Harajuku is a district in Tokyo, Japan, filled with fashion boutiques and art galleries. It is an open-minded place that welcomes individuality and artistic freedom. On any given Sunday, a mecca of fashion styles permeates the senses of anyone who visits. The fashion itself is distinctively Harajuku, but discerning between the different styles is quite difficult. Many people misunderstand or underestimate the complexity of the fashion, interpreting the myriad of styles as sexualized playwear. Misrepresenting or simplifying the styles of Harajuku is especially present in the media. For example, pop star Gwen Stefani, though giving the district attention by showcasing her ‘Harajuku Girls,’ has distorted the district to the rest of the world by blatantly exploiting the style.
Similarities exist between different Harajuku styles of dress, but more discernable differences are present to those who pay attention to detail. To spot a Lolita (one who dresses to emulate Victorian beauty) or a Cosplayer (one who morphs into an animé or sci-fi character) requires a keen eye for the art form.
“Many people misunderstand or underestimate the complexity of the fashion.”
Sweet Lolita (Amaloli)
Lolitas in Harajuku generally portray themselves as being much younger than they are. “[The style is] prim and proper,” explains Samantha Rei, founder and designer of Blasphemina’s Closet in Minneapolis. “You can show a corset without being skanky. You also don’t see a lot of cleavage with Lolita, and I like that. There has been an over-sexualization that has happened… it’s embarrassing to the art form.” White Lolita (Shirololi): A sub-category of Lolita where the person wears only white.
Classical Lolita (Classic Lolita, Country Lolita)
A sophisticated Victorian, Baroque, and Rocaille inspired Lolita. Colours used are pink, white, blue, brown, black, burgundy, and floral patterns. Accessories such as headdresses, headbands, or miniature hats are often worn. Handbags are also commonly carried around.
Gothic Lolita (Gothloli)
Gothic Lolitas wear a cocktail of Victorian adult styles from the 18th and 19th centuries, with a touch of Goth, but without religious connotations. Being a Gothic Lolita is not the same as being Goth. Goths use the dark aesthetics of Christianity and Germanic culture in their style, dress, and attitude, whereas Gothlolis aim for a style reminiscent of a more elegant Lolita. Sometimes Gothlolis will even carry around a teddy bear as do their Lolita counterparts, but it is made of black leather. Kurololi: A sub-category of Gothloli where the person wears only black.
Cosplay (not considered part of the Lolita family) is where players dress as specific animé, manga (Japanese comics), video game, and tokusatsu characters from science fiction movies, Japanese pop bands, or television shows. People who participate in Cosplay in Japan do so on a regular basis — typically Sunday nights in Harajuku. In Cosplay, unlike Lolita, followers tend to make costumes by hand, garner nicknames, take pictures of other Cosplayers, and participate in contests for best costume. Crossplay (cross-dressing play): A sub-category of Cosplay where one dresses as the opposite sex.
‘Gruesome’ Lolita. A mixture of Cosplay and Gothloli as a costume is usually worn with ‘gory’ accessories such as fake blood, bandages, and unusual-looking contact lenses.
Punk with some Lolita influence. Trends include short and spiky hair, plaids, red and black stripes, and band t-shirts. It is the raw, musically oriented energy of punk style mixed with lace, grommets, frills, and spikes. Mika T. is a follower of Harajuku fashion and lives in San Francisco. “[My] typical costume would be shirts with random phrases, or band [t-shirts] with skirts over capris. Shoes are something comfortable, like Converse over multiple pairs of striped socks and leg warmers. As for hair, right now it’s pink, orange, and red, and the style is choppy and easy to spike. Another popular addition is the coloured contacts or ‘wild eyes,’ which are contacts with designs instead of colours. My makeup is anything from black to pink, white, and yellow.”
Erotic Lolita (Erololi)
Victorian inspired but more revealing than Lolita. Fetish-based, with short skirts. Undergarments, such as petticoats, bloomers, and corsets are almost always revealed. Many Lolita followers frown on Erololi as it gives a bad reputation to the art form.