaunted with abandon. Hardly a puritan society, it is an exceedingly liberal city in its attitude towards drugs and sex. What is viewed as ‘normal’ in this environment would be considered extreme in others. Perhaps the lolita fashion is a return to modest dress as a form of rebellion against the chaos. Could it be a personal style statement that goes against the grain of normal consumption in this bizarre city.
I spent the day with Katy and her friends dressed in full lolita attire. We navigated the streets of Utrecht, took public transport and settled in a quaint restaurant for lunch. Nine girls parading around in various subdivisions of lolita style- sweet lolita, gothic lolita, and classic lolita. I couldn't help but notice all the attention we drew to ourselves. These weren't the streets of Shibuya, Japan. Where this fashion statement is more readily viewed and accepted. The local Dutch folk couldn't help but stare and comment as we passed by. There was definitely strength in numbers and i would not have had the courage to walk around town alone dressed like this. With all this attention, there had to be a small streak of exhibitionist in these girls. Why do they chose to do this? I wanted to fully understand how does this fashion speak to who they are? A common theme was that the girls felt comfortable with a more reserved style. Modesty was important to them. Having recently filmed with orthodox jewish and muslim girls in NYC for a previous episode of Style Out There, i valued this sentiment, but there are ways to achieve modest fashion without taking it to the extreme and ostentatious nature of lolita.
Unfortunately no one could give me a clear or definite answer as to why they had embraced this fashion. Im still undecided as to whether its a statement of femininity and modesty, a desire to return to old fashioned morals, or whether it is a rebellion against the outlandish nature of Amsterdam’s city centre. No matter what, this group of girls have grown closer through Lolita. Shared beliefs in fashion help to highlight our visible differences and similarities which in turn facilitate interactions and relationships. This urge of being authentic creates a subculture. Although lolita fashion is theatrical in its concern with its over elaborate display, show and façade. The significance of these girls clothing, behavior and belief system, communicates that they “belong” within a certain group. Perhaps that is ultimately what is most important to them, a strong bond of friendship and common values.