The Details That Make The Dress

A Lolita outfit is often so much more than just a bell-shaped gathered rectangle skirt with a cute print and some ruffles. Lolita dresses often have many details that are sometimes overlooked by even the people wearing them! In this post I'll be going over just some of the many different details that are found in quality Lolita pieces, so that those of you who may not be lucky enough to have a Lolita piece or two will maybe learn what to be on the look out for when it comes time to buy some Lolita pieces or make your own. As well for those of you who are very familiar with them to learn to take a second glance and appreciate the details that go into making a Lolita dress, or blouse, or skirt, or even a modest headbow perfect.

While doing a bit of research for this article I stumbled across the phrase "heirloom sewing" while looking at different kinds of dress details. While most of our Lolita dresses aren't lovingly hand crafted by our mothers or grandmothers with the intention of being passed down to our children, Lolita still shares a lot of the same details as these heirloom pieces. It's obvious that a lot of love went into the design of these dresses.

Please note that I'm using BtSSB stock photos because Baby posts a lot of large, high quality detail photos (compared to other brands) on their webshop. No reason other than that, all brands and most places that sell Lolita clothes have the same exact kinds of details as the ones shown on here.


Bows
Bows are a simple way to add some cuteness and elegance to a Lolita outfit. There pretty much isn't anywhere you can't stick a bow on a Lolita dress! Going down the front of the bodice, on the skirt hem, on the sleeves, pretty much anywhere there is some free space a nice bow can go! Check out this tutorial about how to make really nice looking bows.


Pintucks
Pintucks are a very common Lolita detail, and are found on many Lolita dresses, blouses, and even bloomers. They're often found going around the bottom of a skirt, or running down the front of a blouse. They add a very vintage feel to dress designs, and are most often found on solid color pieces to add some interesting texture to the piece. If you would like to try making your own pintucks, check out this tutorial.

Lace Hems
While Lace is often used for decoration, crisscrossing a dress or running the length of skirts, it's certainly not mandatory, but you'll be hard pressed to find a Lolita piece that doesn't have at least some lace running along the hem. Even simple Lolita skirts that feature prints instead of details will still usually have a little bit of Lace running along the bottom hem.

Beading Lace
When lace is used to decorate dresses, and not hanging off hems, a common way of adding even more detail is to use beading lace, which is a strip of flat lace with a channel running through the middle where a strip of ribbon is run through. The ribbon is often tied off in a cute little bow were the seams meet!

Shirring
Since most brand pieces come in one size only, they tend to rely on shirring so that people of different sizes can fit into their dresses. Shirring can be found in many different places, either a small panel along the back, the whole back of a bodice, the whole bodice, or even on the straps. There are a couple different ways to do shirring within the Lolita fashion, one relies on thin strips of elastic (but not usually elastic thread, that rarely works with the thicker fabric that Lolita dresses are often made with), the other relies on elastic casings. Shirring, when done right, often creates a very interesting and elegant fabric texture, but when done wrong it can make a piece look ill-fitting.

Corset Lacing
Corset lacing is a detail that used to be found on nearly every Lolita dress but has faded a bit in popularity. Now it's pretty much just confined to the backs of dresses so that they can be made smaller, not on the fronts of bodices or even running down a skirt. Corset lacing is often achieved by running ribbon through lace with loops, but sometimes grommets and even little loops of ribbon are used.

Gathers
Like shirring, gathers provide an interesting and elegant texture to fabric, but unlike shirring, gathers aren't meant to be stretched out and are stitched in place. A common place to find gathers is on the bust of a bodice and even sometimes along a skirt. They are often reserved for dresses that have a more elegant or even Victorian look to them.


Ruffles
Ruffles are just as common as lace along hems on Lolita dresses, and when making your own Lolita clothes, or buying on the cheap, when good lace can't be acquired it's recommended that you look for a dress with ruffles instead. Although, ruffles are also commonly combined with lace.

Embroidery/Applique
Embroidery and Applique isn't too frequently used, but when it is the effect is very striking! Floral and vine-like designs are a very popular motif on Lolita pieces,but bigger, more elaborate designs are used as well, as a focal point on skirts and coats. Metallic gold thread is often used in Lolita embroidery, giving the embroidery a very lush and decadent look.

These different design details are used in abundance on Lolita dresses, one plain colored skirt might have pintucks, gathers, lace hems, ruffles, bows, beading lace, and even embroidery as well. In an older post about an Old School Sweet Lolita style, these elements are often used in copious amounts to make plain colored dresses stand out in a very over-the-top way that doesn't rely on bold, rainbow prints. And indeed, before custom prints were commonplace in the fashion, brands relied more on different details to make their pieces look interesting and decadent. I've noticed that over the years brands seem to be relying more and more on prints to make their pieces interesting and having a much simpler base dress. If you look at nearly any one of the big "must have" print dresses, and try to see the dress through the print, you'll notice that they are relatively plain dresses. A bit of lace on the hem and some ruffles on the bodice perhaps.

For the Lolita who sews her own clothes, consider learning to do even a few of these techniques to add to your next piece. Even learning how to do pintucks and make nice ruffles can lead to so many different options when you make your next piece.


These are both the same basic skirt, a gathered rectangle, but with pintucks and ruffles and lace, it makes the skirt look completely different, and undoubtedly Lolita. While learning these things might be tricky, and the skirt on the right would indeed take more time, effort, and a little extra money for a few more yards of lace, sometimes the extra effort can make a huge impact on a relatively simple gathered skirt.

While the dress with heirloom styled details isn't seen as frequently as in past years, brands still do make a lot of pieces with them! You just often have to hunt around in a sea of bold prints and simple designs. Here are a few of my favorites that are currently being sold on brand websites.

As you can see, these dresses all feature at least a couple of different kinds of details, even the very simple Innocent World JSK features pintucks, corset lacing, and lace along the hem, making it go from a plain pleated dress to what is obviously a Lolita dress.

I hope those of you who are relatively new to the fashion and considering making, or even buying on the cheap, their first Lolita dress have learned from this post that while a simple bell shaped skirt with a fitted bodice does indeed make a Lolita dress, there is really so much more to the style than just the silhouette!

What are some of your favorite Lolita details? My favorite is definitely pintucks! They instantly remind of of billowing Victorian nightgowns and chemises. They're just a simple little line of pleats and stitches, but they really can make a piece go from kind of boring to just right.

I've been very quiet on the blogging front for the whole month of February! I hope you all can forgive me for that, I've been working on a semi-secret project with a few other Lolita bloggers, crafters, artists, and just general Lolita enthusiasts for the past few weeks and I hope to be able to finally blab to my hearts content about it soon!

5 comments:

  1. My favorite are pintucks too! Thank you for the links to the tutorials, very useful. :3

    Those basic skirt illustrations- what a difference between the left and the right! Amazing how new techniques can make such an improvement.

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  2. I love coming to this post every time I'm trying to work on a new dress design. So many reminders of that perfect detail that just perfects what I'm working on.

    That said, I have a thing for ruffles! They can make something Victorian, princess-y, or something more plain that's still fancy-garden-party-worthy.

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  3. so, I've been trying to decide about what type of skirt pattern to use for a Lolita skirt, and I know the petticoat is of course needed to get the desired poofyness, but as for the basic skirt pattern itself, without the additions and details, a gathered rectangle skirt pattern would help me to achieve the skirt I want, right?

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