Gothic Lolita Style: Rebellious? Or Regressive?

Illustration for article titled Gothic Lolita Style: Rebellious? Or Regressive?

While the Gothic Lolita trend has been big in Japan for years (there are magazines dedicated to the style), it has recently been gaining traction on this side of the Pacific, and, on Sunday, the New York Times took a look at some New Yorkers with a penchant for "Victorian children's wear, the French Rococo period, goth-inspired darkness and Japanese anime." While it might seem ironic that ladies in this tough, gritty, city would be attracted to frilly skirts with petticoats, baby-doll dresses and bloomers, the trend actually makes total sense here. As 22-year-old Nancy Ramos tells the Times: "For me, Lolita is rebellion."
Because New York is machine, an environment that's all hard steel and concrete — where even the simplest tasks, like crossing the street or buying coffee, are complicated, expensive, death-defying acts of bravery. Add to this the pervasive sexual harassment on the street and a flaccid economy and dressing like a Victorian schoolgirl makes perfect sense. There's a sense of protection in those full skirts and high-necked blouses, some safety in choosing flat Mary Janes over spiky stilettos. It's also not surprising that the "Sweet Lolitas," the ones with childlike fruit prints and cute animals on their dresses, are "especially popular" here, according to the Times. In a hectic town, who doesn't want some happiness, some innocence? (At a Gothic-Lolita fashion event in Tokyo this week, one long-time Victorian dress enthusiast said, "I would like all Gothic-Lolita girls to refine their inner beauty first. I see a lot of girls smoking and sitting down on the floor in their outfits. I don't want them doing this.")
Of course, one could argue that the subtext here is that by wearing girlish clothes, these young women are telegraphing the weakness or helplessness of a child. Is it the equivalent of wearing a sign that says, "Please take care of me?" On the other hand, fashion should be fun. The Lolitas interviewed in a Times slideshow speak of just loving the clothes. Kelsey Hine, 21, swears that even though she wears knee socks, "It's not intended to be sexual."
Here's the question: Is it only about the clothes (see: Betsey Johnson's spring 2009 collection)? Or is it a form of rebellion for a grown woman to dress like a little girl? And: By embracing Doll's House-style, are Lolitas a setback for women who want to be taken seriously?
Update: Ellie, pictured at left, responds. A New Generation of Lolitas Makes a Fashion Statement New York Lolitas More Lolita Fashion [NY Times] Lolita Goes Victorian, Goth In Japan Cosplay Trend [Reuters] Earlier: The Gothic & Lolita Bible: Japanese Girls Are Living Dolls Fashion Show: Betsey Johnson

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I think it's infantilizing, but whatever. If they want to go around in their own sartorial equivalent of "PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEEEE!" it's none of mine. Besides if I saw one of these on the street I'd probably be secretly thanking her for breaking up the day's montony with a good laugh.