As the fashions and lifestyles associated with manga and anime fandom become more and more popular in the U.S., there are bound to be some that are harder for observers to understand. One of the most complex is the Lolita look.
Lolita presents the confusing sight of young women dressing like frilly Victorian dolls. Lolitas, or “rorikos,” are famous in Japan, but the movement is growing in America via LiveJournal, which has a little over 8,000 members in its EGL (Elegant Gothic Lolita) community. Interest in the style travels globally through manga titles featuring young girls in slightly gothic, neo-Victorian situations. Some popular titles are The Embalmer, Bizenghast, Dolls and Rozen Maiden. There's also a novel, Kamikaze Girls, which was made into a movie in Japan, and Lolita is also linked to the popularity of the Japanese ball-jointed dolls made by Volk. (Aimee Major Steinberger's Japan Ai discusses visiting the factory that makes the dolls). But the images of other Lolitas, which captivate certain women, do as much as anything to spread the style.
Lolita style is widely misunderstood. Most press focuses on the name, saying that Lolitas are adult women taking on the role of sexualized children. “Despite its name, it's not about attracting an older guy,” said Mary Moos, who wore a Sweet Lolita outfit to the New York Animé Con, held last December. The fun of being a Lolita is that “you get to dress up without having to be sexy,” said Amanda Barkhorn, a frequent contributor to EGL. Jenna Winterberg, editor of TokyoPop's quarterly magazine, Gothic & Lolita Bible, out this month with its first volume, said she sees parallels with the modesty movement, which advocates stylish clothing that is not oversexualized.
Lolita has a lot to do with craftsmanship and loving clothes that are girlish and pretty. When I met Barkhorn at the New York Animé Con, she wore a lacy skirt she had made herself from a pink Alice in Wonderland print fabric. Her matching headpiece, which she also made, was exquisite. As she showed it to me, she pinched a nearly invisible loose thread. “Lolita is about perfection,” she explained.