In my series on subculture in Dublin I have previously interviewed and photographed two Lolitas thus far, Josie and Sarah. Continuing this trend, I met with Sophie and, once again had amazing chats about Lolita, subculture, clothing, gender, feminism and passion. Here's what Sophie had to say about the subculture she loves and life, in general.
Moi: So, maybe the obvious starting point would be how you came to Lolita.
Sophie: Em, okay. So, originally, when I was younger, I was kinda big into drawing. It's always been something that I've been quite passionate about. And from there I found Japanese comic books, as many, y'know sixteen year olds do...and there's one called Paradise Kiss and it's based on fashion subcultures. So, they're all in this fashion school, they're looking for a model-
Oh, I've read it!
- yeah! It's still one of my favourites, out of everything. It's much more adult than a lot of them. But there's one girl in it who dresses in Lolita. And the minute I saw it, I was like, “I love that! I need to know what it is!” And there's Lolita elements in a lot of manga but it's never explained, whereas she's into the whole culture of Lolita and her older sister is a Lolita designer. Even the name of that brand is like, “Happy Berry” which is obviously a rip-off of AngelicPretty (A/N: One of the biggest Lolita labels). So, that's where I found it first. And I really felt like “What is this?! I need to know!” From there I started trawling the internet and found the Irish group back in the LiveJournal days...so, it's a long time ago altogether! It's kind of all history from there.
And why do you think people are drawn to it?
I think that a lot of people...like, I've always been into frilly clothes ever since I was a really little kid. My mum always used to joke that when I went to pick my Communion dress, she had to go to the store beforehand and had to pick the less garishly frilly dresses and hide the garish ones. And she said she knew before I even arrived that I was going to pick the frilliest one. And I did. She knew exactly which one I was going to pick. So, obviously there is a certain thing where you're just drawn to certain styles from a very young age. And, for me, when I saw it in Paradise Kiss, it was kinda like, “That's exactly what I want to wear. This is finally what I want to wear and love.” Instead of apathy towards what was in fashion, this was passion.
And that's a big thing I've noticed a lot. A very passionate community. It's obviously more than an aesthetic so why do you think people are emotionally drawn to it?
I guess it's slightly nostalgic...I mean, it's not childish but it has elements of childhood in it. And I think a lot of people, as they grow up, are taught not to be creative, to dress the same as everyone else, that you can express yourself but in a controlled way. I found for me, Lolita was kind of a way of saying, “I don't care if people judge me. This is how I want to look.” And it was a very deliberate choice of this is how I want to look. It's freeing...I mean, people will stare. But the thing is, I don't really care because I like how I look.
It's entirely for you.
Exactly. It's very much dressing for yourself and not caring about other people at all.
There's two things that I think are interesting there. One being that, I remember discussing this point with a friend. People found it strange that we'd been picked on in secondary school because they thought we seemed so friendly and normal. And he was a metalhead as a teen and I was a punk and we both said that we feel like a lot of people come to these sorts of styles, subcultures because if you're going to be judged it's not about you but how you're dressed.
Yeah, it's like how people joke that you're putting on your frilly armour. Because people are going to stare and comment and you know it's because of what you're wearing and you're kinda like...there's no pretense about it. Which is kinda nice because if people are giggling or whatever, you know, it's not because you have something on your face or your hair is a bird's nest or they know a rumour about you. It's like, “I know what's going on here,” and, therefore, I can just let it go.
The other thing that I think is interesting there, is the idea of ownership. I think it ties into the idea of women increasingly taking ownership of their appearance and bodies and how they display them.
When I went to Helsinki for a Lolita groupmeet of international Lolitas and one of the girls there did her thesis on feminism and the Lolita culture and one of the things that she was taking about and that I read about a lot is that, Lolita, as a fashion, is very...it's almost the opposite of male-centric. It's not sexual. It's not supposed to be sexual. People will read into it what they want but the whole idea is not to be provocative, to not show a lot of skin. A lot of people don't find it particularly attractive. Particularly, men. It's freeing as you're dressing for yourself and other women. You go to conventions and people compliment things you've made or your hair. It's very female-focused. There are some male Lolitas but it's quite uncommon and a lot of those dress in the female fashion rather than a male version. It's very female-focused and, as I said, most men don't find it appealing.
So, it's a good barometer, then.
Exactly, it's freeing that you're not dressing for the male gaze. You're not even trying. There's no underlying thing of “Is this sexy?” or “Oh, is this showing too much?” It's not for anyone else. It's for you and other Lolitas.
The Lolita community seems particularly progressive and feminist at large. So, where do you think the connection between Lolita and feminism comes in?
Well, I guess, the big thing is taking ownership of your look. Like, say, arguably, a lot of mainstream fashion is run by men. And even in instances where they aren't personally interested in women in a sexual way, the male gaze is still presented that way and sexuality is still prominent. In Lolita, it's almost the exact opposite. If you look at the ads...most of the owners and designers are female...and the ads are innocent and with no underlying sexiness.
Which is interesting with the name...(A/N: i.e. the connection, or lack thereof to the novel, Lolita)
Well, apparently, it doesn't have that connection at all in Japan. The book isn't as famous there. It's only in Western culture that we have to deal with, “But, really, deep down, it's got sexual undertones.” That doesn't seem to exist in Japan in the same way.
I should point out that we're not judging women who dress sexually, however.
Oh, no, of course not!
I just wanted that on the record when I have to type this out!
Oh, of course. It's not like...I mean, there's provocative trends I like. I'm just not comfortable with it on my own body. Especially as I'm quite hourglass-shaped and it drew unwanted attention when I was younger.
Yep, got boobs at fourteen and then it's like...
...suddenly have to deal with sexual attention when you're not ready for it...
...from much older men who think it's okay.
Exactly. So, ever since then I've dressed more modestly for my own comfort levels. Which is also probably why I was drawn to Lolita. It's so non-provocative-
-or provocative in a different sense.
Yeah, it's very pretty and girly-
Which I would be in general. In everything in my life.
I think that kind of connects to feminism and Lolita as well. It's mostly women in the fashion, designing it, behind the brand. And traditionally, clothes-making and interest in and interesting clothes have been feminine or seen as feminine (A/N: throughout much of European history). That knowledge and understanding of clothes. Like, I love talking to Lolitas about clothes because they know about hems and silhouettes and fabrics. That's what they want to talk about. And it links up with the history of people, and especially women, and their relationship with clothing.
I think that women, in general, have a much more personal relationship with clothes. Women tend to express themselves more with clothing. And they would be expected to. If you don't put some effort into clothing you're seen as laid back or a tomboy or this sort of thing. I work in a software company and I wouldn't wear Lolita to work because it's very male-orientated and if I were to dress up, it's made a big deal of. “Where are you going?” Like, there has to be a reason to dress up.
Because you're not doing it for yourself, obviously.
Yeah, you must be going out. I can't just want to look nice. It's easier not to do it. I wear jeans and a t-shirt to work and I'm seen as a tomboy but really I'm not at all. It's just easier.
That is the uniform of guys around our age.
Yeah, especially in computers. It's like “Jesus, could you put some effort in?” I get it. But come on.
So, a word I always hear with Lolita is passion. And I feel like passion is something that can be discouraged a lot like it's dramatic or emotional or childish...especially as you get older...
Well, that's it exactly. Like, I work in IT but I studied computer games and that's another very passionate hobby. I've met a lot of Lolitas who also like gaming. I think it's because “geeky” hobbies allow for a certain amount of passion anyway. People really get into it. I think the two cross over for me. I think passion, in general, is a really good thing. As you get older, you're told to be more apathetic about things.
“Realistic.” “It's not that big a deal. Relax.” You can enjoy things but don't put too much energy into them unless you want it to be your career. I don't agree with that. I enjoy computers but my passions are other things. It's a good job, I enjoy it but it's, in no way, my passion. It will never be. And there are some people in my company for whom it is their passion and they love it and they go home and do more programming. I think it's great to meet people who haven't lost that kind of love of something, who can be passionate so freely, they're not holding back. They're enthusiastic. I've noticed, as you get older, lots of people lose that and I'm a very enthusiastic person about...most things. Meeting other people who are enthusiastic about life brings me great joy. When you meet a group of friends and they're all complaining about work and you ask about a movie and they're like “Oh, yeah, it was alright”...and you're all like “That was the best movie ever, what's wrong with you?!” It's nice to see people who aren't afraid to be enthusiastic and positive.
I guess you need the odd bubble of positivity now and then.
Exactly. I'm a very positive person and I think the Lolita community is generally quite positive. Not just about Lolita. I find a lot of Lolitas I meet tend to be positive people because if you're passionate about one thing it tends to bleed into the rest of your life. Having something you're crazy about makes you more enthusiastic and a joiner and Lolitas are good at that. They want to be a part of things. I think it's because it's less about the fashion and more about the people. People who are passionate are drawn to the fashion because you need to be really into it takes up lot of time and money. People who are passionate tend to be drawn to Lolita fashion and then, as such, Lolitas, in general, tend to be passionate people.
(Thanks to Sophie for meeting me, posing and waiting the TWO MONTHS it took for me to transcribe this interview...Apologies. I just HATE transcribing!)
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