Lolita Fashion 101: What is a Cutsew?
Cutsew is an example of a Wasei-eigo word. Wasei-eigo is a term that refers to words or phrases that exist in Japanese, and are made up of English words, but don’t really exist in English, or at least, aren’t commonly used in English, or aren’t used in the same way.
The term cutsew ( カットソー ) or sometimes just cut (カット)… or even sometimes “cutsaw”, is a compound word made up of the English words “cut” and “sew”. It’s used broadly across multiple fashion styles in Japan, and is not specific to lolita.
The term comes from the garment construction process. Namely, the production of shirts made from a stretch knit / jersey material (“tee-shirt material” for those who aren’t fabric people). When a tee-shirt is made in a garment factory, it’s made using a serger. A serger is a type of sewing machine that sews a special stitch that “finishes” off the edge of a fabric so that it won’t fray. It also cuts the extra fabric off at the same time. So, the machine cuts and sews. It cuts-and-sews. It cutsews. It makes… cutsews.
So basically, in general a cutsew is a teeshirt, or other shirt, made of stretchy fabric and sewn with a serger machine.
However, when we are talking about a cutsew in lolita, usually we are talking about a lolita specific cutsew.
Here, we have an example of a lolita cutsew. The main body of the shirt is mostly made of stretchy teeshirt material (though often it’s nicer / softer than your average teeshirt), but the shirt is cut a little more snug to the body (babydoll tee sort of cut) with puffed sleeves, a ruffle at the bottom and a collar and button placket.
Sometimes, the buttons on cutsews will be purely decorative, sometimes they will be functional. It really just depends on the cutsew.
Note that the white parts of this cutsew aren’t stretch material, and that’s OK. It’s still a cutsew because the main fabric is that stretch tee-shirt material.
Here is another example. This one uses a sheer material for the long sleeves and for a top modesty panel at the neck. Even though this material isn’t a teeshirt material, it’s still considered a cutsew because the main body of the top is made of that teeshirt material.
Cutsews can range from cute and young like the red strawberry themed one above, to much more fancy and elegant like this one. A cutsew can be a great option to pair with a skirt for a more casual look (although some, like this white one aren’t super casual!), and they tend to be a little more comfortable than a button up blouse. If you are going to be in hot and humid weather they can also be a nice wrinkle resistant option, while still being cotton, which some people prefer in hot weather… however, they are a little thicker / warmer than the average blouse in my opinion.
Putumayo used to make a ton of simple cutsews with embroidered or screen printed motifs on them (as well as actual teeshirts). Their lolita style cutsews are great when paired with skirts for casual lolita looks and can frequently be found second hand for ~1,000 yen ($10 USD).
Caring for Cutsews
Most cutsews are washable, though I recommend hand wash or putting them in a net bag to wash them if they have any sort of lace, bows or delicate fabrics for the sleeves. Turn them inside out before washing and use cold water. Some red, black or navy cutsews might bleed, so consider using color catcher sheets if you have a dark colored shirt with lighter details or trim. While most will do just fine in the dryer, air drying will do less cumulative damage over time, and is the go-to recommendation for teeshirts you want to keep forever.
If your cutsew has a screen print design (usually is a little more “stiff” than the rest of the shirt, and consists of layers of solid colored paint. Might be a single color design or just a couple colors. Doesn’t really look shaded or like a photograph), don’t iron it where the printing is and avoid leaving it somewhere really hot, like in your car in the summer or in the attic in the summer.
Cutsews can typically be stored either hanging in the closet, though you want to avoid overly large hangers that stretch the shirt, or in a drawer. If your cutsew has a large screen print, roll it or fold it in a way that you aren’t putting a crease in the middle of the print.
In general, cutsews are a great, comfortable, low maintenance shirt option for lolita fashion, and are a wonderful option for skirt coordinates.