Please Note: All resources mentioned can be found in the citations section, at the end of this article.
On Opulence: What Is It?
Opulence. A word which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as pertaining to terms such as ‘affluence’ and ‘abundance’. When we think of Elegant Gothic and Lolita, and other kawaii fashions, opulent is definitely a word which we would associate with such a style. Opulent presences are going to turn heads and start conversations. As such, it is part of the DNA of lolita fashion and kawaii fashion in general to be revolutionary. And that revolution is all about reclamation of opulence in the counteraction of oppression.
What Opulence Has Meant for Kath and Lu
We here at R.R.Memorandum are individuals who have had modesty forced upon us during our upbringing as the default way of being, appearing and behaving. Both Katherine and I are neurodiverse AFAB individuals, and as such masking has been a massive part of our lives when it comes to certain personality traits which that neurological circumstance brings about. However, from a young age, we both recognised that there was something deeply unfulfilling about enforced modesty in appearance (as an extension of enforced modesty in behavioural self-expression) – which in a way I suppose some may feel to be part of the neurodivergent mindset (the questioning of homogenous prescribed norms and/or opinions that are considered the norm). While this is a bit of a contentious issue (it is often hard to know what is prescribed by historically inaccurate medical understanding of neurodivergent identities, and what is our truth – though I will say each neurodivergent person is unique in the way in which they are affected by their neurodivergence/experiences of neurodiversity), it is this beyond-the-box thinking alongside a sense of hyper-interest that helped to draw both of our minds at separate times to the fashion we love to wear today.
Gradually, we have both come to understand in our own time that this fashion helps us represent a questioning of the pressure society puts upon us to blend in, especially when we understood from experience that blending in is not necessarily a ticket to fitting in. Growing up, I’d always felt like the tag-along optional extra in family gatherings. 5 minutes of a 5 hour conversation was centred around me, and the rest of the time I was expected to be quiet and politely let the ‘adults’ around me talk about people, places and things I simply did not know or care about. Seen, but not heard. Even in non-EGL friendship groups, I’d always felt like the ‘pet’ that everyone just had around to fill a seat. I was designated to being just there. Wearing EGL set me free from that. It placed me in a group of people who had all had similar experiences of feeling invisible, and who one day, just like me, had just rejected the modesty which had been forced on them and had partially brought that invisibility about. This is a rebellion against being forced to be a background person. We refuse to be ‘just there’ any longer. We will take up space. We will be visible.
What Opulence MUST Mean For The Wider Kawaii Community At Large
In their article ‘Coordinating Fashion and Justice’ for Kawaii Riot, Avina-kei presents the predicament their position as a person of colour fighting against injustice and inequality while wearing luxury fashion that is reminiscent of the shapes, styles, quality and motifs that we often see being worn in paintings by historical colonisers. Avina questions how they ‘can live a life of excess while acknowledging the need for racial and economic justice’, and goes on to explain how we can do better to scrutinize the habits we are building into our alternative fashion wardrobe and lifestyle. How we should consider sustainability before impulse purchases and instant gratification…and how we can hold our brands accountable. This is how we reclaim opulence.
There is no ethical consumption under capitalism. The systems we associate with the fast-fashion industry are exploitative of individuals who do not hold the position of privilege. Like it or not, this outsourcing of labour to those in countries far away from us, to those exhausted fingers of workers who are underpaid, is happening every, single day. Sustainability has always kind of been our jam anyway within the EGL community at large, what-with the booming second hand market – but still, we need to continue to demand transparency from our favourite brands. We here at R.R. Memorandum will seek to be as transparent and ethical as possible with our products, but we are always mindful that it is not always 100% possible to be completely aware of every minute details. Opulence, for us, is all about considering the where and the who of the making of the clothes we put on our backs, being as aware as possible of the ways in which we can make more sustainable choices in what is already considered to be a sustainable, opulent, luxury fashion. A good resource to find out more about this is The Slow Factory, who have a series of lectures on sustainability (including topics like waste-led design and design justice/mapping oppression).
Accountability can mean several things. It can be directly in relation to, again, the calling for our favourite brands to be clearer about the details of garment production, of staffing demographics…the list goes on. HOWEVER, right now, I want to talk about accountability within our frilly community. It’s been a very difficult few months for the international EGL and kawaii fashion community: which, we can say, is a micro-picture of the real world macro-picture of the classism, racism and colonialist behaviours BIPOC/BAME face. The actions and behaviours of a so-called ‘key figure’ within our frilly community have unequivocally brought about a destruction of any good work that may have been begun through apology of another. The cost of this misuse of perceived power has been a devastating reification of the systematic oppression facing BIPOC, silencing of the voices of lolita and kawaii fashion wearers of colour and a horrific countering of any accountability that had been taken. This discrimination is something here at R. R. Memorandum we absolutely refuse to tolerate and will stalwartly stand against.
Reclaiming Opulence Within Our Community: 4 STEPS AGAINST DISCRIMINATION YOU SHOULD TAKE
1) BE ACCOUNTABLE AND ACKNOWLEDGE MISTAKES OF THE PAST AND PRESENT
All of the work I will mention in my later points by kawaii fashion wearers of colour, we must remember, is important in making us accountable for what was and still is an underlying rhetoric that pervades this alternative fashion movement (which, again, I will remind you, was originally created and developed by Japanese women, AKA people of colour). Here, I’ll remind you all of the micro-aggressive existence of pale blogs (upon which there is a favouring of lighter skin-tones to fit in with ‘pale aesthetic’) even today, which are a startling extension of the earlier discussions pervading the LiveJournal days which can still be found right now, of topics like skin-lightening creams and lotions to name but one. Yet what is the difference between that, and face-tune applications that have so-called beautification functions that make skin paler, or algorithms that specifically favour the content circulation of pale-skinned individuals.
As many might know, we have a general problem with catty and salty behaviour in our frilly community. Over the years, on multiple online platforms and in offline communities, there has been a consistent policing of who is allowed to wear which kawaii styles, colours, brands, cuts of clothing etc. There are dark corners of the internet that still exist that are sadly spaces where frilly and kawaii fashion-wearing people still frequent, that are a cesspit of racism, colourism, xenophobia, sexism, fat-shaming, ableism, homophobia, transphobia etc. etc. WHY?
EGL and all kawaii fashion is meant to be about taking ownership of our own bodies. By shrouding ourselves in opulent rebellion, we are choosing for OURSELVES who we are. This fashion, supposedly inspired by historical dress, would have been fashioned after historical evidence (e.g. portrait paintings) of historical colonisers, which would highly likely not have featured any historical figures of colour even though people of colour were there too! Therefore, this fashion is especially a powerful statement when, for example, a person of colour decides to wear lolita. It is anti-colonialist feminism at its absolute finest - although that is literally the least I can do to describe the power that this has – that does not take into account intersectionality to its full extent. SO, let’s talk about INTERSECTIONALITY.
2) CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE BY UNDERSTANDING HOW INTERSECTIONALITY WORKS
It takes time to understand how there are different systems of oppression happening simultaneous. The experience of, for example, a white, heteronormative, able-bodied, afab person will be exponentially different in a more privileged way than their openly queer/LGBTQI+, disabled counterpart. It might be different for a darker-toned person of colour than for someone with slightly lighter skin, or someone who is queer and of an Indigenous background etc.
Intersectionality. Something that is best described on the Kawaii Riot website:
Intersectionality is a complex term, and it’s easy to misunderstand or forget what it means. Here are steps you can take to understand intersectionality further and how you can use it in your activism.
- Educate yourself on how different systems of oppression operate and intersect with each other.
- Recognize your privilege and use it to help marginalized people.
- Centre conversations around marginalized identities within activist communities.
- Donate to organizations that are intersectional in their work.
- Reference Black feminists when you talk about intersectionality!
3) LISTEN TO MARGINALISED VOICES IN THE FRILLY COMMUNITY, PAY ATTENTION TO MARGINALISED WORDS AND STORIES
For years, BIPOC frilly siblings have been marginalised within a fashion that was created and developed by people of colour. There has been a consistent racist and colourist policing of BAME/BIPOC individuals within this fashion. The erasure of BIPOC from history through colonialism was being repeated within the J-fashion community, especially online. This is not helped by algorithms and functions of social media favouring pale-toned skin, with ‘skin lightening’ functions being used within filters on a variety of platforms (something I had never thought about until I saw Avina-kei speaking about it on Instagram).
In 2020, several incredible projects were set up to uphold and celebrate marginalised voices within the international Kawaii fashion community. On June 19th (Juneteenth), several lolita fashion wearers took to Youtube in the Kawaii Melanin Collab tag to discuss their personal experiences of being people of colour in a niche fashion. Since this series, Marinakei has started a very important podcast-style remote collaboration series on youtube with other lolita fashion wearers of colour called Frill Talk: Listen to Real Voices, in which we can hear accounts of own-voices experiences directly in a candid, real and honest way. Marina also has a wealth of content on their youtube channel where they talk about their own experiences as latinx black lolita, and playlists of collaborations with others BIPOC folx in the fashion who talk about their individual, intersectional experiences. Rose Nocturnalia, who contributed a really excellent and insightful post to our blog here at R.R. Memorandum last summer, has an incredible resources on their youtube channel. They talk generally about the salt problem we have in the lolita fashion community (which speaks to my earlier point about understanding intersectionality and how differences between people need to be understood in order to do the work in creating a safer space for us all). There is a lot of anti-Asian racism which is especially prevalent in the world today. YourBunnyValentine is a blogger that specifically speaks about this, and how it effects the attitudes of Western wearers of lolita towards specifically the Chinese lolita community and brands from China. I definitely recommend the blog post, entitled ‘Whose lolita is it anyway?’
On Instagram, the Black Lolita Community page was set up for the purpose of showcasing photos and sharing stories of beautiful BIPOC/BAME members of the worldwide lolita fashion community. Jadedisland is another magical blogger who speaks of their experiences as a person of colour in the kawaii fashion community. An UNSTOPPABLE force of BEAUTIFUL pink energy, the following quote sums Jade and what they are all about to a tee:
“I’ve taken my love of writing, storytelling, and authenticity and made it my movement. I’m invested in narratives for Black Femmes, Kawaii lifestyles, and creative writing. I focus on these ideas with intentional emotional authenticity.”
Alongside proudly speaking their personal truth, Jade not only showcases their own fashion and creativity, but the creativity of BIPOC individuals in the kawaii community, be they artists, fashion designers, photographers, other alternative fashion wearers. There is a wealth of resources on Jadedisland, so I highly recommend you checking it out!
Furthermore, led by incredible Jade, a group of marginalised J-fashion wearers set up Kawaii Riot. According to the manifesto, Kawaii Riot is a community of kawaii alternative fashion wearers who use their creativity to vocalise a sustained call to action for social change:
“We are inspired by the spirit of alternative fashion because, at its core, our fashion is a form of rebellion, and we value spaces that represent the diverse voices within. This media platform is an extension of our team’s commitment to the alternative fashion community. We share this commitment by advocating inclusivity, education, and social reform through writing, multimedia, and cross-platform storytelling. We voice to inspire a community of well-informed advocates, activists, and allies to build a better and inclusive future…our team dedicates our energy to activism, accessibility, and sustaining the conversation on social change for the long term.”
Kawaii Riot’s website is absolutely OVERFLOWING with knowledge and resources shared by different, intersectional, marginalised voices within the kawaii community, presented in different forms – comics, panels and workshops, blogposts, photography, infographics and SO much more! Best of all – Kawaii Riot takes submissions – so we may hear from more and more different intersectional voices within this one amazing resource.
4) DO THE WORK: REMEMBER: D.E.C.O.R.A
Jadedisland had the GENIUS idea of borrowing the name of ONE OF THEE MOST OPULENT Japanese Street Fashions, Decora, to create an acronym to remind each of us of the wider work we can do to help marginalised individuals within our community and in society at large:
Donate – if possible, donate to foundations that will help marginalised individuals in crisis, support on patreon and ko-fi etc
Educate – educate yourself and others within your frilly community (and outside it) – if possible, point in the direction of real voices (consider the resources shared in point no. 1).
Challenge – change starts with YOU. Challenge your own biases that have been systematically nurtured in you when you recognise them in yourself or when challenged on them by someone else, and if you see or hear something online or in person that is contributing to discrimination of any kind against marginalised individuals: challenge this as soon as possible.
Observe – Observation is something you should perhaps do before challenging -however, not only can you observe the ways in which individuals groups or even you personally interact! You can also observe what is going on in the wider community, within politics, within the algorithmic timelines of your social media etc. You can use these observations to challenge the systems and make real change.
Reshare – share resources relating to real voices and experiences of discriminated peoples WIDELY as you possibly can. Reshare useful things that will help and benefit Black, Asian, Queer, Autistic or other marginalised people within your frilly community and in society at large.
Act – Now, after observing, listening to real voices, challenging your own biases, educating yourself on the historic and systematic issues that have been faced by marginalised people, without hesitation you must take ACTION, rather than being passive (which contributes to the tyranny of systematic discrimination).
Reclaiming Opulence = DOING BETTER
I cannot say it any other way. Each and every one of us in the kawaii community has a duty to do better. So, LISTEN to voices of individuals in the community who have different lives and situations than you do, who experience the world in a different way than you do because of the colour of their skin, disability (visible or invisible), gender, sexuality, cultural background, religious faith or body type. BE AWARE that way we can make things better within our community as a whole by beginning with working on ourselves, challenging our own biases and within our frilly communities, and seeking accountability, compassion and radical acceptance. We all have this duty. Reclaim opulence by doing better.
love, your bunny valentine: whose lolita is it anyway?
Kawaii Riot (specifically the article on intersectionality)
Kawaii Riot 101: Intersectionality — Kawaii Riot (squarespace.com)
Avina-kei for Kawaii Riot – Coordinating Fashion and Justice
Coordinating Fashion and Justice — Kawaii Riot
Rose Nocturnia R.R. Memorandum Blog Post
Guest Post by Rose Nocturnalia: On Revolution, Rebellion and the Lolit – R.R. Memorandum (r-r-memorandum.co.uk)
Marinakei - YouTube
The Black Lolita Community (@blacklolitacommunity) • Instagram photos and videos
Marina (@marinakei_) • Instagram photos and videos
Avina-kei (@_avina_) • Instagram photos and videos
Jade (@jadedisland) • Instagram photos and videos
Kawaii Riot™️ (@thekawaiiriot) • Instagram photos and videos
Other mentioned resources: