Very Old School Lolita: The fashion in the 90's, 80's, and 70's

This is a bit of a continuation on my Old School series of posts. While my Old School vs. New School posts focused on what brands looked like in the first few bibles, versus what they looked like now, this post will take a look even further into the past, before the Gothic & Lolita Bibles, before Malice Mizer, before Lolita became what it is now. There is no clear beginning to the fashion, as it began with inspiration from quite a few different fashions, so it is impossible to say exactly where it came from, and when it happened, but the timeline of how Lolita came to be what it is today is very interesting. I would like add that this post is based on articles and essays I have read as well as several hours hunting down pictures of early Lolita pieces. I have never been to Japan or been a part of the Japanese Lolita scene, let alone been a part of it in the decades I am discussing. Just so you know.

The difference between how fashions form in the East and West
Japanese fashion trends tend to form and evolve in a very different way from Western alternative fashion-based subcultures, that is many of them begin as street fashions, where as Western alternative fashions are almost always music and club based. Because of this, Western alternative fashions have much more concrete beginnings. Just take the oldest Bauhaus record insert you can find and observe a busy street in a relatively large city and you'll probably be able to pick out several people dressed exactly like the picture on the insert. Check at the copyright info at the bottom of the insert and you can pretty much safely say "That style started because these guys were dressing like that when this album was made". But with Japanese styles, the ones that begin as simply a street fashion that is, such as Lolita, there isn't really any kind of media associated with it, to make a snapshot of what the fashion looked like at exactly that time, until it becomes popular enough for everyday people to start noticing the trend. Because of this, the beginnings of fashions are often lost to even the people who will later wear them. Lolita's early years existed only in the closets of fans, the streets on the weekend, and a few small shops. Not on albums, music videos, and magazines like so many Western fashion's beginnings.

Fashions that inspired Lolita and other romantic styles
It's hard to talk about Lolita's roots without going back quite a bit further than the 1970's. We'll have to go earlier still to the 1950's and even further into antiquity to the Victorian and the Rococo eras. Of course, there is no frilly line of lace stretching from one era to the next that leads directly to Lolita today, these are all completely separate styles that Lolita draws much of it's inspiration from. The cute and girly silhouette of the 1950's. The elegance and details of the Victorian era, and the decadence of the Rococo era are all different periods that inspires Lolita.

In my opinion, I feel that Lolita owes the most to the Victorians. Not just because I simply like it the most, but because it helped inspire the romantic fashion movement of the 60's and 70's in the west that then inspired Japanese fashions of the time, that finally helped form the roots of the Lolita fashion. Using the ruffles and romance of a very rose-tinted view of the Victorian era, fashion designer Mary Quant popularized the babydoll dress. A look that most Lolitas are familiar with. I think of these vintage romantic pieces as being the beginning of the beginning.

Two Mary Quant designs. The second one is a babydoll dress from the 60's.

The 70's and 80's: styles that influenced Lolita's beginnings.
A quick Google search will tell you that Angelic Pretty has it's origins in 1979, but those of you dreaming of frilly dresses in gold lamé with cute appliques of roller discoing bunnies along the hem are a bit off. While technically several Lolita brands were around in the late 70's and 80's, they certainly weren't making what they make today. Angelic Pretty (at the time, simply known as "Pretty"), for example, sold other, even smaller, designer's things at their shop. And the styles were much different than they are now.

Otome style from 1979 (credit)
Lolita brands that have been around for decades, well before they were Lolita as we know it now, most likely sold Otome and Natural-kei styled clothes. To those unfamiliar with the terms, myself included up until recently, let's do a quick lesson! Otome means "maiden" and refers to a more toned down and almost "mod" look (at least in my opinion), think such brands as Jane Marple, MILK, and Emily Temple Cute. Natural-kei is a very loose and, well, natural look. Imagine a prairie girl aesthetic, with lots of neutral colors and calico prints. The recent Mori Girl craze is descended from this style.

Gunne Sax dresses from the 1970's. Not a Japanese brand, but are often seen (or a very similarly styled brand) in the Natural-kei fashion of that time.

Besides fashions that can be more or less easily labeled, Japan is known for urging it's young girls to be cute and child-like. While many teenagers in the west strive to be sexy and sophisticated, there is, or at least there was in the eras that Lolita started to form from, just as much desire for a teenaged girl to be cute and adorable. Perhaps Lolita followed a less linear fashion timeline, and instead of growing directly out of the merging of two fashions, Otome and Natura-kei, which are more feminine than childish, it formed on it's own simply from the need to be cute.

The 90's: The dawning of Lolita
Since there are really no surviving online pictures of pieces of what it is Baby and Angelic Pretty were selling in the 80's, there's a big black hole in the history of the Lolita fashion. The earliest we have hard proof that people were actually wearing such things are the earliest volumes of the Fruits magazine. If you are unfamiliar with Fruits, it is a magazine that began in 1997 of street snaps in the Harajuku district. Kera magazine, the publication that the Gothic & Lolita Bibles are a spin-off of, was first published in 1998, and if they have any pictures of Lolita brands that would be an awesome source of what Lolita brands were selling, not just what a select few were wearing, sadly I could not get my hands on any of those early Kera magazines.

In the Fruits street snaps, Angelic Pretty is the easiest to spot and most frequently worn of the Lolita brands. Simple skirts in floral print that probably couldn't fit a modern Lolita's petticoat, peter pan blouses, and bloomers are regular items from the brand formerly known as Pretty in the first Fruits magazines from the late 90's. Click for full-sized pictures.

Now, you may notice that some of these aren't even remotely close to Lolita. I am not saying that these particular pictures are all early examples of Lolita, simply that these girls are all wearing Angelic Pretty pieces from the mid to late 90's. Now, Angelic Pretty wasn't the only brand on the block for girls of the 90's looking to add some frilly romance to their outfits. Jane Marple, Heart E, and even Vivienne Westwood are all brands of choice for the girls who are, in essence, our fashion's grandmothers. While the other "big name" brands certainly were around at the time, in Harajuku, where the photos for Fruits magazines were shot, no one was really wearing any of those until the early 2000s.

Shoichi Aoki, the man behind the Fruits magazines, unfortunately for us, isn't too fond of the Lolita style, so there are very few examples of "true" Lolita in the early Fruits, just the more adventurous outfits. I can hear some Lolita's gasping now, "Hey now! Huge pink wigs! Fake rhinestone eyelashes! Nearly neon prints! How is that not adventurous?" Well, Lolita back in the day wasn't so colorful and complicated. It was significantly simpler. It was also sometimes significantly... frumpier.

Today most of these would get a "Nice try! But here are some suggestions..." comment in the LJ communities, this is what Lolita looked like in the mid to late 90s. While these outfits tend to have varying degrees of effort put into them, from that gorgeous blue plaid Jane Marple dress to the couple of girls that look like they're just wearing their pinkest clothes, they all have elements that are found in today's Lolita, albeit worn a little differently. The 90's Lolita outfit can usually be boiled down to a few basic elements: clunky shoes, pulled up socks (not necessarily knee-highs), poofy skirt (petticoat optional), white Peter Pan collared blouse, and a cardigan.

The Late 90's: The rising of the Gothic Lolita
Now, you might notice that most of these girls can all be considered Sweet Lolita. Pinks and reds prevail. When Lolita first had it's big breakthrough in the west, it was through Gothic Lolita, Gothic Lolita and Lolita being interchangeable with each other for a number of years. But, as we all now know, Gothic Lolita is a separate type of Lolita, one that took quite some time to be "invented". Shoichi Aoki claims that Gothic Lolita started as a small trend around 2002, which, to me, doesn't sound very accurate. For a few years before that Visual-kei stars had been dressing up in a Gothic Lolita style. The monstrously popular Malice Mizer was at their height of Gothic decadence in 2000. And I'm sure you all know a Jrock fan or two, they are very well known for dressing like their idols. Maybe it just finally hit Harajuku by then, but his own magazine shows a few Gothic Lolita's scattered throughout, before even 2000 hit.

The first girl is wearing what looks like an eyepatch with "Pretty" written on it. Is this big brand's first adventure into smearing their name and Logo all over everything? That last picture is the very first picture, in Fruits, of a couple of Lolita's in "modern" Lolita, and it's from October of 1999. It sure took a long time to reach that point!

The early 2000's: Lolita in bloom

BtSSB's first advertisement in fruits. From February 2000. 12 years after they originally opened!

For whatever reason, be it the popularity of Visual-kei bands or simply the fashion finally spread to Harajuku, Lolita seems to explode in popularity as soon as the 90's are over. Once this elusive Lolita was finally captured, in all her glory, in the camera's lens she becomes a world-wide phenomena. Not only does she become much more frequently sighted, but her outfits are much more well put together. Dresses are more often from a brand instead of handmade (which is debatable whether or not this is a good thing) and they are also better fitting. This new Lolita has a much more defined look and silhouette.
These are looking very close to the Lolita we know now, and most of these styles are what people mean when they say "Old School Lolita" They are generally simpler than today's Lolita, but much more well put together than the Lolita of the 90's. You will also notice that many of these girls have ditched the pastels and traded them in for black and white. Shoes are still clunky, but not the monster moon boots from the future that many girls were wearing just a few years earlier. Headdresses are beginning to be seen as a "must wear" item. And, thankfully, petticoats are being worn by everyone, they might not be as poofy as the ones that are popular today, but at least they are there.

If I really want to get lifestyle-y on you all, I could describe the Lolita fashion as a flower. With how street fashions are formed in Japan as a rich soil for the growth and experimentation of the fashion, the styles from long ago as a seed of inspiration, Otome and Natural-kei as the roots, the darker Gothic Lolita as the thorns, the 90's style of frilly skirts and girly cardigans paired with cute accessories as a little green bud that finally blossomed into the detailed and extravagant style of the 2000's. What's in store for this metaphorical flower is hard to tell. I can honestly say that I don't think Lolita will be trampled and replaced with something new any time soon. Perhaps Lolita will become more of a subculture than "just a fashion", and occasionally pop into the mainstream, much like the Western Gothic subculture.

Oh look! An appendix.
Some brand opening dates. Many Lolita brand's came into being in the late 90's, early 2000's. But some brands came into being long before that.
  • Milk -1970
  • Angelic Pretty -Known as "Pretty" and was a select shop in LaForet in 1979. Became "Angelic Pretty" in 2001.
  • Jane Marple -1985
  • Baby the Stars Shine Bright -1988
  • HeartE -1988
  • Metamorphose -1993 (Click here for their beginnings and original name!)
  • Atelier Boz -1995
  • Innocent World -1997
If you're interested in learning a bit more about both the Lolita fashion's origins and Japanese street fashions in general, here are some links to the various articles and LJ posts that were great help in writing this.
If you got it this far through this post, thank you!


  1. wonderful article! I can't believe you went so in depth. I love late 90's lolita so much more than the crazy stuff we have today most of the time.

  2. nice articles, surprized I didn't see a bunch of vivienne westwood! that brand was crinoline crazy in the 80s.
    If only there were more pictures of the lold stuff, that would be awesome.

    There is a post on egl of a vintage (late 70s-ish) Pink House dress that someone had from back in the day. Its awesome.

  3. Wow, this is an amazing post!!

  4. There actually were a lot of pics of VW covered girls from the 90's that I decided not to include. I was trying to focus on what was being sold in Japan as Lolita, I feel like the VW girls are a different group all together, and it's just that in the 90's her style and what Lolita was then are very similar. Plus, I am probably going to put together a whole separate article about Lolita's love with VW, if I did it in this post, it would have been even longer than it already was XD

  5. Yeaah once I started I kind of went crazy XD I love it in the super late 90's/early 2000's. Maybe just because it's so nostalgic for me. Haha, I even listened to Malice Mizer while I typed up some of this!

  6. interesting post! I always like older stuff and information about how the brands evolved.

    Personally... I feel like Western fashion comes more from Haute Couture than it does music... or perhaps more from celebrities in general than music. Like Alexander McQueen doing a plaid collection... and then 2-3 years later Forever21 and all the mainstream brands have a ton of plaid.

    and there's a lot of street fashion in japan that comes from music, too.... you mentioned that later in your post.

    Especially liked seeing some of these older images, as I hadn't really seen much older than the first GLB. :)

    it's fun that this dress:
    has become a classic style... you still see it for sale now from BABY or AP periodically.

    all of these elements are ones you can still buy today:

    it's fun that this model has been in it so long and still is in just about every GLB street snap

  7. Oops, I meant to say western alternative fashions. Fixed that now.

    True that a lot of Japanese fashions do start from music too, I guess I just forgot about them as I was writing this up XD I guess I was only thinking of the street fashions.

    I really love the older Lolita pieces, maybe because so many of the current Lolita trends tend to be "bigger is better" it's very refreshing and even rare to see something simple.

    I love that model in the last link you posted! I have been seeing her ever since I got into Lolita, to me, her and her style is the perfect lolita.

  8. that last model, yes... and she does so many different styles, too! It's refreshing. I love when she wears excentrique.

  9. Nice article. I liked reading it and learned alot.

  10. Thank you for this very detailed article!
    Some of those facts I knew already, but it was great to read the whole history with so many pictures. :3
    I really like some of the outfits from the early 2000s.

  11. That eyepatch thing the girl is wearing doesn't say pretty on it. It hard to see but in the corner of the image it looks like what it is actually printed on there is "Pierrot".

    Wow, this has to be one of the most informative thing about lolita I have ever read. This must have taken quite some time to put together. I applaud you!

  12. That's because it's Sachi.... ;)
    You know...from Kokusyoku Sumire?

  13. wow, really? I never recognize her when she's not doing band photos or with the other member. Haha. now that you say it's her, I totally feel silly for not realizing it!

  14. I love this post!! It's so interesting being able to look at fashion and how it has evolved and changed. This is a great crash-course in lolita fashion history. And your articles are always so well-informed, I love it when people actually know what they are talking about and don't just pass off speculation as fact. ^^

  15. I've seen bits and pieces of the history of loli around the web, but it's nice to have it all in one article! Good job :)

  16. I like this post a lot, and I've also read a bunch of those things around, but never got around to writing about it. What I did, though, was [already!] translate your article for the Brazilian community again. I'll provide you a link as soon as it's on the website, since you can't see it in orkut anyway unless you're registered! :D

    There are a few typos on the text, like "vivian" westwood instead of Vivienne, and a few instances of Harajuka - just though I'd let you know!

  17. Woah, how much research did this take? Seems like it could've been a lot. Very, very interesting. Never thought I'd see a link between mod and lolita.

  18. this is such a great article ^^
    really detailed :3

  19. I've been following your blog for a while now, but this is definitely my favorite post! This is amazing and so informative! I love all the pictures you chose. Great job!

  20. Thank you! For both the translation and the spelling errors XD I never spell her name right, or Harajuka.

  21. What an awesome article! I learned so much. It must have taken so much research. That's a good point about how sub-fashions in the US almost always center around the music (how arbitrary).

  22. It's HarajukU, btw!

    I posted the translation on my blog:!

  23. Oh hahah XD See how bad I am at spelling! Now it's fixed FOR REAL this time XD

  24. Wow, amazing article!
    I can see you put a ton of wok into it! And I really enjoyed reading and looking at the old school pictures, it's so interesting how the styled has changed over a decade or so, and what elements still remain.

  25. That timeline BLEW. MY. MIND.

    O_o I knew Lolita was old, but I didn't realize the initial concept of vintage girl clothing was as old as all that. x.x

  26. Its a strange thing that there is no music/club origin - at least not till the late 90s - when VK became HUGE. It's hard to explain lolita in an academic context when the source is so nebulous - and in a way it was protection to keep it from being co-opted as much as punk did.

  27. Wow. I'd always thought it began in the late 80s or 90s, not the 70s! Good grief, it could easily have been worn by people currently older than my parents!

    Is Lolita really still going strong globally? While it's expanding here, I've heard a lot about it going out of fashion in Japan. Apparently Lolita is a bit passe over there. Then again, you do talk from a western point of view, so I suppose that probably isn't all so relevant.

  28. Actually, the "first modern lolitas" photo is Kokusyoku Sumire, too! I think they've always had the style down. Maybe one could say they helped developed the style even more than Mana...?

  29. be precise, it is Sachi...but not Yuka, so it's not Kokusyoku Sumire, but rather one of the members. She's been well-known for longer than KS has existed, as she was a relatively famous violinist in her own right before joining with Yuka.

    Sachi has been around for a while in the scene and wears it very well, but I'm not sure how famous she was until recently. Kokusyoku Sumire was formed in 2004 and Sachi's solo violin album was also that year, and the fashion was pretty established by then. While Sachi does make a lot of the clothing that Yuka and she wear on stage, she doesn't have her own brand or particularly show off her designs, and she wasn't in the public eye nearly so much as Mana and other visual band members, so even as I love her and admire her, I don't know that her influence could be as big as that of Mana. That said, I'm sure her lovely coordinates being snapped in Fruits, seen on the street, seen on stage, seen anywhere, probably inspired many girls, and had their own influence. I just wouldn't say she was one of the originators of the style.

  30. Nice timeline. It's cool that you put up all the photos so we could really see it's progression!

  31. wow what a good information!!

  32. Wow, I'm super impressed at all the research you did for this! Really interesting and informative :) It was just one big nostalgia trip for me, since I was big into lolita when it was first emerging. I used to pore over Kera magazines and read them over and over when I was in high school, and some of the snaps you posted I remembered clear as day! XD

    There was another lolita brand popular around 2000 called "3-nen 2-kumi" (well, it was actually a generic brand geared towards high school + middle schoolers, but they had a sub brand with its own stores) that was all old school lolita. Really frilly black and white stuff. My friend and I had several outfits from there, since it was reasonably priced and totally cool at the time (we wore them to see Malice Mizer together.. oooh yeah). Of course now it's totally out of business, but it's a nice slice of history that very few current lolitas know about! I still have a white blouse in the back of my closet from there, yellowed and old, I just hold on to for the nostalgia, lol!

  33. I remember that brand! 3年2組 wasn't it? Totally oldschool XD

  34. This was an amazing read, thank you!

  35. It's true what you said about western cultures being music and club based. While the west was celebrating grunge's rising, Japan was enjoying the dawning of lolita lol. I like them both!

  36. This was really interesting. I'm very new to Lolita, and I really need to know as much about it as I can. This was really useful!

  37. I actually really enjoy that Japanese blog about old fashion..i really like her outfits

  38. Eliana a.k.a AriettaNovember 30, 2010 at 5:39 AM

    Woah!! thats a long waay back, at first i never thought lolita was THAT old O.O
    anyway good job!! :DD

  39. Thank you very much! This post is really helpful in understanding lolita and its orgins> I'm currently working on a Fashion history paper and My topic is how fashion is circular. The lolita fshion has elements from many diffrent eras, but Its hard to pinpoint what elements define lolita. I'm thinking of looking further into waistline and hemlines to trace the ears of inspiration....

  40. I feel so...INFORMED!! I think this clarifies so much. There's just a few things I've still been dieing to understand...when did the title Lolita get coined and where does Mana fit into all of this? I've known some Mana Cultists who believed it all started with him and I'd like to see where Malice Mizer, Moi Meme Moite, Moi Dix Moi, and his cross dressing all fits into the developement of lolita

  41. Dear Caro-chan, I've been a long time lurker here, but I must say I love your blog! Is it just me, or is that girl wearing that white/greenish coordinate Sachi from Kokusyoku Sumire? I believe that's her again in white/pink floral outfit in your last batch of pictures. (Top third pic in last batch.) Now that is what I call commitment! XD

  42. Umm... I think I might be able to help on a theory of were "lolita" came from. A while ago I found an excerpt online from a book; I believe it was called "Style Deficit Disorder," which said "lolita" was not a fully adapted name for the fashion until 1999, around the time the Gothic and Lolita Bible came out. From what I understood, someone outside the fashion was said to coin the name; whether they did it with malicious intention or as a joke is unknown, but for the group of girls who wore the fashion they seemed to have thought,"Oh, we're wearing clothes based on a foreign fashion, and 'lolita' sounds like a very foreign name!" When the fashion became publicized around the early 2000's, people would come up to them and mention that the name had a negative connotation, but by then it kinda became too late to change the name. I tried finding the exact link, but it was a long time ago, and it looks like google books got a little stricter in the page viewership. >< If you find the book though, give it a look, I never read the whole thing, just found it when I was researching the fashion a few years back, and it was as closest to a detailed answer I ever found.

  43. I've been meaning to pick up that book for a while, since I've heard a few people reference it.

    In terms of the fashion being called "Lolita" it had to have been before 1999, Here's a Manga from 1995 about girls who wear Lolita and they're even calling it Lolita. XD I've actually been trying to hunt down this manga as well, just because of the title and when it was published!

  44. Oh I'm pretty sure the numbers,(in terms of years), are skewed somewhat, but since I don't have any other "proof" that was the best info I could pull up,haha. Either way it seems at some point or another, early,mid, or late nineties, lolita to some girls equaled to old fashioned western clothes. I believe Ai Yazawa also published Neighborhood Story around the same time; if I remember correctly, one of the side characters was a lolita girl.^^

  45. XD Oh I know what you meant! I didn't mean to like zone in on the year you mentioned and comment on that alone! I have heard what you said about how the term got coined though and it seems very likely.

    Thanks for the manga note btw! I'm always on the hunt for stuff like this :D

  46. Oh,no problem! Old school manga can be helpful in forming a mental timeline. XD I also think it's entirely probable; I went to a public school in New York, and in the fourth grade went to school with a hispanic girl called Lolita. I wasn't aware the name even had a bad meaning until around the 8th-9th grade, when I read some articles where people were denouncing lolita fashion with the other term.

  47. What a great article! Good job.. It was a fun and interesting read :3

  48. Magical Ice CreamJune 21, 2012 at 6:34 PM

    woow this is very old school but i like it! :)

  49. I just love this post! It's so informative and it's nice to see the effort you put into it, as well as the history of lolita. Thank youu. <3

  50. This post helped a bunch in the writing of my Historical Research! Thanks so much! I have no idea how you found so much history on the subject, I was struggling - people only have estimates of the time it started and I feel that dates are a major part of history haha :) Thanks again, it was very well written and informative. Even I could concentrate, I didn't get bored half way through like usual. Thankyouthankyouthankyouuuuuu!

    1. I'm glad it was so helpful! I found most of the information from reading around a lot, much of which contained translations of Japanese magazines, including a lot of talk from people who were familiar with the scene in the early years. If you search around places like EGL for otome and Lolita history you can find a lot of discussion on the topic!

  51. Just a lovely post of earlies 90's 80's and 70's dresses. All are looking so beautiful in this wearing.

  52. Spring is closing in and it is time to start preparing for the 2011 spring fashion season.

  53. What style are you most comfortable wearing? Do you know where the fashion you feel most comfortable wearing came from?bottoms with traditional kurtis

  54. Amazing blog! I found it very interesting and informative., thanks for sharing such a great stuff with us. I have something useful to share with you on kurti with jacket , I hope this will inspire you and provide you some help to work on your upcoming blogs.

  55. This comment has been removed by the author.


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