A few weeks ago, the lolita community celebrated it’s first “International Ita Day”, hosted by the people behind Okei!!! Podcast.
This event celebrated coordinates that broke the rules of lolita fashion. These outfits are sometimes referred to as “ita”, a pun based on the Japanese word for “painful”.
It was wonderful to see the creativity in the coordinates that people wore, intentionally breaking the “rules” of lolita. Many people also posted thoughtful commentary about their interpretation of the rules and how they incorporated or broke them in their coordinates.
While this event was meant as a playful way to experiment with fashion, it got me thinking about the “rules” and the way they function in lolita fashion.
On a very basic level, things like the “Lolita Fashion Guidebook” are meant to draw a line between “clothes” and “lolita fashion.” Though you can buy dresses at most clothing stores, not all dresses are “lolita.” As we’ve seen, these rules are flexible. Some older rule books state that dresses are meant to be at or just below the knee. However, classic and gothic brands regularly release tea length dresses. Some guides advised that wearing black and white dresses was a sure way to be an “ita.” Now, many brands release black and white dresses are sell out upon release. Some rules, however, seem like they’re more or less written in stone, including the iconic silhouette.
For those outside lolita or those just beginning, the rules seem at odds with an alternative fashion. There are countless images, blogs, and videos that outline the strict confines of the fashion. “You must wear a petticoat.” “Your shoulders must be covered.” “Never wear sandals.” “No cleavage allowed.” Coordinates that don’t follow these commandments are branded with comments of “Not lolita.” This hardly seems like a movement against fashion norms. What’s the point of a counter culture if there’s just more rules?
However, I think that framing the “rules” this way is overly simplistic. The rules are a framework that lolitas work inside and outside of in order to create art. In that way, the “rules” function more like a poetic form.
As you probably recall from high school writing classes, English playwright William Shakespeare is also the author of more than 150 poems (often called English sonnets or Shakespearean sonnets). These poems had strict rules: 14 lines, a defined rhyme scheme, and specific meter. Shakespeare’s sonnets followed a rich tradition of this highly specific poetic form, making changes (including typical subject matter) that made his poetry standout.
We wouldn’t try to say that all writing is poetry, or that all poems are sonnets. The framework that we use to write poetry is different from composing an email, and the rules of a sonnet are different than those of a haiku. We aren’t necessarily passing judgment on a poem when we say, “You didn’t write a sonnet.” We’re observing that when you don’t use the rhyme scheme associated with an English sonnet, you’ve created something else.
However, that doesn’t mean that the “rules” of a sonnet have to be restrictive. Changes to rhyme scheme or meter can signal to the reader that there is further intended meaning. Shakespeare’s sonnets are still studied precisely because people are interested in the ways in which the poems do or don’t follow the expected form. People still find rich meaning to the confines of sonnets.
In the same way, lolita fashion asks those who wear it to follow it’s rules. Lolitas aren’t just writing an email, they’re composing poetry. Wearing a jumperskirt without a blouse doesn’t mean that you aren’t wearing j-fashion, maybe just that you’re not wearing lolita. Maybe you’re writing a haiku and not a sonnet. However, when a lolita intentionally mixes in decora accessories or wears a pair of chunky Demonia boots, they’re inviting the community to consider what “breaking the rules” might mean. They’re pushing up against what it means when we write a sonnet.
I love and will continue to wear coordinates that fit within the “rules” of lolita fashion. But hope that International Ita Day (and every day) inspires you to create daring experiments and push the boundaries of the fashion. I cannot wait to see the beautiful poetry that you’ll make.