So, I guess a place to start at is what Lolita means to you?
What it means to me...Well, I guess there's a part of me that says it's just clothes and I would tend to approach it as a normal person approaches just clothes. So, y'know, you're gonna build up a wardrobe, figure out outfits that work...But, if I'm honest about it, there's a lot more to it than that...There's...Well, I'm not gonna say it's who I am, in that respect, but it's become such a huge part of my life. My best friends - I've met through the clothes. Heh, it's something I get angry over. I get excited over. It's got a huge emotional effect over me. It's become an obsession, a hobby, a social scene. It's also become a defence mechanism out in the world. Because I get really shy out in the world and I'm pretty sure I've tricked myself into to thinking that if someone's staring at me, it's because of the clothes - it's distancing myself.
Yeah, I've always thought that, em - one of my friends was a metalhead as a teenager and I was a punk and I always feel like - we've discussed it, the two of us - and it's that thing that if someone's judging you or being mean to you it's not because of who you are. It's because of how you're dressed and I think that's why a lot of kids go towards these things as teenagers. So, it's interesting that you say that. I've also seen other people say that an attraction to the style is that it's a way of being "feminine" or girly without being sexualised. Is there anything of that for you?
Initially, there wasn't. It was just...I had seen things in magazines, heh...certain cartoons...hehehe...though I'm loathe to admit that I think one of my first experiences of the style was actually the silhouette of Cardcaptor Sakura's battle-outfit -
- ooooh, Cardcaptor Sakura...
...heh...then I found a fashion magazine that had people dressed like Cardcaptor Sakura and it hit me that real people were dressing like this and the pieces were available to buy in shops. And I was like, "This is a thing that exists! This is amazing!" But...in a way...What it is to me is definitely a way to be feminine but that's not ever been what I woke up and thought about...but it's kind of helped me with my approach to feminism, if that makes any sense? Em, I find myself finding feminine things as valid and worthwhile to like whereas, when I was a teenager, I was very much a tomboy and...God, I cringe now looking back at it but I was one of those girls that said "I'm not like other girls". But now I know that there's nothing wrong with being like other girls. And, the funny thing is that the clothes that I wear make people think that I'm not like other girls but it's made me realise the opposite. It's copped me on to myself that I'm no special little snowflake. Dressing in a way that'll stop traffic has made me realise that I'm more rooted and have more in common with most women than I ever would let myself ever admit as a teenager.
So, you mentioned that you stumbled across the silhouette but how did you transition from "hey, this is a thing that exists" to "I'm gonna start doing it too"?
It's...em...okay...I should just point out that even though Lolita has very enduring ties to Cosplay and anime, I've never been really that into it. Okay, I used to watch certain cartoons on tv which is how I found Cardcaptors but I just loved that it was a really a girl-centric story. Basically, it all stems from an insecurity about my legs - they're very short - and the girls in those animes always had really long legs. This is all...I find it hilarious that this has all lead to me wearing skirts that are knee-length or longer which is not the most lengthening of cuts but I just liked how the silhouette of the skirts looked. The flaring out that made your legs look so much slimmer. When I found out it was real the main image that would come up was Mana who makes the Moi-meme-Moitié line of clothing and he was, being a man, he was tall and had long legs and the look I was going for. So, it took me about...maybe...two years to grasp what Lolita was. I gradually learned what the style was and where to get it and...dear God...how much it costs. And I was like, "Hey, I'm looking at this a lot, I might as well wear it because...what's the point of appreciating pretty clothes if you're not going to wear them? It's what they're made for." So, I went and, eh, started out my journey on ebay and, luckily the dresses I bought were plain because you can get some woeful stuff on there -
- ugh, I've seen it.
Yeah, yeah...And I moved from there to finding Baby the Stars Shine Bright's website. And I went from there, building my confidence wearing things that didn't stick out in terms of colour or embellishment but stuck out in terms of wearing a petticoat underneath...ba-dum-dum tshhh. Heh. But you know what I mean, it's visually noticeable as well. But, yeah, it was a process. Which is why I'm always wary of young girls who are like, "I'm gonna do seven different styles and I'm gonna have a big wardrobe and buy everything and do this and that..." It's like, "Oh...." I had two years where, if I had just jumped into the style, I would have been a mess. My sources were all over the place, I hadn't really learned where to shop, I hadn't learned the nuances of how to make an outfit work. Like, I would have thought Gothic (sub-genre of Lolita fashion) meant anything black...Sweet can be black from head to toe - they call that koooro...heh, sorry, that was very North Dublin - they call that Kuro. Heh.
But you learn everything as you go along and it does take a bit of time...You've gotta learn slowly because that's how you can be sure that what you know is correct...[Cost] is another obstacle people face in this style a lot. I mean, I'm on the online community a lot and there seems to be a pervasive notion that everything is three hundred dollars. Dresses are three hundred dollars. And a full outfit will cost you a thousand dollars - and, okay, that's not always true. There are sources that will let you put an outfit together for a reasonable amount but still it's...when I see young girls getting into the style I think, "Ooh, you don't know what you're in for." Like I've been working full-time and I have savings and budgets every month. When you're not really working full-time or if you're dependent on your parents, God help you. I don't know how young girls do this. Some of them manage but it's always one thing I'd say to be careful of and always value quality over quantity.
I used to wear it every day but it's not a style intended for every day...You wind up putting way more solid outfits when you wear it once a week or twice a year. You need to be able to save and think about it. And it is a money issue, I'm not going to lie about that. One of the first arguments I ever had with my husband was over a cardigan. When you spend that much on an item of clothing you have to be serious about it, approach it with caution.
Well, I mean, it has to be an investment...
It does! I mean, I bought that cardigan - I bought it! - I bought it five years ago and I wore it nearly every day for three years and on and off for two. It's now just a series of holes with a cardigan around it but I got my money's worth out of it. And then some.
And that's what I say to girls starting out. The flashy stuff is going to catch your eye and everyone wants it because it's beautiful but ask yourself if it's going to be worth it, if you're going to get the wear out of it. Are you going to feel comfortable going out in it? I mean, even after years wearing it, I still can feel uncomfortable going out in more elaborate pieces. I feel eyes on me.
I think what's interesting is that the style is the silhouette of a time where, other than homes and food, clothing was pretty much everyone's biggest expenditure up until the 20th century and people did invest. They didn't buy things willy-nilly. And it kind of just reflects in what you're saying that girls are going into the style with the ideas of our culture that don't go with that style of clothing because it's all about moving on to the next thing. And you can't just do that.
Well, there seems to be an emerging culture, - and when I say emerging, it's been about five or six years in the making - it's called "print of the month syndrome". And girls, they'll save up and shell out - Angelic Pretty is the brand most commonly associated with this, they'll bring out dresses and they can be highly seasonal so you feel a bit weird wearing them the rest of the year. Some girls will buy a popular print, do a photoshoot and sell it on, use the money they got to buy the next one. And it's very easy to get caught up in it. I've never gone in for it myself but every now and then a print will pop up that I like but if I see a massive amount of buzz around it, I'll take a step back. It's very competitive. I see it in other communities. Thankfully, mine is very chill and there's no one-upsmanship.
There's a divide in the community - in the global community. There's girls who'll buy simple pieces because they really love them and they'll clutch them with a death grip and never let them go and then there's the girls who'll say, "Yeah, it's nice but it's so last month." It's so hard to keep up with that but they're the girls that get the most attention online so if a new girl is approaching it she'll say, "That's what I want to do!" But it's just financially crippling for a normal person and it's kind of sad that that's become such a prominent feature in the style.
So, would you be among the first to adopt the style in Ireland?
No, but I'd be one of the first that stuck with it this long. 'cause I knew there were girls in Ireland that were scattered and loose. I know there was an attempt - whether it was a successful attempt I can't say because I wasn't part of it - but there was an attempt to build an Irish community, which was nice, before my time. And just as I was properly getting into the style that faded away and the girls moved on. My friend Eimear, she's very influential, she's the one who got me into the community in the first place. Like, I didn't know I wasn't on my own until she came into my shop where I used to be allowed to wear Lolita every day. And she was wearing red shoes with bows on them but she had a normal coat, normal hair but I could see she was wearing socks with lace tops on them. You could just barely see them poking out from under her coat. And there was that craning your neck, trying to see her thing...and I can see you're wearing stuff and you're looking at me too. It was that sort of eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room. But it was the first time I'd seen someone who wasn't fifteen years old wearing cat ears. I was like "This is someone who actually knows her stuff. She's actually wearing proper pieces from the style". And my heart was in my mouth and I was like, "Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God. Impress her! Make sure she thinks you're nice!" And, eh, we've just been sort of loose but good friends since. And she knew one of the original girls who went by the screen name Licorice. So, there were people before me but probably not someone who's been doing it as long...I've been pretty much solidly and fairly decidedly a Lolita for six and a half years. We won't talk about the half year before when I was getting into it and experimenting.
So, I guess the last thing I want to ask about is how do Irish people respond to Lolita?
Well, I've learned how to stand up for myself, let's put it that way - says a lot doesn't it? I know the impression the clothes give. They look like I'm soft in the head because that's the misconception around very feminine things - they think you're an airhead. So, people shout abuse at me and they think that I'm just gonna be like, "Oh...oh...you're just mean!" but I'm not. I'm like, "Well, fuck you and your ma." Like, I am horribly vulgar and aggressive in response to disrespect. I mean, I was a goth as a teen so I got used to people being less than pleasant but now I have that extra added fear of what I'm wearing is expensive so if someone threw something at me, a bottle of water, that might cause the print of my dress that I treasure to run. So, I think that changes things, it causes you to carry yourself in a different way. I think I carry myself in a way that comes off as unapproachable which - this is gonna sound terrible - but it suits me because I'm anxious around people. But, make no mistake, you do get a lot of attention.
To be honest, yes , the majority of reactions are positive. You get women being interested - I had a fantastic woman the other day, she came up to me at the bus stop and she said, "I'm sorry, I just needed to come up and see all the details. I saw you from the other end of the street and I needed to see it close up. What is it? Where's it from?" And she was so into it! It makes me very nervous to represent the style to people who are into it because they could be the next generation. It's all good most of the time. You will get a lot of people who are like, "Ugh, are you making your Communion?" or "Where's your sheep?" And, to be honest, I've no respect for people like that. People always think that you'll put up with their crap because the style has a very soft impression. People will push that and test it and you have to show you won't put up with it, even it ten minutes later you get in the door and collapse on the kitchen floor in tears while somebody makes you a cup of tea and says, "There, there, you've been through a lot." You just have to be ready for it and tough enough for it. And it has toughened me up.
Major thanks to Sarah for giving up an afternoon to chat to me and wander all over the city.