Cat Ears in Lolita?
I made a silly tongue-in-cheek flowchart about wearing cat ears in lolita last winter to explain my thought process about when and where cat ears are OK in a reply to a thread on rufflechat, but I noticed it was being reposted in reply to people asking about cat ears, and that wasn’t really my expectation or intention. It was aimed at people who already had a general idea of when and why and were having a debate on the topic. It was not made to be sent to people who were newer to lolita.
An updated version that includes the part I mentioned missing in the comment that went with it is below:
I wanted to take a moment though and explain the through process behind each item, and some background about why we even have this conversation in the first place.
Why Cat Ears are Sometimes Considered Ita
On the rather badly written page on wikipedia about cat girls, there is the image to the right, which is wikipe-tan, the anime mascot character meant to embody the concept of wikipedia dressed as a cat girl. Despite the low quality of the wikipedia page, this is a pretty accurate representation of the concept of a cat girl. She’s doing the little cat hand gesture, she has cat ears, and a maid costume which is meant to be “sexy”.
Early Lolita fashion in the western community had some ties to the anime boom in the western community. In other words, a large number of people in the western lolita community, at least early on, found their way there via interest in anime, or interest in a site like Gaia Online (an anime forum with a dress up doll feature) or other sites with heavy anime influence. Books like the western Phaidon publications of FRUITS (2001), FRESH FRUITS (2005) and GOTHIC LOLITA (2007) (colloquially known as the Phaidon books) were aimed at anime fans and fans of Japanese music (who often were anime fans) and were framed kind of like “look at these wacky Japanese teens dressing weird”. But the problem with these books is that they used street snaps several years old. There were also plenty of questionable “lolita” costumes in “How to draw Manga” books of the day. And of course, there were several Lolita or Lolita-adjacent characters in anime which usually used costumes that when they were accurately lolita, were very dated, especially by the time they were subbed or dubbed in the US (but often weren’t really lolita at all).
This means that people going to anime conventions in lolita, or wearing low quality (and often outdated) lolita dresses or maid dresses bought from costume shops to conventions to cosplay as a lolita was not uncommon around the 2005-2010-ish. This led to a lot of people who weren’t lolita trying to cash in on the trend at cons by selling rectangle headdress and mini-hats that were advertised as lolita, but often used low quality materials and incorrect proportions or loud fabric patterns.
And, around the same-ish time, maybe a little earlier like 2000-2006-ish? there was a boom in cat girls being popular at conventions. And this spawned a lot of people selling cat girl ears at anime cons. But, they were like Halloween costume type cat ears. They weren’t really “fashion” items. The shapes were often more open, like they had an inside? and bells or maid headdress or long ribbons were common additions.
Above are some examples of what survives today of the trend, but I also remember plastic ears that faced forward with fur tufts on the inside. But in general, we are talking bottom of the barrel quality craft lace and ribbon.
If a western lolita went to an anime con in the mid 2000s, there was a high chance, they would see several people in low quality “lolita” maid dresses, with cat ears, or bad quality rectangle headdresses, or both. Usually in black x white.
These people would call what they were wearing lolita and would join the lolita communities of the day (like EGL). As time went on, and real lolita items became more available, my understanding is that people on EGL kind of started to develop a “better” understanding of what was lolita and what was “anime” culture and started to really develop this sort of feeling that they needed to distance themselves from “cosplay” because “lolita is fashion”. So these people joining EGL in the latter half of the first decade of 2000 would be confused when people told them that what they were wearing wasn’t lolita. Or more specifically, that it was “ita” (painful to look at).
So, out of this, the community more or less developed an association that cat ears meant cat girl maid ears from an anime con, which in turn was a staple of someone who cosplayed as a lolita.
It’s worth noting that it was hard to get genuine lolita brand items in the west in the early days, and that actual animal ears were not super common in the early days of lolita in Japan. So, while there were people wearing cat ears, they almost always were homemade or anime style ones, and I can’t find references in publications from that time that actually show them as lolita. As the community evolved more towards “lolita is fashion”, this was less acceptable. So, the pickings were slim, the quality was bad more often than not, it was heavily associated with “cringy” anime maid cosplay, and it was easier for a lot of people to just say it was ita, than to be nuanced about it.
Early Animal Ears in Lolita
From 1999-2002, animal ears in lolita were almost exclusively attached to hoods on coats and sweaters. They were usually rabbit or bear, and usually were very simplistic shapes that just suggested the idea of ears. In 2007, in the GLB #7, Angelic Pretty released a pattern for a fur headdress with bear ears, but it’s still basically a cute-a-fied winter weather version of something else. There was also a cat-ear headdress as part of a collaboration set in Kera Maniax volume 7 in 2006, but it was presented as a Halloween costume and was pretty limited in availability.
This trend of pretty much just using ears to decorate hoods and hats would consider until 2007 when Baby released two pairs of earmuffs that had rabbit ears, and Angelic Pretty released a pair of bear ears and a pair of cat ears on a headband. These are the first brand headband or clip on cat ears that I know of.
But, unlike a lot of other things, these first couple animal ears were kind of isolated, they didn’t multiply into dozens the next year. We actually have no animal ear headdresses recorded in lolibrary in 2008 (at least right now). 2009, however, brought us Milky-Chan ears and bunny ears from Angelic Pretty, though they are still firmly paired with a headbow… and the rabbit ears were actually detachable.
Changing Western Community Opinions on Animal Ears
In 2009 xaynie ran a poll on EGL that included a question about animal ears. The poll was inspired by things that popped up on “lolita secrets” (the predecessor of behind the bows), which at the time included both post secret-like confessions and some criticism of other people. The poll asked “What do you agree with?” And people had to select if they agreed or disagreed with the question. A few definitions were included, the relevant one is “Lolita / Lolita outfit – an outfit / item / coordinate you are willing to post on daily_lolita or egl ..not lolita inspired.”
So, interestingly, about 57.5% of people on EGL at the time thought that animal ears with lolita was a “no-no”, like, never, ever do this. This is more split than some of the other questions, but there is still is a large number of people who wrote them off entirely. The comments are a little more nuanced:
Hmm, I think animal ears can look cute with lolita, it just depends. I’ve seen cute themed outfits with animal ears, but there is just so much fail when it comes to them, thats why I think most people think its a no no. It can end up looking too costumey.gingerbreadgirl
I think it depends when it comes to the animal ears thing. I personally think it’s a no-no to just stick on any old pair of cat ears or whatever just because someone thinks it looks cute when it doesn’t. On the other hand, if an animal accessory like ears or a tail is made to go with the one piece/jsk/etc line, like brands sometimes do, then I see no problem with it. 🙂tsukinokrystal
Probably a year ago I would have said “no” whatsoever to animal ears. But now that I see so many brands making them, and so many girls wearing them in such a cute way, I’ve changed my mind! As long as it doesn’t look too cosplayish, it looks fine.archfaith
The only reason I thought you shouldn’t wear bunny/cat/ect. ears with lolita is because it almost always makes it look costumy (to the outside world) and that is a stigma that lolitas really need to get away from. I think the same thing about mini-hats.bsix_cent_douze
In other comments, people mention specific people or events where animal ears were worn and talk about how the coords were so good, they didn’t mind, but there is an overarching idea that sometime between the thread we referenced earlier in 2005 and 2009, animal ears lost popularity and now in 2009, they are starting to build popularity again due to brand releases.
Brand Animal Ears in the Early 2010s
As we move into 2010 and 2011, we start to see headbands that are just ears, but still aren’t very common and they are still mixed in with headbows with ears attached and things that suggest ears, without overtly being costume ears
2011-2012 brings us those wire and bead and rhinestone cat ears that were like really big on tumblr and in pop culture, and we see some echos of those in the baby cat ears released in 2012, as well as one actual pair of them from AP which was a collab (and I want to say by the time this came out, it was a little late on the trend?). I think this is the only pair of wire cat ears that a lolita brand put out?
In 2013 Baby brings us the first pairs of brand clip on animal ears. These ears are shaped like animal ears and made of fur, but there is no detail to them. They often have a bow or other small embellishment. Baby release both cat and bear ears that year, but bear ears are a little more common.
Animal ears more or less continued to fall into those handful of categories for the rest of the 2010s (with the exception of the one-off wire ears). Animal ears also decorated hats throughout this whole time, but the hat ears more or less follow the other ears in style.
Modern Brand Animal Ears
In the late 2010s / Early 2020s, Angelic Pretty adopted a very “plushie” style rabbit and bear ear. We first see this with a hat in 2014 though you could argue that the 2013 Fancy Paper Doll headdress was a predecessor to this.
This “plush” style, complete with the little “steif” style ear tag first pops up as a stand-alone ear headband (without a hat) in 2017, and in recent years, these have sold out the instant they hit the shelves at AP.
So now that we have looked a bit at the background, let’s talk about the nuance in the flowchart.
When Do Cat Ears Work with a Coord?
Are there cats in the print?
Basically, when we add animal ears to a coord, we want to make sure that they are cohesive with the rest of the coord. So bear ears with a bear print, cat ears with a cat print, or with a solid piece that has cat paw motifs in the collar? totally fine. Random cat ears with an unrelated piece? much harder to pull off, and much more likely to fall into the trap of looking like “cat girl” ears put on for no good reason. Cat ears also usually don’t go with most gothic or classic pieces…
Is it Halloween?
There are some purists who absolutely don’t think people should wear lolita on Halloween because “lolita is not a costume”. As someone who regularly used clothes out of my closet + accessories for Halloween costumes I obviously don’t really agree with this. I think Halloween is about dressing up as something you aren’t. If that means wearing a lolita dress + cat ears to be a cat, or a lolita dress + a witch hat to be a witch, go for it. In general, I don’t mind if people wear low quality Halloween accessories as part of a Halloween costume because… yeah, it’s a Halloween costume. Wearing costume pieces with your “clothes” as a costume… is a costume and that’s totally fine IMHO.
Are your ears from a Halloween shop, cosplay shop or costume store?
If it’s not Halloween, and you aren’t cosplaying, it’s time to skip the Halloween, cosplay, costume or furry ears. They are usually not the right style and costume ones usually are poor quality (though there are always some exceptions). This tends to bring down the overall look.
Did you make them? (And could you make a wedding dress?)
Making things by hand is a skill. It requires an eye for material quality, design, scale and a level of craftsmanship. A lot of people would be able to make a perfectly passable pair of Halloween costume ears from scratch, but making higher quality ears that exactly fit the lolita aesthetic is harder. Again, this was a tongue-in-cheek sort of joking flow chart, so I used the over the top example of being able to make a wedding dress to suggest the idea that people often over-estimate their own skill at sewing and crafts when they first start to make items or accessories for lolita. I also jokingly added in “you are mean” to this part because invariably when I talk about how making lolita well takes skill, time and money, someone comes in to tell me I’m wrong, or that I’m being mean.
I’ve tried to sew fur before, it’s a pain. And I’ve seen people try to make rectangle headdresses (which are pretty simple) and skirts and get the balance and design wrong but not recognize that. Heck, I have some fabric and trim in a box somewhere from when I was going to make my own skirts as a newbie (spoiler: my design choices were bad). In general, I don’t recommend making your own ears, simply because they are hard to get right, and the design has to be spot on or it looks like a costume and brings down the overall look of the coord.
And because lolita ears aren’t the same as anime cosplay ears, or furry ears, existing tutorials for those things isn’t going to get you exactly the same thing as what the lolita brands make.
Are they Brand?
Brand ears are usually ok. When the answer to this question is “no” however, the question in the flowchart becomes “Are they comparable to brand ears?” and “have you been wearing lolita for at least 3 years?”. Again, it’s a joking flowchart, and again, I called myself mean for this, but what I was getting at here was the idea of the dunning-kruger effect.
The dunning-kruger effect is why when you first start to understand something, you tend to have a lot of confidence in the fact that you know what you are talking about… even if maybe you don’t yet quite get the finer details of things. This effect is pretty widespread in lolita, and it’s led to people being annoyed about newbies existing in groups like EGL and Rufflechat, and annoyance about people answering questions on Big Sisters of Lolita Fashion without having much experiance for as long as I’ve been participating in the fashion.
I don’t share this graph or this concept because I want to attack people or discourage people. It’s more that it’s important to consider this phenomenon when you are learning new things because it helps you keep from putting your foot in your mouth. I also want to be very clear: I am 100% against shaming people for asking questions or trying to learn new things. No one is born knowing everything, we all learn.
There are a lot of things that I’m on the peak of mt stupid about. I started learning new software at work, and I very much was on the peak of Mt. Stupid. I’m also pretty firmly there when it comes to a lot of other jfashion styles that I don’t wear. I know the general idea of what they are, but I’m very far from being an expert.
So, when someone new to lolita looks at a pair of ears like this from party city and pair of ears from AP, it can be easy to say “well, they are the same quality”.
However, the flowers on this headband are cheap, like dollar store quality craft flowers. The fur on the ears is going to be cheap, like the offbrand discount plush animals you get at a discount store or for consolation prizes at the carnival.
It’s craft grade ribbon, and the ends are chopped pretty randomly. They may not be finished, so it’s going to fray.
This pair of party city zebra ears uses cheap fur again. They also are a little lopsided. They don’t really have the same shape as lolita cat ears.
Additionally they use costume sequin trim, which isn’t used in lolita and makes them look cheaper.
Finally, the centers are super cheap pleather, which is so low quality that it isn’t an appropriate material choice for lolita clothing.
Now, could an experienced lolita pull either of these off? Maybe. But an experienced lolita can likely pull off all sorts of things that aren’t actually quite right. So, because ears already edge towards something the western comm is a little biased about, it’s harder to pull off ears and get it right, and cheaper ears only make it that much harder to pull it off.
Is it appropriate to wear something “weird” where you are going?
Wearing cat ears with lolita (or other animal ears) is no different than wearing cat ears with a fit and flare casual dress, or jeans and a teeshirt. If you are going somewhere where it wouldn’t be appropriate to wear cat ears if you aren’t in lolita, then skip the cat ears while in lolita.
Cat ears are an item that the community has a bit of a difficult relationship with. In part because a large portion of the community, as it ages, wants to distance itself from cosplay and anime and other things that are seen as “geeky” because that portion of the lolita community as a whole wants to think of itself as people who are into fashion, not anime nerds.
But that can lead to some really arbitrary rules, and a tendency to dismiss things when put forward by newer lolita, but not blink an eye when they are done by more experienced lolita or Japanese lolita brands.
At the end of the day, my thought is this: it’s your life, and your style. If you want to wear cheap anime cat ears, I’m not going to stop you. If you want to wear a naruto headband, again, I’m not going to stop you. I’m not going to stop someone from making their own ears or wearing party city ears with lolita or wearing cat ears to their mom’s wedding. These may not be things I’d personally do, but, no one is going to be arrested by the lolita police if they do these things.
The thing about lolita is that it’s made up. The rules, the style… everything about it is made up. Fashion, subcultures… social rules about when things are or aren’t appropriate, it’s all social constructs. So while the above explains when and why I other lolita will think cat ears are OK or not OK with lolita, I’m presenting this more as an explanation and analysis of a very specific subset of the lolita community, specifically the western English speaking community, and not as a hard and fast rule book.
At the end of the day, it’s your happiness that matters most.
2 comments on “Cat Ears in Lolita?”
I’ve been much more accepting of cat ears in lolita lately because I’ve realized how ridiculous the reason of “it’ll make people think lolita is a costume instead of a fashion” is. First of all, lolita is something people wear for themselves, not to make others think highly of them. Also, normal people are still going to think lolita looks like a costume even if it doesn’t have cat ears (or full crowns, or anything else people say will make lolita look like a costume), so it’s pointless. That’s also why I disagree with the “is it appropriate” question on your flow chart: because lolita looks “weird” and “inappropriate” everywhere besides tea parties and conventions. Wearing lolita involves rejecting mainstream standards of what is or isn’t appropriate.
It was great to read about the trackable history of how animal ears fell in and out and back in favour within lolita fashion. And the beauty of this flow chart is that you could easily substitute “cat ears” for “mini hat” or whatever other hotly debated accessory and it would still work.