Sunday, February 24, 2008

Loligoth: The Fashion of Gothic & Lolita

I didn't coin the term loligoth or EGL (Elegant Gothic Lolita,) but I'm presently unable to recall who first taught me that was what to refer to Gothic and Lolita as. However, I can remember my first introduction to this Japanese fashion style.

A train station somewhere in Tokyo, between Christmas and New Year's Eve, 2003. We—Jimmy, Waka, Alice, and I—were on our way back to Omiya from Kamakura. Standing down the platform from our group, a small bear topping her tiny rolling suitcase, was a girl decked out in a black frilly dress. She looked like one of those porcelain dolls some people like to collect. I watched her. Fascinated. Why was no one else captivated by her distinct manner of dress? Or that she was traveling with a small teddy bear as her companion?

"Waka-sensei," I whispered, my voice low. "That girl—is she dressed up for something?"

"Hm? No. They just like to dress that way."

Later my friend Alice, who knew more of the fashion style, would take me to Harajuku, and I would see the loligoths scattered throughout the train station, the infamous square before the Meiji-Jingu Shrine, the cramped Takeshita-dori, and even in the cafes along the Omotesando-dori—Harajuku's High Street.

Enthralled by loligoth as I was by Visual Shock (visual kei) rock, I bought my first Japanese Gothic & Lolita Bible during my last month in Japan. I might still have it tucked on a bookshelf somewhere. Loligoth style to me was about romance, mystique, and the beautiful details most people associate with haute couture. It seemed like a sub-culture style that didn't glorify death or pain in the same way that American Goth appeared to. Instead loligoth celebrated beautiful, cute clothes. It also seemed to promote the sexiness of youthful innocence—creating yet another Japanese contradiction that just worked.

I've read accounts that claim loligoth is anti-feminist—that the style is an escape to the innocence of youth, which implies that girls attracted to the style want to be babied and cared for by a "Daddy figure," but I don't think so. Not for American girls. Lolita is a celebration of feminine beauty—and if you think one of them couldn't kick your ass in her platform shoes and beat you down with her parasol, boy, do you need a reality-check.

For many years, the loligoth style had an influence over my art. I wanted to play with the idea of innocence that wasn't so innocent and try to create my own take on this idealized Victorian style, rather than the actual, historically accurate clothing. Did I bring anything new to the style? No, probably not, but I had a lot of visual fun playing with my idea of it.

When I returned to Japan in May 2007, I found that the "Harajuku Girls" had vanished. They'd disappeared into Harajuku's back streets, and their style was evolving. Changing as Fashion always does. EGL had become too known. They were exploring new ways to express themselves and stand out from the crowd.

I wondered if it was because I was starting to see what looked like ghosts of loligoth in mainstream American fashion. Most of the lolipunk I saw in La Foret looked like something Avril Lavigne could wear on her Best Damn Thing tour.

I saw the same ghosts in my own writing—Shiro's all white design is a blend of toned-down UK cybergoth and an everyday take on the Japanese white Gothic. His girlfriend dresses like a Sweet Lolita. Even if I wasn't actively following the style, it still held its pretty parasol over me, because it was part of the Japan that lives in my memories. The Japan that is essential to my writing.

What Waka-sensei said is true. No, it's not a costume. They just like to dress that way. Like all fashion, it isn't for everyone, but five years later it still speaks to me.

When I learned that TOKYOPOP was going to be producing an English version of the Gothic & Lolita Bible, I was thrilled. Finally, an official English resource to the style. Someone other than Gwen Stefani, who has her own spin and approach to the style that is more her than Japan.

Going to the Gothic & Lolita Bible launch party yesterday, I looked around at all the gorgeous loligoths who had come out—and stayed out in the rain—and I thought two things:

1) Who knew those parasols could function as working umbrellas,


2) What I thought of as Lolita style wasn't dead and gone. It had just moved from Harajuku to Los Angeles.

Kind of like me.


Rachel said...

That was a lovely read. Thank you.

jillydreadful said...

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who enjoys loligoth fashion. I would dress this way every day if I could, but, being in the USA, there aren't a lot of options here. So whenever I try to whip out a loligoth outfit, it feels more like a costume than a stylistic lifestyle, and I would rather it be my style than a costume. But do you think it's possible for it to move past a costume? (You have inspired me to address this question on my blog actually. I'm gonna go write an entry about it right now.)