Why Does Lolita Have So Many Rules?
One thing that seems to really rub some people the wrong way is the number of “rules” that you have to follow when you are just starting out as a lolita. I’ve seen a lot of people, particularly outsiders or new lolita comment that lolita is too strict, or that there are too many rules and thus it isn’t fun. People also often make comments about how there aren’t rules in fashion in general, and so all the rules in lolita are weird. I agree that the number of rules in lolita is weird, but not in the way that most people mean it.
To explain properly what I mean, I first need you to do a thought exercise with me. I want you to imagine that you have never seen a movie or sitcom where people worked in an office. I want you to imagine that your parents, nor your parents friends, nor your friends, nor yourself had ever worked in an office. So, you have never seen the inside of an office, you have never seen someone who works in an office. You had a phone interview and you start an office job tomorrow. What do you wear? How do you figure it out?
Personally, I’d start by googling it. So here is a google image search for “What do you wear in an office?”
As you can see, it seems like, as a woman, I should be wearing a pencil skirt or dress, no bangs, a jacket, yellow, grey, blue, pink and white, with an occasional evening gown or santa hat. In fact, a good 1/3 of the things shown here don’t fit into the dress code at my work place, and/or are simply not office wear. If you based an office work wardrobe off of these results, you would likely be the office version of “Ita”, especially if these clothing cuts don’t flatter your body type!And while work clothing is easy to use as an example because many places have dress codes which explain in detail what is or isn’t acceptable, there are rules for pretty much everything, here are just a few that many of you probably follow without even thinking about them!
- Women’s and Men’s coat buttons have specific sides
- Socks don’t go with sandals
- Light socks with light shoes/pants, dark socks with dark shoes/pants
- Shopping is done in casual clothing, sometimes work wear, but never a ball gown
- Flipflops are not worn with slacks or evening wear
- Club wear is not worn to the dentist
- Jeans can be paired with teeshirts or blouses
- Teeshirts can not be paired with slacks
- Button up shirts are tucked into high waist pencil skirts
- Hose is typically not worn with open toe shoes
- Clashing colors are avoided
- Your left shoe should be from the same pair as your right shoe
- Skimpy clothing is not worn to church/offices/school
- Dresses are typically only in the “women’s” clothing departments, but pants are available in both “men’s” and “women’s” departments
- Men’s clothing typically doesn’t have lace on it, or decorative bows
- Women typically shave their legs, but not their arms
- Makeup is typically applied to the face, and rarely applied to the feet
- False eyelashes might be worn with a serious makeup look, but false mustaches are silly/costumes
- Socks can still be worn in the summer, but mittens can not
- Certain areas of the body are almost always covered for modesty
- Only the bride / wedding party can wear white to a wedding
Some of these are very silly, and some of them are things which some people intentionally don’t follow, some show strong historical gender binary biases, and some are more likely to be ignored than others, but they are just a small handful of everyday fashion “rules” that most people think almost nothing about. The reason we rarely think about these things is because we know they are “normal” from observing other people or from being taught at a young age. I’m sure there are a lot of “rules” that are even more ubiquitous, but I’m actually having trouble thinking of examples that I can put into words because many of the “rules” are so internalized that it’s hard to express them.
So what does that have to do with lolita? Well, most people who start wearing lolita don’t spend a long time around other lolita before they put together their first outfit. They don’t have a whole childhood of seeing people in lolita, wearing it properly. They don’t observe and/or wear hundreds or thousands of coordinates put together by other people prior to dressing themselves on their own for the first time. So all those things that are intrinsic about the proper way to match a way that a specific group wears clothing has to be taught to new lolita. Things have to be spelled out explicitly so that they know what type of fabric and what skirt length and if you put on your tights or your bloomers first.
So when someone writes up the “rules for lolita” for a newbie, what they are doing is taking the essence of lolita and saying “ok, if you do all of these things like this, you should reach a point where what you are wearing is lolita”. However, the opposite isn’t always true. If you break a single rule (let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you don’t wear a blouse), you aren’t necessarily not in lolita. Likewise there are cases where a santa hat might be appropriate office wear. It’s not always, it’s not even most of the time. But on December 24th? Sure.
If you start out following the rules, as closely as you can, and you interact with other lolita, and you look at pictures of other lolita, as time goes on, slowly you will build up a sense of what lolita is, and how it should look. The longer you wear the fashion, and the more involvement you have with it, the better your sense of what is and isn’t lolita gets. After wearing it “by the rules” for a while, eventually, you start to get a feel for what rules can be broken and when. You start to understand what lolita actually is, and how to get that look by combining elements that may or may not strictly follow the rules.
Time also tends to give someone a more realistic idea of what is and isn’t possible when it comes to lolita. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people point out tiny color miss-matches on Closet of Frills as if it was a show stopper. People who are still young to lolita often critique lolita coordinates as if they are illustrations where it’s possible to exactly match every color in a dress exactly in other pieces like blouses or shoes. In reality, this is usually not the case. Heck, half of the time with brand releases the socks aren’t even exactly the same color as the dress and they go together in a set!
I think in part, because new lolita come into the fashion and adopt the “follow the rules until you make it” mind-set, many people who are semi-new to lolita, where they are just getting to the point where they can follow the rules pretty regularly, are overly concerned with making sure everyone around them follows the rules to the T. Combine that with over-enthusiasm for the rules, with unrealistic expectations and a sprinkling of newbies who do not want to be told what to do and you get a situation where some people are just very, very critical and the fashion appears to be very rule-based and strict.
At the end of the day, when giving (or receiving) concrit on coordinates, I think it’s important to consider the coordinate as a whole and what the motivation is for the concrit. If the point is to show off that you “know the rules” more than the person posting, or because you are offended that the coordinate doesn’t “follow the the rules” in your opinion, and the person isn’t new to lolita and doesn’t actually look bad, sometimes it’s best to simply accept that they may not have been trying to follow the rules in the first place, and that it’s ok; not every coordinate has to be textbook lolita. After all, fashion is personal and about self expression. If everyone wore the same textbook coordinates all the time the fashion would stagnate and not grow or change. Granted, there is a point where something divulges so much from what is typically thought of as lolita that it stops being lolita, but there are so many examples of textbook lolita out there now that policing every coordinate that is borderline does nothing but stifle innovation and reduce the wearability of the clothing. I’d rather see a creative person pull off a stunning inovative coordinate that skirts the edges of the rules, than another neutral blouse / neutral shoes / neutral socks + colored main piece and bow coordinate any day. Have fun with it! Be cute! Wear what makes you happy!
6 comments on “Why Does Lolita Have So Many Rules?”
I agree, one of the major downfalls of the community is that there isn’t enough room for experimentation
I hate the word rules, they are guidelines. A petticoat is a must for most lolita dresses, but look rather idiotic with my old school maxi dresses. Engineers are very often guilty in socks with sandals. I would never match my red lipstick to be same shade as my dress, because of colour theory. But having some neutrals to those days I am not so innovantive is also important. But I agree on Creativity vs safe picks.
One thing I notice as an outsider looking in at lolita fashion is that some members will criticize other members for wearing “cheap” clothing – I heard one person say something along the lines of “cheap petticoats from Party City”. This really, really rubbed me the wrong way because, as a broke college student, I can testify that not everyone has $30 to throw around for a starter dress (and sure, you can say “save up!” and “screw the rent!” but realistically, $30 is a lot of money for some people – myself included). From the outside, it looks like the guidelines aspect of lolita really gets overlooked in favor of criticizing other people for not being able to bankrupt themselves and working with what they have, which takes a lot of creativity, another thing that seems to really be looked down upon by some members of the lolita community. I’m all for self expression, and think lolita is such a cool way to do so, but if you start attacking people online for genuinely asking questions, putting their own spin on the style, and not being able to afford to toss thousands of dollars at a single outfit all because you’re just “following the rules”, you’re honestly just a gigantic, elitist asshole, and I think that a lot of the gigantic, elitist assholes of lolita have created other members of the sort, which is very unfortunate.
As an insider looking out of Lolita fashion, of course no one should bankrupt themselves for their hobby, and only the most reprehensible elitist would even suggest it. I’d think it was just as irresponsible for someone to bankrupt themselves buying model gundams, video games, or yeezy shoes. But, if a person’s financial situation is so dire that they cannot afford to wear even inexpensive Lolita, then I suggest that they forego the hobby (even temporarily), because food and rent and medicine should always come before ruffles. It’s a hobby, and not a cheap one at that, and even when one is careful only buying inexpensive second hand pieces the excess of how many pieces even one coord needs adds up, let alone a functional wardrobe.
If you’re an outsider looking in only on the online communities, I can understand that you see so much vitriol and all the cancerous opinions. Even in the helpful communities, like Big Sisters of Lolita Fashion, there’s some unfortunately misguided individuals. If you were lucky to find a local community, I bet they would be understanding and helpful, and wouldn’t exclude you solely because your coord doesn’t meet all the criteria. My local comm holds meetups where lolita fashion is not “required” so interested newbies can come along, get to know us, and wear something cute but not “lolita” (one newer member wore a seifuku skirt and a white t-shirt and nobody excluded or spoke ill of them). I didn’t start wearing Lolita until I could reasonably justify the startup costs during university ($20 petti from ebay, $40 skirt F+F, and whatever I had in my closet, classic noob) and my comm is a joy for newbies. Years later I get to be kind to the newbies we get and help them feel included in what can be a daunting community. I hope you can one day have luck finding a comm that nurtures your interest instead of the unique way the Internet tends to stifle it.
I love this explanation, you put it so delicately and made a bitter pill easy to swallow. I am unfortunately very wary of rules that exist ” because I said so” or seam to only be used for the purpose of excluding people. I think alot of explanations are written with the best of intentions, but leave newbies feeling like lolita is a fashion only attainable in a dream. Thank you for the mind and elegant explanation.