Sleeve Stoppers? Kawaii Sleeves? Armbands? What exactly are Wrist Cuffs, Sock Toppers and Chou Chou?
In their most common form, modern wrist cuffs, sock toppers and chou chou (aka scrunchies) are all constructed roughly the same way. There is some lace or fabric, and it’s gathered around elastic (or less commonly these days, ribbon) to make a loop.
However, in practice, these three things are all a little different. Wrist Cuffs have served two main purposes through their lifetime in lolita. They have acted as a way to lengthen or dress up plain sleeves, and they have acted as a wrist decoration.
Wristcuffs of the early 2000s were often all lace (usually a thicker lace like clunny, torchon or cotton eyelet) with a ribbon drawstring. Some were advertised as being duel purpose sock toppers for knee socks or wristcuffs. This sort of works when you have a draw string, because the tightness is adjustable, so you could have a very gathered wrist cuff, or a not very gathered sock topper around your calf.
Wrist cuffs at this time most commonly pop up as sleeve decoration, usually paired with long sleeves. In Japanese these were called “お袖留” or “お袖とめ” by a number of brands which is sometimes literally translated into “Sleeve Stopper”, “Sleeve Stop” or “Sleeve Topper”. They also sometimes are called “Kawaii Sleeve”, presumably because they make sleeves cuter? You can see this below on the person in the black OP; there is a slight gap between the wrist cuff and the sleeve in the photo. When it’s done “right” it’s pretty hard to spot, especially because there was a trend of layering a blouse with good lacy sleeves / collar under a cardigan at the time (see the person in sax below and the guide to lolita). Most GLB and other publications that were edited would have likely first of all been using brand blouses which had more elaborate sleeves to start with, and secondly, corrected for any “gaps”, so we really only see this in more off the cuff street snaps like the Fruits ones.
Wrist Cuffs being worn alone on the wrists doesn’t show up as much. This OTT BTSSB illustration (below, left) from 2000 shows some type of arm band, but it’s more similar to the arm band worn in the center image. While the outfit in the center uses many “lolita” items (shoes, STC/ST skirt) it doesn’t really match the lolita aesthetic even of that time. The image on the right is more in like with a normal lolita coordinate, but again, she’s wearing more of a lacy version of emo wristbands than the bell shaped wrist cuffs we are used to seeing.
In 2006, Angelic Pretty put stand alone wristcuffs on two of their models in their catalog: A very maid cafe style pair is paired with Pastel a la Mode’s OP, and then a more traditional pair is paired with a solid pink OP that they are styling a bit more OTT with a sweater and bag with knit berries. The corresponding issue of the GLB also features a BTSSB advertisement with stand alone wristcuffs.
GLB 17, from the summer before (2005) features long sleeves in mid-summer (oof!) or conspicuously bare wrists for both Baby and AP. Even the guide to shiro and sweet lolita in the issue specifically shows lace gloves which was the go-to staple hand/wrist item for lolita in the early 2000s. Neither brand really used wrist bands in their GLB advertisements prior to this either, though they do pop up in a very emo-punk style with some of the more punk brands like Putumayo.
Around 2007, elastic wristcuffs started to challenge the ribbon-tied status quo and slowly they pretty much replaced their drawstring counterparts, though both styles were readily available for a time. The modern tulle lace style AP sells surfaced in 2008, and quickly exploded with over a dozen styles in 2009. If you have ever had to tie a cute bow on your own wrist, you likely know the struggle (you either have to contort your hand, or use your mouth as a 3rd hand… yikes!) and understand why replacing them with elastic would be a popular thing. I have one (1) drawstring pair I got from a random reseller at an anime convention more than 10 years ago and I absolutely hate dealing with them. (pro-tip: use them with a long sleeve elastic cuff blouse and put the wrist cuff into the cuff of the blouse and then pray it stays tied. Or, you know, replace them and save yourself the pain). Replacing the drawstring also allowed for easier additions of bigger / fancier looking bows with more embellishments.
So, how did we get from Sleeve Stopper to Wrist Cuff? The earliest mentions of wrist cuffs on Daily Lolita are in 2008 (they are being worn both as sleeve decoration and alone), but there are a couple mentions in 2005 on EGL, including one mention which has a picture and suggests via the text at the bottom that Meta was possibly calling them “cuffs” not “wrist cuffs” at the time, but also could indicate that they just used both terms, since it’s unclear if the poster wrote the photo captions or if Meta did. The only other early references I can find on LJ that aren’t adult content is a 2007 meetup. I found some references to wristbands that actually were wristbands on the Meta English site and a “Lacy Wristband“, which probably was something like these embroidered ones? But not a whole lot about wrist cuffs.
So, it’s not very clear, and 2005 was before I got into lolita personally, so it’s not something I know from memory. I do remember that when I started, I didn’t like wrist cuffs being worn alone because my impression was that it looked unpolished. It’s hard to explain, but, around the time when I first was getting into lolita (2008/2009), rectangle headdresses, chunky lace… these things were just old enough to be “unfashionable” or “off trend”. Old school wasn’t old enough yet to be super nostalgic. It was more like if lolita had drastically changed between 2015 and 2020. Rectangle headdresses and chunky lace were to me what the twin tail split wig is to many people today. And those “off trend” things are what I saw being replicated by costume makers. So to me, a hallmark of someone who didn’t know what lolita was or who bought a bad costume was a bad looking rectangle headdress and badly homemade wrist cuffs that were worn with short sleeves.
I think too, a lot of western lolita were making things and making do in the earlier days of lolita and brand wrist cuffs are pretty expensive and a lot harder to source than some off-brand bracelets. So, my opinion of “most decorative wrist cuffs are bad” might have been influenced by this to some degree as well.
So, I didn’t like this trend, and I only used wrist cuffs (tulle lace ones, thank you very much. Because that and maybe cotton eyelet were the only laces I considered to be stylish as a baby lolita, lol) to lengthen sleeves that were too short. It wasn’t until many years later that I actually bought wrist cuffs that were meant to be worn alone and wore them alone.
Which brings us around to wrist cuff styles. Some wrist cuffs are duel purpose and can be worn alone, or with long sleeves. However, others are specifically designed for one type of wear or the other.
For example, when selecting wrist cuffs to pair with short sleeves, look for wrist cuffs with a decorative top ruffle. Wrist cuffs that have a motif that sticks up past the elastic like these bunny ears are also made to be worn with short sleeves.
This top ruffle makes the cuff look finished and balanced when worn without a blouse. However, the flip side is that if you try to tuck one of these big bows or ruffles up your sleeve, it’s going to be a lot harder to make it look like it’s part of your blouse.
Wrist cuffs with shorter top ruffles, or no top ruffles and smaller embellishments are easier to tuck under sleeves and use to lengthen sleeves.
There are also novelty wrist cuffs that look like actual sleeve cuffs, though these are less common and tend to be harder to pull off without sleeves, IMHO, because they can look a bit like a sexy bunny or maid costume if you aren’t careful.
Lastly, the long side of the wrist cuff points down over your hand, not up over your wrist. If you hold your arms down at your side, and your wristcuff turns inside out like an umbrella, it’s probably on upside down. If a seller pictures them upside down (like bodyline does in the first image here) they may not know enough about lolita to properly make wrist cuffs. The only exception is if you are in a shop in person and they have a hand display that sticks straight up, sometimes they will flip them so they look better on the display.
However, one little caveat, while I was researching for this, I did notice that the advertisement for Angelic Pretty’s Pastel a La Mode series seems to have the cuffs on the model in the direction that I would consider backwards, which I thought was pretty strange.
Subsequent releases of similar styled wristcuffs show them pictured alone going the other way in stock photos, implying that they would be worn in the same direction as normal lace ones.
However, when I looked up Wonder Cookie in the 2010 catalog just to verify that this was a one off “mistake”, I found this abomination that I absolutely would not recommend as normal styling (though, I guess they are at least both going the right way?)
I guess it just kind of goes back to the fact that some “rules” (you only wear one pair of wrist cuffs at a time, and they go in a specific direction) may not be things that came directly from brands, but instead, may be more of what the general consensus of lolita has been, or even, specific to the western community. If you wore two pairs of wrist cuffs or wore them upsidedown and posted to daily lolita or closet of frills, someone likely would (hopefully gently) let you know that it wasn’t quite right, but, you know, I’ve never noticed these ads having these weird styling choices until now.
Sock toppers are not as popular these days, though I’ve started to see a resurgence. Sock toppers are made to be worn at the top of knee or ankle socks. Construction wise, they are similar to wrist cuffs, but the tend to be wider and shorter. The knee sock variety are usually a lot bigger than wrist cuffs since they go around the calf. However, lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of socks that are like tube sock length specifically from Chinese indie brands, and the sock toppers I’ve been seeing this season / last season tend to be made for this sock length, or for bobby sock length ankle socks so they are closer to wristcuffs in size. While you could use wrist cuffs for ankle socks, they might be a bit tight, so it’s usually better to seek out cuffs made specifically for legs.
When knee socks were all the rage 15-20 years ago, sock toppers let you buy cheap knee socks and then add a sock topper, so you might have several pairs of plain black and white socks, and one sock topper, saving you a lot of money. Because they are so similar to regular embellished knee socks when worn, it’s pretty hard to find examples of them in photos; you just can’t really tell. They can, however, also be added to print socks to make them more OTT, and that’s kind of where they have fallen in modern times.
Lastly, we have the chou chou (シュシュ). A Chou chou is basically a scrunchie, but a lot of them are made to be worn on the wrist, instead of in the hair.
Typically, a chou chou has either an even amount of ruffle on either side of the elastic, or it’s a single tube. The ones made more to be worn on the wrist tend to have elaborate bows or other embellishments that make them pretty difficult to double around in your hair to hold a ponytail. If it seems like it would look weird, or not work in your hair, you can assume it’s meant to be worn on the wrist. Unlike wristcuffs, it’s totally normal to have chou chou on just one wrist. Stylistically, they are more common with float-y chiffon pieces that have a very specific feel, like the Space Lolipop series from AP shown above.
As for the word chou in general, in French, chou is cabbage, and it’s also used as a term of endearment to call someone mon petit chou (my little cabbage). Chouchou can be a childish term of endearment as well, or like a teachers pet… or a scrunchie. I don’t know the actual etymology of the term though, my French isn’t that good, unfortunately, but it does bring to mind that scene from kamikaze girls….
So, what do you think? Do you like wrist cuffs? Sock toppers? chou chou? Have a favorite? Are you French and know the actual etymology of chouchou? Have opinions about double wrist cuffs or which way wrist cuffs should go? Let me know in the comments!