Sunday, 28 May 2017

Lolita Fashion: 'The Rules'

Lolita Fashion Rules

Lolita fashion is not just like any other (alternative) fashion style. Most fashion styles have some very basic guide lines that an outfit should follow to belong to them. For example: a 'Goth' outfit should fit the dark and/or spooky aesthetic to fit in the Gothic style (no rainbows and unicorns allowed!).
Most of these guide lines are more about the overall aesthetic of an outfit, than about any specific elements incorporated in it. No set rules are given about things like 'how long your skirt should be' or 'what kind of materials (not) to use'.

Now, let's have a look at (some of) the main 'rules' that you come across when we have a look at Lolita fashion:
Wear a dress / skirt
Always wear a petticoat
Cover your shoulders (and wrists)
Skirt is knee length
Cover your ankles/legs with tights/socks
Wear a headpiece 
Use high-quality materials
A coord must be cohesive and balanced (colour and pattern wise)
Don't wear neon colours or really weird (/exotic) patterns

As you can see (and probably already knew), these actually are quite restricting. Or at least they seem to be. Many lolitas would argue that the word 'rules' could be replaced with 'guide lines', but my question is: how important is it really, to stick to these 'guide lines / rules' to make a real Lolita coord?

In the following text, I will try to give my answer to this question, be aware that this is my personal opinion and that everyone is free to have any other opinions about this matter :).

Are they really guide lines? or actual rules?

As I said, a lot of people, including me, would say the rules that I listed above are guide lines and not rules. In order to see if this is true, I think we should have a look at the general acceptation and/or responses that a coord gets when it doesn't stick to one or more of these 'guide lines'. (Because, in the end, who decides what is and what is not lolita, is the community itself right?)

In my experience, there are a few situations that happen the most:

1. A coord follows most guide lines, but only doesn't include a petticoat (and it's not old school). 
Generally, people will say this is Otomo kei, or just bad lolita (ita). If the skirt can look really good without a petti, people usually say it's Otome. If the skirt is clearly meant to be worn with a petti, people would say it's not right.

@JosineMaaike on Instagram
A nice example of otome, that would've been lolita if it had poof.

2. A coord looks really balanced colour wise and material wise, has poof, but crosses one or two guide lines about shoulders/legs being covered.
I think this gets very mixed responses. Some people only think this is acceptable in summer, because of the heat. But even in other seasons, I think you can usually get away with this. Also in my opinion, this is still lolita.

@MilatheBlois in Instagram

3. A coord is super OTT for a big event but crosses some guide lines to look more 'Rococo' or 'Victorian'. 
Basically, most people love these coords a lot (lots of likes at social media). There is quite some debate one whether this is still lolita or way too 'costumy'. Most of the time, these coords are accepted more at big events, since they are simply more common to see there. Maybe it's best to see 'OTT' as a kind of sub style, just like classic an sweet, but only for special occasions? (This also counts for wings and unicorn horns I guess)
I think it is important though to not have full length skirts, use an actual lolita dress as base and maybe make it 'tea length' using an underskirt. Also, make sure to use high quality materials and fit the balanced 'lolita' colour schemes, so it doesn't become a costume.

Left: Marlessa by Ahn Binh Photography, Right: source unknown sorry!
Both look lovely, but left(big event, tea length skirt, lolita base dress etc.) would be accepted as lolita and right(full length skirt, bodice and colours just too historically correct) not.

4. A coord follows all guide lines, only it's not 'balanced well' or 'the colours/patterns don't suit the Lolita aesthetic', 
For example, different patterns are mixed or strange colour combinations are made. This is one of the most difficult situations, since this depends so much on personal taste! Most of the coords get lots of negative feedback because many people simply prefer a balanced (safe) coord over a more experimental one. However, if you stick to all the guide lines and use good quality materials, most people will still see it as lolita. Just some will say you have a bad taste ;). 
I think the same counts for using very bright colours, or unusual/exotic patterns. (If anyone can find an example of a good lolita coord, using very unusual colours/patterns, please show me!)

On the left you see a very balanced Innocent World stock picture coord. In the right you see a coord I wore with yellow, brown, black and wine red elements, with some mixed patterns as well. Some people though this was 'ita' for the 'ugly colour combination', but some people loved it. It is really a matter of taste!

5. A coord which follows all guide lines, but the clothes worn are lacking (severely) in quality.
General responses are very clear: even though your coord may look balanced colour wise, people are not going to think you look good, or even Lolita, when the materials are bad. Especially if you use materials that are meant for costumes. 

Example of bad lace and costumy material from Milanoo stock.

6. Last but not least: fandom coords!
A lolita coord inspired by a character or a certain movie/book/etc., can get some really mixed responses. I think the trick is to keep it subtle. You can make some references in your coord, but don't try to actually look like a certain character. Cosplaying is not lolita! I think you can get away with this if you stick to all the other rules and  just wear one/two items that are a directly referring to the fandom you are referring to.

A Sherlock Holmes coord from @JosineMaaike: the violin socks and book themed dress fit the Sherlock theme, but are all clearly lolita items. Only the hat refers more directly to the series but totally goes with this coord.

Okay, so I think you've now seen quite some examples of crossing the rules/guide lines. I tried to estimate what would and what would not be called lolita by the popular opinions in our international lolita community. (And also included some of my own opinions of course!).

It is difficult to define lolita, because it is simply defined by lots of different people!

One conclusion I got from comparing all these situations is that you can probably take all those rules/guide lines listed above and divide them into two categories: rules & guide lines ;)

So what are the rules? What are just guide lines?

So, let's just try to make this division visible in a schema, still not saying this always works perfectly, but let's just try! ;)

Rules: If you want to make a lolita coord, these are a MUST
Wear a dress / skirt
Always wear a petticoat (If not > probably otome/casual lolita)
Use high-quality materials

Guide lines: It's okay, (and maybe even healthy) to break one or two once in a while, time to experiment with these!
Cover your shoulders (and wrists)
Skirt is knee length
Cover your ankles/legs with tights/socks
Wear a headpiece 
A coord must be cohesive and balanced (colour and pattern wise) (TASTE!)
Don't wear neon colours or really weird (/exotic) patterns

Okay, so this is actually the first time I am writing about Lolita fashion in this way. Hope you've found this an interesting read (congrats if you've come this far!). Next time I would like to continue and write about 'originality in Lolita'! (Mostly related to situation number 4)

Also, please leave a comment and share your own opinions on this subject! This is just the experience of one person, it's impossible for me to have it all right :).


  1. Great post! You pointed out many situation where people bend the rules to fit their own style and preferences.
    Looking forward to reading your future posts about lolita fashion, keep it going!

    1. Thank you! So happy you like it, I really appreciate that you took the time to read it <3

  2. I couldn't agree more with what you've said, especially with how you've defined the rules and the guidelines in the end (the photos in examples 3 and 5 shows this so well!). To me it seems that people often jump on others shouting "stop breaking the rules!" when people break away from them, but without following through with the other guidelines. For example, not all dresses will look good with shoulders exposed, you have to balance out the rest of the coord as well as make the bare shoulders fit the look and not just be there for the sake of it, which many newbies don't realise, get burnt by a comment about "the rules" and then stop experimenting altogether. This post is definitely a resource that should be shared more with the newcomers to Lolita, maybe after adding some more "good vs bad examples" photos where possible (obviously there won't be a good example of a Lolita coord with low quality materials, for example) to give more visual clues to those who might not quite recognise the difference just yet.

    1. Exactly! In the end it's mostly about balancing and still keeping the lolita aesthetic, which of course can be difficult (what is the lolita aesthetic exactly?). But I really feel bad when I see people stop experimenting with their coords.
      I am also really glad you think this post could be useful for people learning about the fashion. I haven't written this for beginners specifically, because I didn't want to explain all the basics of lolita (would be a bit boring for more experienced lolitas). But I think this post could be really helpful for lolitas who've already invested some time in this fashion but still don't feel secure experimenting. :)
      Thank you again for commenting!