For those on the other side of the argument, the ones accusing Lolitas of being up to something deviant because of the name, they often cite things like the more infamous Angelic Pretty dresses that look quite a bit like nursery room wallpaper, even though things like this are even niche within in the fashion as a whole, and definitely not your average Lolita's definitive style in the fashion. So, why is Lolita called Lolita, if it has just caused so many problems over the years? The short answer is: no one really knows! But let's look into some of the possible reasons why Lolita managed to snag such a name for themselves, and why it has less to do with the book than your average person on the street thinks, and maybe a little more than your average Lolita is willing to admit.
The roots of the fashion: What Lolita was before it was called "Lolita".Before we can really answer this question, I think we need to take a quick look at the sort of aesthetic movements that most likely caused the Lolita fashion to eventually happen. This is a little bit of pre-history here, even going further back in time than I do in this article about very old school Lolita!
|A volume of Seventeen from the 1970's, heavy on the Victorian romanticism.|
I believe that it is from this trend, particularly the rose-tinted view of a more innocent and simpler "prairie life" and the inspired fashions that popped up in regards to that, was one of the major influences in Natural Kei. Now, what exactly does this have to do with "the other Lolita" and Nabokov? You guessed it, absolutely nothing. These things are Lolita's direct roots, roots that are still obvious from everything from the choice of fabrics, to placements of lace and details in modern day Lolita clothes, and it has nothing to do with Nabokov's Lolita novel.
So how did the name "Lolita" stick to the fashion?This is the real mystery here! The term "Lolita" wasn't used to describe this fashion until the early-to-mid 1990's. From everything I had ever seen, by this point Natural Kei was beginning to diverge into a separate style, less romantic and more girly. The My Fair Lady of the Victorian revival had been filtered out and slowly replaced with Laura Ingalls. Perhaps the target audience was getting younger as well. Many sources talking about the golden age of Natural Kei will include a mention that it was "housewife" fashion, fashion for the 20-30 something fashionable young woman who wanted to wear something cute and girly while tending house. Whereas Lolita is known for being fashion for the late teen to mid-20's set. It was probably sometime in the early 90's that what we now might recognize as a proto-Lolita was probably starting to branch off from Natural Kei and develop into an even more girly style adopted by a younger audience, as well as start to become influenced by other girly and youthful fashions such as Otome and even other pop culture phenomenon such as idols, manga, and musician's stage wear.
|From Old Fashion. A very old styled Metamorphose outfit.|
Stop right there, so you just said that the Lolita fashion is named after the book?To an extent, it very well might have been, in a similar way that other subcultures such as Goth and Punk were not necessarily named by the people who were part of the subculture and were maybe not intended to paint the most flattering picture. For whatever reason, it became a thing and people rolled with it and generally took the name and made it their own. This happens time and time again in alternative subcultures, and most of them manage to shake the connotations of the original definition of the term and make it their own, but for whatever reason, although possibly due to the massively widespread popularity of Nabokov's book, those within the Lolita fashion have never managed to entirely separate themselves from the book, at least in the eyes of outsiders.
However, I do feel that a look into Japan's usage of the term to mean "the other Lolita", is really needed to grasp the full extent of exactly what it meant to be labeled a Lolita, as well as the world's relation with Nabokov's novel and even Lewis Carroll
|1997's film adaptation of Lolita.|
|The back of Trainer's The Lolita Complex, a faux-psycological bit of trashy reading that was piggy backing off of the then recent popular book and movie, Lolita.|
|Shinji Wada's Stumbling upon a Cabbage Field. An Alice-themed manga that first used the term "Lolita Complex".|
|16 year old Clarisse d'Cagliostro from Studio Ghibli's The Castle of Cagliostro (1979). One of the first characters to be considered "Lolicon". About a million degrees removed from the modern term.|
|A photo of Alice Liddell taken by Lewis Carroll.|
Why did Lolita's accept the term in the first place?This is another unknown, but Lolitas in Japan are frequently as annoyed as Lolitas in the west are for the connotation. Lolitas in Japan even adopted a different spelling to the word to differentiate themselves, at the very least online. While Lolita is normally written "ロリータ", many Lolitas choose the variation "ロリィタ", in which the usual "i" is substituted for a small "i". However, many publications and webshops use the typical "ロリータ". This practice reminds me of years ago, when in the west Lolitas would frequently refer to the fashion with the Japanese pronunciation/spelling of "rorita" for exactly the same reason.
It's clear that your average Lolita is well aware of the other meaning of the word, and will often go out of her way to make the difference between the two known. However, I feel that, ultimately, Lolita is often about disregarding the social norms and doing things because you want to. In any alternative fashion it's often difficult to get any large chunk of its members to care about what the average person thinks of them. If they cared that much about what sort of misconceptions strangers might have about them, they probably would have never ventured into the fashion in the first place.
|Carroll's Alice is one of Novala's perfect "bad natured princess".|
Bad nature is the fundament of a young lady. Whether Alice in Wonderland or Nabokov’s Lolita, magnificent young ladies are all bad natured.This doesn't necessarily mean that Lolitas were going out there and actively living up to their namesake, it was simply part of an all-over aesthetic that was popular for many Lolitas for many years. Even popular Lolita publications, such as the Gothic & Lolita Bible, frequently showcased curiously morbid art by people such as Trevor Brown, Mihara Mitsukazu, and Koitsukihime.
I had once seen it mentioned that this idea of a Lolita who is not as perfect as her image might make her out to be as something akin to the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi, which is a difficult term to translate, but can largely be summed up in the idea of finding beauty in imperfect. Perhaps this idea is a bit lofty for a street fashion, or at least for the average Lolita on the street, and the acceptance, and even reveling in, of the unfortunate connotations of the name Lolita is more likely just a little bit of dark juxtaposition similar to the ones that are prevalent in so many fashion movements, not just something limited to Lolita fashion.
|Art by Mihara Mitsukazu, one of the most iconic artists in Lolita fashion and subculture|
Many Lolitas have faced years of total outsiders to the fashion telling them that they know more than them about the fashion and accusing them of being up to something devious just because of the name, therefore it's understandable that many members of the Lolita fashion deny all associations with the book and the other Lolita. However, I think it's important to know the connection between the terms, and to be aware that just because some things share a common name that it doesn't necessarily mean they have any sort of solid connection to each other. People will always have their problems with fashion that's outside of the mainstream, and they're almost always going to think people who're dressing weird are up to something devious. I think we just have to remind ourselves sometimes that we're not wearing these clothes for the approval of other people, we're wearing it for ourselves.