This requires a little explanation. While the term “Lolita” must necessarily hail from the famous novel, the gist is reversed in this context. Rather than little girls dressing like adults, this far more frequently involves older teens/ young women dressing like young teens.
Specifically, girls wearing Victorian style costumes evoking a mix of nuances.
What It’s Not: Sweet Lolita
So-called Sweet Lolita fashion is deliberately evocative of porcelain dolls, which typically have pastel colored, cute and innocent looking clothing. Any Victorian influences are used only in these sorts of colors, like pink (shown right.)
Makeup is also used to accentuate the effect: that of the child fantasy. That is, a child’s fantasy of a prettier, dolled-up version of herself.
Given that many Japanese girls are rather short, even many adult women can get away with this sort of thing far better than women in the West might manage to do. It’s still not exactly common.
Bring In The Goth
Gothic Lolita fashion is, as one might expect, a deliberately counter-cultural phenomenon protesting against the so-called Gyaru (read: gal) fashion craze that brought Japanese youth fashion in line with American concepts (blue jeans, short skirts, etc.) and which still echoes throughout fashion.
Put another way, this is for girls who wanted to go radically against the grain of “American Casual,” punk, and other mainstream youth styles.
The main distinguishing feature of Gothic Lolita is the use of darker make-up and clothing (shown left). The use of crosses to accentuate the look and feel is probably borrowed straight from existing Western Gothic styles.
While the style can be used by younger teens, it is just as likely to be used by older teens to look like, well, middle teens with wildly ornate, loudly black clothing compared to what is considered normal.
Cosplay (Costume Roleplay)
The term cosplay will be familiar to many who are already in-depth about anime. Read as either costume play or more appropriately, costume roleplay, this is simply the best Japanese term available for what we would call dressing up in English. Innumerable niches exist in Japan for various costume styles, all of which seem to have someone willing to dress up in a given outfit (whether this is wise or not).
For Westerners, dressing up as a “GothLoli” (or Goth-Loli) might be considered cosplay. For girls in Japan who in no way take the fashion seriously, it might be temporary cosplay to them. For instance, someone could easily put on an outfit like this just for Halloween, promptly forgetting its existence the next day.
For others, it is a sustained protest against fashion norms. Well, more power to them.
Along with other styles of Lolita clothing, GothLoli is used to evoke a sense of breaking outside the norm in more than a few works of Japanese animation (i.e. anime). Victorian clothing, more broadly, evokes an ornate style that exceeds the modern norm in terms of attention to detail, style, and visual effect.
This makes the effect ideal for standing out, as demonstrated by the top picture, showing Sae from the romance video game inspired Amagami SS, currently airing. This is Sae’s last episode as the featured girl; all six girls from the original video game have their own “arcs” as if the other arcs did not exist, to allow for four-episode romantic fantasies.
Certainly, fantasy is the real theme of this.
Origin: Visual Kei Music
Visual Kei, which should be quite literally read as Visual Style, uses elaborate make-up, costumes, etc., to sell various kinds of Japanese rock music (including punk and heavy metal). Many androgynous-looking male leads are also featured.
It’s easy to see the Western influence, but it’s safe to say that Gothic Lolita is yet another form of living art that is a modern segment of Japanese culture.