Japanese street style: Lolita fashion
Lolita fashion emerged during the 1990s as a radical form of street style born out of the Japanese taste for Hello Kitty cuteness. Whether dressed in pink, powder blue, red, white or black, Lolitas are immediately recognisable by their doll-like make-up, frilly skirts, fanciful headgear, ribbons and lace.
Although the term ‘Lolita’ has sexual connotations in Western culture due to the book of the same name by Vladimir Nabokov, in Japanese culture it refers to ‘cuteness’, ‘elegance’ and ‘modesty’ and has little to do with allure. It is more akin to a kind of aggressive femininity, is meant to be confrontational, and is often a reaction to the overtly sexualised representation of women in Japanese culture.
Lolita street fashion, particularly Gothic Lolita style, has been popularised by the Visual Kei (Visual System) movement in Japanese popular music. Visual Kei is a combination of a flamboyant style of dress, make-up and hair styles with a particular music genre, often inspired by Western glam and punk rock and heavy metal.
A striking feature of Lolita fashion is the extent to which it is influenced by British culture: Alice in Wonderland, Glam Rock, the New Romantics, Gothic, Punk and Vivienne Westwood. Although the attitude and aggression of Punk and Gothic have no place in the world of the Lolita, the movement represents a similarly powerful rebellion against the conventions of contemporary society.
The Lolita fashions held by the V&A were purchased in 2011 in preparation for 'Kitty and the Bulldog', a display that highlighted the connections between British and Japanese street style, complementing the exhibition 'British Design 1948-2012', 31 March-12 August 2012.