In Café Princess, at the Yonge and Finch intersection, there are four Lolitas sitting together, remembering stories, and enjoying delicious-looking slices of coffee chocolate flavoured cake. Meagan Wilcox, 20, relaxes on a red couch; she’s a lifestyle Lolita and has been wearing Lolita for six years. She started dressing in Lolita when she was in grade 9 at A.B. Lucas Secondary School, in London, Ontario. While Wilcox was in high school, she met her girlfriend Sophia Sarantakos; both started dressing in Lolita together. They are also the two administrators for a closed group called London Ontario Lolitas on Facebook. Sarantakos, 21, is next to Wilcox.
On the other couch there are two other members from the London Ontario Lolitas’ group. On one side is Shamila Corless, 27, a lifestyle Lolita. She’s been wearing Lolita for three years; she started dressing in Lolita when she saw other Lolitas at the Anime convention called Anime North. Settled next to Corless is Shalane Armstrong, 30, another lifestyle Lolita. She began dressing in Lolita seven years ago when she was teaching in Japan.
Lolita, not to be confused with Vladimir Nabokov’s novel of the same name and the film versions of the novel, is a Japanese street fashion. The fashion started in Japan during the 1980s. Lolita doesn’t try to be sexy, rather the opposite; it tries to be cute, modest and elegant. Although, there is a Lolita sub-style called Ero, which allows the person to show more skin and to be sexy. The other Lolita sub-styles draw their influences from the Victorian era and the Rococo era, an artistic trend in France during the 18th Century Enlightenment Period.
Kaitlyn Kato, 24, sees Lolita as a hobby, but there are others who see the style of fashion as a lifestyle. She is also a member of the closed Facebook group called Southern Ontario. Lifestyle Lolita is when someone wears Lolita every day, or incorporates some of Lolita fashion style into their daily lives. She likes the fashion because she believes it’s empowering for women who wear Lolita. “Lolita is a fashion that’s not towards men, but to look nice for yourself and to other girls,” Kato says.
Kato likes to dress in Sweet Lolita. Sweet Lolita (Ama in Japan) is known as the innocent, childish and playful sub-style of Lolita. The sub-style is an eye-catcher because of the dresses’ pastel colours and the elaborate symbols associated with this sub-style such as bows, stars, animals, cupcakes, fruits and bears that adorn dresses, purses, shoes, and head accessories.
Some people who wear Lolita see the fashion style as a way to contribute to the feminist movement because they believe the style stands against Western fashion that sexualizes women. Then there are those who see Lolita as a fun way to dress up. Rowey Ching, 21, was the one who introduced me to Lolita in 2014 and showed me all the Lolita dresses. For three years, Ching has been dressing Lolita; she sees it as a hobby because of how expensive the fashion is. That’s why Ching only wears Lolita for conventions and for special occasions. She likes to wear Gothic Lolita and Classical Lolita.
Gothic Lolita is a cute, elegant and dark sub-style. There are two types of Gothic Lolita: the first type is the traditional Gothic Lolita, a darker version of the Sweet Lolita. The second sub-style incorporates symbols such as coffins and bats. Then there’s Classical Lolita, it’s known to be elegant. This sub-style draws its influence by different eras such as the Renaissance, Victorian and Elizabethan.
Judy Verseghy is a graduate student in the Critical Disability Studies program and a teaching assistant in the course Sociology of Gender at York University. Verseghy isn’t a Lolita, but she’s aware of the style. Verseghy compares Lolita to the Kinderwhore fashion and ties it to the Riot Grrrl movement. Kinderwhore was a fashion trend during the mid to late 1990s by some American female grunge bands. There are some arguments on who wore Kinderwhore first; it was either Courtney Love or Kat Bjelland. Both Love and Bjelland were members of the band Sugar Babydoll. Kinderwhore fashion consists of ripped low-cut babydoll dresses, heavy make-up such as smudged eyes and ruffled hair, and either Mary Jane shoes or leather combat-style boots.
The Riot Grrrl movement originated in the 1990s as an expression of third-wave feminism. During this movement, female musicians like Kathleen Hanna used their music to address female empowerment, sexuality, rape and domestic abuse. Verseghy believes Lolita is a new style movement like the Riot Grrrl movement and Kinderwhore. Lolita allows young girls and women to regain their sexuality, boost their self-confidence and resist media’s sexualization of women’s clothing. “Lolita is a reclamation of personal presentation and sexuality. Instead of being worn for the benefit of men, as it is sometimes interpreted, its subversive use of hyperfemininity reveals its feminist tendencies,” Verseghy says.
“A lot of women’s fashion are often sexualized by men and women and then is pushed by the media. Lolita is the opposite of this, it’s modest, covered up, childish, and innocent rather than sexy. Lolita is a choice, and no matter what you wear people will sexualize it,” Ching says. “It’s like a fuck-you to society because it’s saying how are you going to sexualize me now?”
“I wear Lolita because I’m shy and I don’t like crowds, and I have the confidence when I dress up. Wearing Lolita is a way to put yourself out there,” Kato says.
The four Lolitas sample one another’s tasty, sweet-looking treats and sip their beverages. They go in turns recalling their experiences as Lolitas. Wilcox likes to dress in Sweet Lolita, Classical Lolita, and Country Lolita which is her favourite style. Country Lolita derives from Sweet Lolita, but the difference between the two sub-styles is Country Lolita wears straw baskets and hats and has fruit patterns or gingham on the dresses’ fabric. When Wilcox started wearing Lolita, her parents thought it was weird in the beginning, but they slowly got used to it. Wilcox’s mother now thinks her daughter looks adorable, happy and confident when Wilcox wears Lolita.
Sarantakos, however, has a different story about their parents. Sarantakos likes to dress in Sweet Lolita and Hime (princess in Japanese) Lolita. Hime Lolita is dressing like royalty by wearing satin clothing, crowns, tiaras, lace gloves and pearl necklaces. Her mother doesn’t mind her daughter wearing Lolita, but her father does. Whenever Sarantakos dresses in Lolita her father would ask her, “When will you stop dressing like that?” Sarantakos grumbles and folds her arms when she remembers her latest interactions with her father. “Just fuck off. You [her father] have your hobbies and I have mine.”
“Parents are worried that people will make fun of you,” Armstrong, who likes to wear fairy tale-inspired Lolita (a style that incorporates characters from fairy tales) says when she listens to the others tell their stories.
Corless likes to wear Sweet Lolita. Unlike Wilcox and Sarantakos, Corless’ parents are happy and accepting about Coreless dressing Lolita. Corless has some people make fun of her when she wears Lolita. Corless’ ex-boyfriend and his family didn’t approve of her wearing Lolita. His sister would verbally attack Corless online when Corless posted pictures of herself in Lolita. “I wouldn’t choose to be with you over my life and friends,” Corless says and she ended the relationship in early February 2015.
All four Lolitas agree Lolita is a way to empower women and boost someone’s confidence. “Lolita was originally made to make men stay away. And make us look beautiful and feminine. Then men would think it’s weird and don’t want to be near that,” Wilcox says. “It’s supposed to be empowering to women.”
“If you look at magazine advertisements telling us, ‘Do you want to be sexy? Do you want to look like this or that?’ For Lolita you can dress whatever you want. You can be Goth or you can be a fairy,” Armstrong says. When the four Lolitas finish eating their food, they start taking pictures of each other’s dresses, elegantly posing for each other and snapping pictures of the sweet decorations in the Café Princess.