Of Gothic Lolita Fashion and Lifestyle

The Lady of the Manners didn’t mean to misplace all of February, truly she didn’t. The Lady of the Manners was just so engrossed in reading all of your letters, Snarklings, that she was, er, too distracted to reply to them. The Lady of the Manners has resolved to start March out properly, so on to answering questions!

Dear Lady of Manners, I’m writing because I have a question that arose out of curiosity. I’m not quite sure if you’re aware of the Lolita style of clothing. If not, please allow me to educate you: Lolita is both a lifestyle and fashion statement. It’s about being ladylike and refined, and dressing modestly and sweetly, with ribbons and lace and bows.

That said, there is a very popular branch of the Lolita fashion called (you guessed it!) Gothic Lolita. I was wondering, what are your thoughts on this fashion? Would I earn the title of being Gothic if I dressed myself in eighteenth-century miniature top hats and skirts adorned with bows and lace?

My concern: Is Lolita fashion too childish to be Gothic?

In case you would like some references to the Gothic Lolita style, I’ve found some useful links to good examples of this style:

Example 1

Example 2

I appreciate your time and thoughts on this matter.

Confused Little Lolita

Oh yes, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is well-aware of the Lolita style of clothing and lifestyle. How could she not be aware of a movement that encourages frilly dresses AND tea parties? In fact, the Lady of the Manners recently had to re-organize some shelves in order to make more room for her ever-expanding collection of Gothic Lolita Bibles.

The Lady of the Manners is aware that many people have all sorts of misconceptions about the Lolita style. Two that the Lady of the Manners has heard time and time again are that the style is about presenting a semi-sexualized image of a doll-like little girl (hence the name “Lolita”), and that the way to make an item of clothing “Lolita” is to add as much lace to it as possible and wear it with knee socks. As the Lady of the Manners said, misconceptions.

Yes, the Lolita style is very little-girl and doll-like, but (as far as the Lady of the Manners has ever been able to tell) has nothing in common with Nabokov’s novel Lolita other than the name. Lolita style is, as Confused Little Lolita pointed out, about being refined, ladylike, and elegant. Which leads to the misconception that Lolita = more lace and knee-socks. The stereotypical Lolita outfit is something so covered in frills that the wearer looks as if they were caught in an explosion at a fabric store, but all that lace doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good Lolita  outfit.  For instance, taking a square dance dress and covering it with rows and rows of ruffles would get the wearer pitying looks from other Lolitas.  

Is Lolita fashion too childish to be Gothic? Not always. Much of the Gothic Lolita style seems to be a twist on the Goth fashion standby of Victorian-influenced looks, a funeral party held Through the Looking Glass. After all, a black ruffled skirt and a lace-trimmed blouse are the building blocks for many a Goth lady’s wardrobe. But the bonnets, the giant hair bows, the headdresses that look like they were appropriated from a parlour maid? In the Lady of the Manners’ eyes, those cross the line between “darkly eccentric” and a costume or “mutton dressed as lamb”. (That doesn’t stop the Lady of the Manners from occasionally eyeing those giant hair bows and headdresses with a speculative glint in her eye, but the Lady of the Manners eventually comes to her senses.) But, as with many things, it does depend on the age of the person and how they present themselves. A younger gothling or babybat would look charming and absolutely appropriate in some of the more doll-like Gothic Lolita clothes.

A young lady by the name of Ananda wrote to the Lady of the Manners with a different sort of question about Gothic Lolita fashion:

Dear Lady of the Manners, I have written to you concerning a question that has been tugging at my mind for such a long time. Can one dress Gothic Lolita and still be considered a true-blue goth?

My friends have told me that it can’t, and I have also read on various places saying that it isn’t gothic, but just a fashion in Japan.

Yes, Ananda, you can dress in Gothic Lolita clothing and still be a true-blue Goth. Mind you, if you’re dabbling more in the Sweet Lolita styles and have been flouncing around in outfits of entirely baby blue or pale pink, the Lady of the Manners can understand your friends’ confusion. But as often as the Lady of the Manners has longingly (and somewhat jokingly) commented about wanting to enforce a Goth dress code, clothes are not the be-all and end-all of determining someone’s gothness.

(Let’s take a moment and wait for several of the Lady of the Manners’ friends to stop reeling in shock at that statement, shall we?)

Some of the gothiest people the Lady of the Manners knows are “true-blue” Goths whether they’re dressed in elaborate black velvet dresses or in yoga pants and a tank top. Yes, a wardrobe of elaborate and sumptuous finery does proclaim one’s gothy-goth status, but unless that outer representation is backed up with an appreciation and understanding of the Goth mindset and asethetic, then that finery is merely the costume of someone playing dress-up.  

Is Gothic Lolita “gothic”? It certainly is a Gothic fashion style.  But there doesn’t seem to be a Gothic Lolita lifestyle in the same way that there is a Lolita lifestyle as mentioned above. In all the assorted G+L Bibles and magazines that the Lady of the Manners has seen, the Gothic Lolita lifestyle seems to be the same as the Lolita one, just with a darker palette of colors.

As to your friends telling you that you can’t be a Real Goth if you dress Gothic Lolita – pish and tosh, Ananda. There is no interest, activity, or fashion style that automatically ejects someone from gothdom. Trying to only have interests that fit the label Goth would be terribly restrictive, not to mention a bit silly. Labels (as the Lady of the Manners has said before) are useful in that they can quickly deliver a wide range of information. But labels can also be confining, or even insulting if thrown about maliciously, or if the person using the label thinks it means something it doesn’t. While the Lady of the Manners understands that it is worrying when your friends start telling you that you aren’t what you think you are, perhaps you should ask them why they feel that way. And instead of wondering and fretting that you don’t perfectly match a particular label, spend that time and energy just being yourself.

With that, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is going to go back to reading and answering more letters from all of you. You know what that means, you clever creatures? Why yes, the usual exhortation to write to Gothic Charm School!


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