‘Oh no! It’s the Outfit Police!’: Constructive Criticism Perfection vs Imperfect Authenticity

Posted by Katherine Rose on

Written by Lucy May

(Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece, and therefore understandably may not be something all readers will 100% agree with)
I think modern lolita fashion rules turned this fashion perfect. Perfectly rotten. I’m a bit salty about it, sometimes, to be honest.
There, I said it.
I really don’t mean to offend or unnerve at all. But hear me out here, people…hear me out.

In the beginning, there was just you, and your love of this fashion…

Do you remember what it felt like when you first discovered EGL fashion? I think we all do. It’s like finding out that magic really does exist. For many, it’s a story of finally finding a fashion to express the way they felt inside their soul. That’s the story we love to hear; people connecting to their inner selves and a rebellious spirit through dressing in frills. A way of dressing apparently so removed from the rules presented by mainstream and fast fashion, so radically different from that of your parents, family or society at large, starkly in contrast to conformist social dress norms.
But in the modern lolita world, is it really as simple as all that? As we know…it really isn’t as simple. It’s a new can of fashion worms to sift through. I invite you, dear reader, to consider your own frilly journey.

Then, everyone started telling you how to dress, all over again…

Upon expressing an interest in EGL fashion (especially if you are a Western lolita), you very quickly pick up on the consensus that, as a newbie, you require a consultation with and to receive advice from seasoned wearers of the fashion. At that point, it becomes apparent that there seem to be a million rules to follow in order to successfully execute your first outfit. Still, most newbie lolitas enter into the fashion with the ‘make do’ attitude of using what they have or what they can find readily available to put together an outfit that might be considered acceptably lolita. This is, unfortunately, quickly squashed out of newbies, as their ideas are often quickly labelled ‘ita’ (a word no lolita, no matter how new to the fashion, wants to be associated with).
Once you gain the confidence to wear your first outfit, the next logical step is usually to get opinions from others in the fashion around you. It’s then that you discover that 1) your first outfit was, apparently, all wrong, and 2) there is simply too much choice. In recent years, the fashion has become exponentially more available to a Western market through both first hand and second hand online shopping opportunities. Whether you first browse on Closet Child, Wunderwelt, Bodyline, Taobao, direct from brand store or someplace else, or simply scroll through lolibrary or pinterest for inspiration, the chances are you will be overwhelmed by all the colourways, patterns and style options. It can throw who you thought you were, what you thought your personal taste and style were, right out of kilter. It’s a bit like a sweetshop – all these design concepts, cuts, impactful silhouettes, themes, colours, ribbons, bows, bells and whistles (well, maybe not whistles) - there is undoubted going to be an attraction to all these wonderful designs, and a want to spend all your money, all at once. Owing to this, and the myriad of rules, it is likely that you will make many buying mistakes when you first venture into this fashion. You’ll cry, your bank account will cry.
Yet, with all this variety available to the lolita of the year 2020, there is a desperate and seemly fundamental need for everything to just be perfect. To match. To coordinate. And of course, coordination always equals well-dressed, right?
According to modern standards of constructive criticism:
1) Colours and themes must match (must have the right socks, shoes, headdress, bag, accessories ALL matching or coordinated perfectly)
2) The style must be clear cut (though a blend between styles can be executed by more experienced lolitas)
3) An outfit must have a cupcake poof or at the very least a very voluminous a-line shape to be considered truly lolita.
This doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for creative agency…but maybe I’m wrong? For some, this perfectionism is a power in itself. A power to feel in control of something when everything else seems hopelessly in disarray. I can see where they are coming from. It’s just that when I personally was trying to tick all these boxes at the start of my lolita journey, the magic felt pretend and I worried that it had never actually been really there to begin with. It wasn’t until I turned to the oldschool revival that my soul felt aligned to this fashion, and I felt free to express myself through the imperfect rebellion against the mainstream AND the current trends in EGL it provided…
But how did we get so far from the original look of EGL? I mean, it has been over 20 (and maybe even as long as 30) years since this fashion began to emerge.

Why? How?

Perhaps it’s a mixture between the way constructive criticism has interacted and met with the standards that lolita brands now tend to set with their marketing campaigns, and what soon became the norm in the late 2010s in street snaps. In earlier issues of Gothic and Lolita Bible, there was a bigger focus on genuine creative agency through use of flat-lay display of products, and therefore a subjective viewpoint from which a reader could imagine and fanaticise their own personal aesthetic within those items of clothing. The streetsnaps at the back of the GLB, in KERA and in Fruits mook reflected this authenticity and imperfect but creative sense of stylistic rebellion. There was a sense that this fashion was a daily occurrence for its wearers. Something normal, casual: part of a lifestyle. Conversely, in more contemporary copies of the GLB, we see a larger focus on the troupes we are used to in the West of brand campaigning (perhaps because Japanese designers recognise that EGL is something becoming more and more accessible to a Western audience). Models are perfectly dressed in coordinates that are set matched, with perfectly styled wigs etc. Not to mention the more severe issues of lack of representation of racial/cultural/disability/body type diversity within GLB models (which was always an issue anyway).
Street snaps too became rather theatrical and performative in their extravagance, making the fashion too intimidating and inaccessible, and in many ways, impersonal (for many of us, at least). Not relatable.

Re-Rebellion…

Maybe that is why we have seen such a revival in oldschool lolita in recent years, and why there seems to be such a wonderful diversity of individuals who wear and engage specifically oldschool lolita fashion. Or maybe it’s because we are just a little sick of looking at the same three outfits again and again on certain style-sharing platforms. It’s like a re-rebellion. A chance to take back everything that this fashion used to stand for. The freedom, and the revolution.
And with that, the magic returns. As an oldschool wearer, I myself rarely, if ever, reach out for constructive criticism on my outfits. Rather than get ‘permission’ or any kind of confirmation of perfection, I have chosen to wear the clothes I have acquired in a way that feels right for my personal raison d’etre. Gobelin with stripes? Heck yeah! A sight for sore eyes? Probably! It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks: I feel like me wearing it! And isn’t that why, in the first place, I first fell in love with lolita fashion? Heck yeah, it is!

7 comments


  • I am not a Lolita (just a mum of one) but I find your blogs very engageable and thoughtful, they help me to have a bit more insight.

    Sarah Avey on

  • I’ve felt for some time this topic needed to be talked about.
    I’ve worn lolita from 2003 to 2008/2009 and picked it up again in 2018.
    In the old school era I did look up to and admired “frumpy” street snaps with beautiful imperfect authenticity. These days I admire them even more. What I see is courage.
    But back then my goal was cookie cutter coordinated outfit perfection. I didn’t feel safe to step outside of that box and still don’t.
    Probably because I feel the need to compensate for something(s). My thoughts go something like this “The outfits pictured look great on the people wearing them, but perhaps not on me because I am not slim and don’t have a pretty face.”.
    When people (including yourself) look at outfit shots they often judge your outfit and you with your natural features as a whole. They (and you) might hate your outfit on you and love it on someone with other natural features even though the outfit fits you both well and doesn’t clash with your natural colors/wig.
    Someone might have the natural features to elevate a mediocre outfit into an awesome one.
    I don’t think I have that kind of lifting power. I need my clothes to work for me to make me more beautiful, I probably can’t do it the other way around.
    Staying with a perfectly coordinated cookie cutter universally flattering approach (as much as lolita fashion and silhouettes can be flattering) to outfit building takes the possibility that your outfit looks bad because it’s you who is wearing it out of the equation, or at least greatly reduces the chance.
    “Even if I am not perfect, my outfit can be.” was my mindset.
    But I also acknowledge how boring that can be. I only have 2 maybe 3 ways to cookie cutter coordinate any of my main pieces.
    I’ve been challenging myself lately though. With the cookie cutter method you already know what works when you look at it on paper. When you go outside of that box it’s trial and error.

    Yvonne on

  • Old school is a counter culture within a counter culture, That said I have to mention how it wasn’t all a bed of roses (in the western community). I recall how more experimental coords would get flack even in 2006-2007, or how these street snaps we love were already frowned upon for being frumpy. People were very judgemental and the rules were harsher than today online (in my opinion). I think as limiting as modern lolita may seem due to the prevalence of OTT/perfect coords, it also allows a lot of other substyles to exist or resurface in a way it wouldn’t have been possible in 2005. In the case of old school, it’s the appeal of nostalgia, the durability and wearability of the clothing, the beautiful and more simple designs that attract so many people. I am not a fan of perfection so it appeals to me personally in that way. But I still agree with this post, on the account of old school now being and feeling very liberating and fresh. I just had to mention these things.
    Thank you for sharing these posts, it’s fun to read about old school and lolita in this manner and I hope you keep posting them.

    ichigo on

  • This was such a good article!! I really feel it as a newbie myself. I first seen Lolita 10 years ago and tried to work with what I had and very amiturely tried to make my own outfits. All the new rules now are very daunting and very different to what it was 10 years ago and before when I first fell in love with the fashion! I’m now in the process of getting multiple of the Gothic & Lolita Bibles so I can get back to those roots and make my own and feel inspired again and avoid the constant need of perfectionism

    Hannah on

  • Despite loving the rules of the fashion and believing that they do contribute to a healthy substyle (within moderation), I really sympathise with the writer here. However I also wonder if its part of a larger trend we’re seeing in social media were if we want to be seen as valid and worthy of attention, then we have to essentially put on a very skilled expensive show. Make up gurus have said similar things in the past about the quality of make up applications. We craft our lives into a spectacle to be judged rather than lived. So maybe the cure is to act as if nobody is watching…

    Hann on

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