Lolita fashion: Japanese street style

Lolita fashion emerged in Japan during the 1990s as a radical form of street style born out of the Japanese taste for Hello Kitty cuteness. 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. Whether sweet, punk, gothic or any other of the many sub-categories of Lolita that exist, the style is characterised by outfits with a profusion of lacy frills and ruffles worn with demure accessories such as headpieces, gloves and parasols.

The rise of Lolita fashion has been closely linked to the popularity of 'Visual Kei', a Japanese music genre derived from glam-rock, metal and punk. Androgynous male musicians perform in elaborate costumes that draw on multiple historical references, most notably Rococo and Victoriana, while fans make outfits in imitation of their favourite musicians to wear at concerts. Wearing Lolita is not a form of 'cosplay' (costume play) – the act of dressing up as anime or manga characters – but an emphatic statement, or even a whole way of life, that expresses the identity of its devotees.

Explore a selection of Lolita fashion in our slideshow below

Background image: (Detail) Dress and a pair of sashes, designed by Yumi Fujihara at Innocent World, 2011, Japan. Museum no. FE.242:1 to 3-2011. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London