Recently at the Women in Film Vancouver Film Festival, Icaught a short documentary called “LoliGirls: The Story Behind the Frills and Bows”. LoliGirls is a precursor to an upcoming feature film and it follows three girls who “wear Lolita”.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Lolita fashion came out of Japan in the 1980s and draws its general aesthetics from Victorian and Rococo-era influences. Now Lolita style has followers all over the world, including the 3 American subjects of the film. Check out the trailer:

But to some of the subjects of the movie, wearing Lolita is more than just fashion; it’s a lifestyle.

Lolitafashion.org says that those who live Lolita as a lifestyle “may try and live like a princess, surrounding themselves with things of beauty, and taking part in a number of ‘proper’ feminine activities such as baking, embroidery, sewing and other old-fashioned ‘women’s’ activities.”

So the movie really struck me at one point when one of the girls said that she considers Lolita lifestyle an expression of feminism because it’s a rejection of wearing “sexy” and revealing things that men want to see. The other girls avoided the feminist label, yet agreed that Lolita fashion is about rejecting sexiness and choosing to feel beautiful.

I’m not really sure how I feel about this. On principle I believe women should be able to express themselves by wearing pretty much what they want. But what we wear also sends a message, and I’m not sure the message Lolita fashion sends is about empowerment.

For one thing, although some Lolitas sew their own clothes, buying the new outfits costs a lot. One of the big Japanese designers mentioned in the movie, Angelic Pretty, sells Lolita dresses for over $250 US. Their hats go for over $100 US, and then there are still shoes and accessories to attend to.

A Lolita-style dress by Angelic Pretty

That’s because there are rules for dressing Lolita, which the film’s subjects acknowledge are stricter in the US than in Japan. Lolitafashion.org is one of the sites that lays out the guidelines for dressing Lolita. Here’s what they say about legs:

“Though a lolita’s skirt may scandalously reveal her knees, a lolita tends not to expose her legs too often, as this would be improper. It is generally good practice to cover one’s legs at least up to the knee, which means wearing knee-length socks.”

It certainly seems like some Lolita girls are investing a lot of time and money into a fashion/lifestyle that regulates not only clothing, but also behavior, if indirectly.

I’d encourage you check out the film’s website and let me know what you think. Is it possible to borrow fashion and lifestyle elements (for some) from the Victorian and Rococo periods without bringing along that time period’s attitudes about women, like the idea that the ideal woman must hide her sexuality and only engage in “feminine” activities?

–Jarrah