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Two research papers I wrote

I've written two research papers since I've been in college, and because of the theme, I thought it would be appropriate to share! The first was for a folklore class I took, and the second for a modern Japanese literature/culture class. Enjoy! Concrit is appreciated, but I'm not going to go back and fix anything as they have long since been graded. Lol



Lolita Fashion and the Identities of the Youth of America and Japan
[written in 2008]

Introduction:

For this project, I sought to explore the use of fashion as a way of identifying and differentiating oneself in modern society. I wished to focus on one particular fashion style, or movement and discover the motivations behind fashion with regards to identity and function. The particular style I chose was Lolita fashion in a group of young women in Portland Oregon. This clothing style originated in Japan and features bell-shaped skirts, bows, lace, frills, ruffles, knee-socks, and Mary Jane style platform shoes. The ideas surrounding this “little-girl” style of clothing are cuteness, modesty, and elegance. Generally a girls’ fashion, boys tend to dress in a more elegant gothic style, or fantasy prince style to match the girls.

Lolita fashion was birthed out of the street fashion movement that started in the late 1970s, but the street fashion movement did not quite grow to maturity until the late 1980s (Cameron, 179). Another phenomenon that occurred in Japan in the 1980s was “talk of the rorikon ‘Lolita complex’ of heterosexual males” (Treat, 363). This phenomenon, possibly combined with “anxieties resulting from growing up in a nation beset by economic insecurities since the early 1990s” (Parker), the late 1990s triggered the most intense boom of Lolita fashion that had existed in that thirty year time span, and also introduced the word Gothic into the equation. The trigger was the “succession of highly popular bands of a Japan-specific rock culture called visual-kei, or ‘visual rock bands’ (characterized by New Romantic-style make-up and elaborate costumes, but accompanied by Japanese pop music)” (Ishikawa). Among these visual-kei bands was the group Malice Mizer, and the particular member “Mana, the band’s effeminate guitarist, who wore black and white ruffled dresses, elaborate bows, false eyelashes and heavy white makeup” (Holson), started to define the Gothic and Lolita styles. Mana now has his own line, called Moi-meme-Moitie, and from his fashion has stemmed countless other brands such as Baby the Stars Shine Bright, Angelic Pretty, Victorian Maiden, Atelier Boz, and h.Naoto.

With the boom in popularity of anime and manga, Japanese cartoons and comics depicting a distinct style of art featuring large eyes, long slender limbs, small noses, and very expressive faces, around the year 2000 in America came many other Japanese pop culture aspects, including fashion magazines of all types. Among these magazines was The Gothic and Lolita Bible, a publication dedicated to these fashion movements, part catalog, part fashion posting. With the growth of accessibility to these new fashion movements, an almost cult-culture began in America. Goth and punk styles had originated in the West, but Japan had completely changed the style, and Lolita was completely new and different. The popularization of Lolita really didn’t start to pick up until about the year 2003, however. Over the last five years the fashion movement has been steadily growing, using the internet as the main source for information about the style, sub-styles, where and how to buy, as well as connecting with other people interested and involved in the fashion.
For this project, I interviewed four such “Lolitas” who value themselves as part of the Oregon community of Lolitas in the United States. I wanted to uncover their motivations to dress the way they do, how they interact as a group, and what other folklore surrounds their group besides the commonality of dress, and how their commonality of dress defines their group identity and individual identities.

Statement of Method:

I interviewed A---, T---, R---, and J--- [names omitted] on October 26th, 2008 in the Pioneer Square Mall in Portland Oregon. I used a digital recorder which I then transcribed. I have known A--- and T--- since 2003, and we became good friends through mutual friends in high school in the 2004-05 school year. I became interested with Lolita fashion over this last summer, 2008, and started drawing some dresses, just for fun. When I heard I had to do this project I thought, maybe I can use Lolita as folklore somehow. I started brainstorming, and I decided to do it. I e-mailed A--- and asked her if she’d like to do an interview with me about folklore and Lolita, and she agreed. I asked her if she could bring some of her Lolita friends so we could do a group interview, which is how I met R--- and J---. I asked T--- to come with me because I know that she doesn’t see A--- very often, and she is very interested in Lolita and wants to be a Lolita designer one day.

My interview went very well. Before the interview, T--- and I met A--- at her apartment and she dressed us up using some of her extensive wardrobe of Lolita clothing, then we drove to Pioneer Square to meet the other girls. I got a lot of really good information regarding the style, the group’s dynamic, as well as their own breed of folklore. It was really hard to transcribe, however, because there was a lot of background noise, and the girls sometimes talked over each other, or you couldn’t hear someone speaking. During the interview, we were interrupted by the owner of the shop we were sitting outside of, a modeling agency, and he told us that they were hosting a fashion and we were invited, no charge. It was a little weird to be interrupted like that, but it all turned out alright. We did not go to the show. If I were to change something about the content of the interview, I would have asked more questions about identity, conformity, and differentiation regarding their style. After the interview we all walked over to Portland State University’s campus and took pictures in the leaves in a park. On our way over, there was a “zombie walk” going on in honor of Halloween, and thousands of people had dressed up as zombies to walk around downtown Portland. As we walked by, we took pictures of them and they were a very stark contrast to us in our frilly dresses.

Description:

A---: A--- is 21 and lives in the outer stretches of Portland Oregon. She was attending school at the Art Institute until last year, and she had a job at Forever 21 as well. Now, she isn’t going to school and she isn’t working, except for a few modeling shoots here and there. She makes Lolita jewelry, which she then sells on the internet. A---’s wardrobe is worth well over $7000 dollars, she told me when I visited her apartment, she has been buying clothes for about three years. She doesn’t sew any of her own clothes, but she makes almost all of her accessories. A--- considers herself to be in the “sweet Lolita” subset of Lolita fashion, defined by the pastel colors, prints, and almost gaudy amount of bows, lace, and ruffles. She is very elaborate when it comes to her outfits. If she’s going to dress up Lolita, she goes the whole nine yards, but she doesn’t dress up all of the time. All of the girls I interviewed agreed that Lolita was more of a weekend deal for them. Going to school and work was not a practical time to wear Lolita, and if you aren’t going to be seen, then why dress up. You want to look your best when you’re out, but when you’re at home, you don’t have to worry about it. A--- is living with her boyfriend of three years, and they just recently took a trip down to California for an Angelic Pretty event that A--- attended. A--- said that she first got involved with Lolita when:

“I was looking on the internet for a present for my friend’s--for her birthday, and a random website, website in Japanese popped up and it was a website for a brand store called Baby The Stars Shine Bright, and it was a Lolita brand company, and I remember when I first looked at it I really wanted something from it. But after a little Google-translating the prices for how much stuff cost I was like, “Holy shit! 350 dollars for a dress, no fuckin’ way, dude.” And I was in high school then, so I didn’t really have the money, but… that’s when I first found out about it. Later I ended up buying stuff obviously.” (Interview, A---, 1)

T---: T--- is 21 and lives in Eugene Oregon. Currently, she is going to school at Lane Community College, and working at Creative Care, a before and after school daycare at the Village School in Eugene. Creative care is run by her mother, and when we were in elementary school, we both attended the same Creative Care. T--- lives with her boyfriend of two years, his brothers, and a few other people in Eugene. She buys nothing brand, and instead, sews all of her Lolita dresses. She doesn’t have very many, two complete dresses, and one attempted dress, but she wants to be more involved with Lolita. She hand sews all of her clothes because she can’t afford a sewing machine, and if she could, she doesn’t know if she’d be able to figure it out. Her dream is to be a Lolita fashion designer, and she plans to move to San Francisco the spring or summer of 2009 so she can attend art school there. T--- first became interested with the “elegant gothic Lolita” style of dress in high school, since then she has changed to more of a sweet/classic style with an ero twist (classic is like sweet but much more simple, usually more color variety; ero: erotic Lolita, like normal Lolita, but usually with shorter skirts and a bodice or top that accentuates the breasts. Erololi still maintains some sense of innocence and modesty however, even if it is feeding more of a fetish aspect). She hardly ever dresses up Lolita, but really wants to get more involved. When she does dress up, she uses her own dresses, donated bloomers and socks, her own discounted shoes, and handmade petticoats. T--- said that she first got involved with Lolita:

“…through anime. I was looking at the different mangas, and there’s, I don’t remember her name, but she’s a very, she draws a lot of Lolita, she’s one of the most acclaimed Lolita drawers, uh… artists actually… I just like cute things. And it matches with tea parties. So, it just kind of seems… really easy to me, why I like it.” (Interview, T---, 1)

R---: R--- is 23 and lives in an apartment with a friend, very close to PSU campus. Right now she is working full time at a chocolate shop, and taking a couple classes at PSU, mainly art classes such as painting. R--- said that she is asexual, meaning she just “doesn’t see herself” having sex. She just doesn’t want that in her life. R--- is very involved with cosplay (costume play, a term for dressing up as pop idols, and symbols, as well as characters from TV and cartoons), and uses most of her free sewing time for that, but some of it goes to Lolita as well. She said about 20% of her wardrobe is handmade, and that she wishes to improve that number. She only buys brand clothing, and buys dresses and skirts only if they have a print. R--- started as a classic Lolita, but has since changed to sweet Lolita because of accessibility. R--- will mix some off-brand socks and shoes with her brand clothing when she goes out, but she doesn’t dress to the nines all the time. When she goes to school or work, if weather and practicality permit she will wear one of her brand skirts, or wear her Lolita shoes and accessories with whatever she is wearing that day. She thinks that if she paid so much for these clothes, why not wear them? R--- said that she buys on “gut instinct” alone, if she falls in love with a dress, she will buy it. R---’s story of how she got involved in Lolita:

“Mine’s actually a little bit longer of a story, I think. Uh, I’ve been into manga and anime for a really long time, like when I was in middle school, so it’s been over like, 10 years now, so, um. And I used to think that Lolita was just awful looking! Cuz there was all the black and white you’d see in like, cosplay magazines, and stuff… Just so bad! And my friend just, she kept talking about it and next, all of my friends were talking about it. I’m like, “Oh, okay, I suppose I could do cosplay of this.” I’m really into cosplay. I’m like, okay, let’s do some con-concept cosplay, in Lolita, of Alice in Wonderland, and that’s when I started Lolita stuff and I wanted to do more classic theme, which is when I discovered the Mary Magdalene website, and Victorian Maiden, and I absolutely fell in love with classic Lolita. [pause] I’m a sweet Lolita now, but that’s just because it’s easier to get sweet Lolita than it is to get classic things like… hmm… [noise] That’s just kinda my story, just fell in love with classic.” (Interview, R---, 1-2)

J---: J--- is between the age of 21 and 23, specific age unknown. She lives just outside of Portland, and she is engaged to be married. Right now she is a full time student at PSU, majoring in biology. She does temp-jobs here and there to get a bit of money. J--- sews a lot of her clothes, and about 80% of her wardrobe she made herself. She sews on a machine, mainly skirts and dresses, she said that she would cry if she had to sew all of that by hand. J--- also got her sister involved with Lolita, so now they sew together and go to meets together. J--- owns some brand, and some off brand. She considers herself a sweet Lolita, but when we met for the interview, she was wearing a more “casual” Lolita outfit. She prefers comfortable and feminine over uncomfortable and elaborate. She hardly ever wears jeans, but when she does, you know she’s having a bad day. J---’s story of how she got involved:

“Ok, so this is really embarrassing, but I thought that Lolita was ugly! [laughing] Horrible, horrible, because I’d seen what, you know, now I know is not really Lolita stuff you know. Really awful looking things, nasty stuff, and I thought it was terrible! But after I kind of came out, I saw it pop up online here and there, and I saw actual cute things. And I was like, “This is really adorable. So, I love to sew, so I started making my own kind of stuff. My sister used to make fun of me for it, she thought that I was crazy for putting all these ruffles and frills on dresses and what not. But she started to get into it too! And, uh, then we started going to meets and that’s how I met up with everybody. That’s why I’m a Lolita.” (Interview, J---, 1)

The Folklore:
How Lolitas get together and their terminology and vocabulary is an interesting part of their shared folklore. When Lolitas get together, it is called a “meet” or a “meet up.” When asked what a meet was, my group of Lolitas replied that it is usually a planned get together with lots (four or more) of girls, specifically to dress up and do something (Interview, 2). Or, they said that a meet could be two or three people getting together and dressing up, if they didn’t know each other previously, literally meeting. Some examples of meets that they had had were when they all went to a movie, or when they went to a friend’s beach house, or when they went to Enchanted Forest in Salem. If you were an outsider, you would have no idea what all of these girls were doing dressing up in frills and going to an amusement park, but to them, it’s what they do. Different groups probably do different things when they have meets. My group of Lolitas does not do as many picnics and tea parties as expected, but when you look in the Gothic and Lolita Bible, they showcase tea parties as the main meet event.

Inside jokes are also prevalent in their group. They explained several of these to me during the interview: Carl’s Farts, “Are you the real A---?”, is A--- a boy or not, “Who died first?”, and “Traaaap” (Interview, and 8-10, 18). Most of these inside jokes were very unladylike, and could be taken as offensive or hurtful to some people, but if you didn’t know the explanation of the joke, you wouldn’t know that it could be offensive. These inside jokes serve to lighten any mood and only function well within their group. The girls explained that these were some of the only jokes they could remember because most of them were from just a month or two ago, and that they probably wouldn’t remember them in another month. This shows how varied and ever-changing their repertoire of jokes is.

Shared personal experience narratives also play a big role in their group, reflecting on a past meet in order to do the same thing, or something sort of the same, a way of forming a social hierarchy based on past outfits, a way to just have fun and be more connected within the group. Just listening to some of their stories made me feel like I belonged, made me more interested in what they did, and how they do what they do, and the motivation behind it.

Personal preference with regards to the style also helps to unite the group. The three girls who live in Portland are all sweet Lolitas, they all agreed on the “Lolita rules” for dressing: don’t show your bloomers, but always wear them; don’t show petticoats; knee socks over ankle socks; sleeveless dresses are frowned upon unless worn over a blouse; accessories are just as important as the dress; color matching and balancing is key; length of skirt, the shape of the skirt, etc. are all correct. However, this “rule-book” does not actually exist, it is just a common perception of the style, and what should be done and not done. The girls also agreed that brand was going to be the best, over off-brand, because of the quality, cut, and print.

The group also has traditions that they do when they get together. They always do a “shoe-shot” picture and a “butt-shot” picture (shoe-shot: of everyone’s feet in a circle, taken above; butt-shot/skirt-shot/fringe-shot: off everyone’s skirts in a circle, usually from the back, taken above). Pictures in general are very big for the group. Finding a good place to take pictures in your many different outfits is an important way of spreading the fashion, and making the community grow. Photo shoots are essential to the meet up, not only to remember what people were wearing, but also to share with other Lolitas what went on and what was worn.

Communication is a large part of the fashion movement, and the only way to organize meets. Almost all communication comes from the internet. Meeting new Lolitas, finding new clothes and styles, finding information about the style, looking at pictures of other Lolitas, and much more goes on the internet.

However, Lolita does not dictate the girls’ personalities. They act the same as they normally do, but they agree that some girls do change personality when they dress up. Part of their purpose is to just be themselves, and be as cute as possible. We talked about “uniforms” in society and how clothing usually will dictate what other people think about you. Identity is the key issue at hand. When we really delved into the true motivation to why they are Lolitas, the girls said that it was a way of expressing themselves, presenting themselves, and learning style through a fashion with a clear rule-book to follow. Almost all of them said that before they found Lolita, they were unhappy with themselves, or did not care what they looked like, or were trying to hide themselves because of bullying. Lolita was a safe outlet, a community of people just like them, where they could express their identity through fashion.

Analysis:

Identity is the biggest issue with fashion: who are you? What do you like? What are you trying to show other people? In Japan, street fashion in general is a big way for the youth of the country to express themselves, conform, and differentiate.

Authenticity is also a large issue with regards to street fashion, and fashion in general. In Japan, authenticity is often associated with the place it is being worn, as is explained by Don Cameron in his article “Off-the-rack Identities: Japanese Street Fashion Magazines and the Commodification of Style”: “Any clothing worn on the real streets of ‘fashionable places’, such as Amerika-mura in Osaka and Shibuya in Tokyo, can be incorporated into the construct of street fashion, deriving its authenticity simply from being worn there” (Cameron, 180). In the case of Lolita, the Harajuku and Shinjuku districts of Tokyo seem to be the hearts of the place-set fashion. The two biggest sweet Lolita brands, Baby the Stars Shine Bright (BSSB) and Angelic Pretty both have stores in these locations, as do many other brands. However, United States Lolita’s are at a disadvantage, because the style did not originate here, any sense of authenticity must come from Japan, giving my Lolitas no sense of authenticity regarding the places they frequent in their clothes.

Although the Japanese are more innovative and “free” (Interview, 16), they are very serious when it comes to trends and fashion. Whether you are a miha (a follower) or a maniakku (fanatic, comes from the English word maniac, i.e. leader), fashion defines your identity. Miha are “people who copy styles from other people or from media sources” (Cameron, 185), and maniakku are people who are “seen as being sufficiently independent to use fashion items in the construction of individual styles” (Cameron, 185). With regards to Lolita, most are miha, following brands and rules, while a small fraction are maniakku. Maniakku tend to be the ones who mix Lolita with other street fashion, such as punk and Goth, or those who start their own brands and wear their own clothes. In American Lolita communities, the miha seem to rule, and in Japanese communities it seems about equal. In other street fashion trends, however, maniakku are seen as superior, the leaders. There also seems to be a progression from miha to maniakku, Cameron says, with regards to street fashion (185). The further you delve into the motivations behind your fashion, the more you are going to want to differentiate yourself and identify yourself as an individual rather than with the group.

Cameron also argues that there is a strange dichotomy between conformity and differentiation within street fashion in Japan. When observing Amerika-mura in Osaka, he interviewed many young people all sporting the same trends, but when asked why they dressed that way, some expressed “a desire ‘to stand out from other people’” (184), while others suggested that they use the trends “as a means to avoid standing out from the crowd” (184). Two seemingly contradictory statements. Cameron goes on to explain that brands were used in this area to show individuality. Cameron explains that instead of being contradictory, this dichotomy shows that this is rather, a “tendency toward ‘collective individualism’” (184). The same can be said for Lolita. Lolita is a very broad trend, full of many sub-trends and within those sub-trends many different styles of clothing. There is infinite room for customization, and mixing and matching, so even if two girls are wearing the same dress, they can look completely different by matching it with different blouses, accessories, shoes and socks; or even if two girls are wearing the same print, the style of the dress can be quite different and say something very different about the girl’s identity. Pairs of girls who are really good friends will often wear the same dress, but of a different color, or they will wear contrasting colors such as black and white (characterized as kuro [black] and shiro [white] Lolita styles; often seen together to contrast the styles).

These dualities between conformity and differentiation, and miha and maniakku are key to the United States Lolita fashion identity. Although the style differentiates them from all other styles, they conform to each other within style, but then differentiate again to show their individual identities to the group. In the group I interviewed, comfort in the public eye was a big issue. The girls said that they dress for themselves and their friends, those that dressed like them, not for the people who stare and think that it is weird. They also explained that it would be easier if either everyone dressed the way they did, or just closed their eyes and didn’t look. Lolita is more of a personal expression of self-love to them.

Cameron goes on to say that street fashion in general:

“invokes Simmel’s notion of the metropolis as the site of irreconcilable tension between the ‘defensive self’ and the ‘expressive self’… Dealing with what Mita calls the ‘hell of eyes’ involves endless monitoring and manipulation of the gaze of others at… the points at which personal and spatial identities are mutually constitutive… street fashion embodies two central contradictions of contemporary urban life, the mutual interdependency between reality and representation, and the compulsion to differentiate oneself through conformity.” (187)

Ginny Parker reports in her article “The Little-Girl Look Is Big in Japan Now -- Among the Brave; “Lolitas” Dress as Baby Dolls, And Take A Lot Of Guff; “This Is the Real Me,’” that Lolita “also satisfies a craving to stand out. Japanese youth are generally less conformist than their parents and often believe it’s crucial to be different. ‘Dressing up like this and having people stare at them makes them feel their existence is worth something’” (Parker). Laura M. Holson, in her article “Gothic Lolitas: Demure vs. Dominatrix,” also explores the motivation of Lolita fashion: “‘The attraction is twofold: there was the creative side, making costumes, and the escape of role-playing. It was a killer way for girls to express themselves” (Holson). So whether it is conforming to differentiate, or just differentiation, it is expressing self-worth and identity through clothing.

But where does the fascination with Lolita come from? John Whittier Treat argues in his article “Yoshimoto Banana Writes Home: Shoujo Culture and the Nostalgic Subject” that consumer capitalism can be partially to blame. Treat states that consumer capitalism has birthed a new culture in Japan: shoujo. Shoujo is most often characterized by “nostalgic schoolgirls” and the “aesthetic of cuteness… in contemporary Japan” (353). He then argues that this association with cuteness is “the aesthetic value directly linked to the consumer role that shoujo exist[s] to play” (363), and the tendency of some to sexualize shoujo, makes it into rorikon (recall: Lolita complex). Treat quotes Horikiri’s “Onna wa dokyou” (women are courage) with this respect:

“I wonder if we men shouldn’t now think of ourselves as ‘shoujo,’ given our compulsory and excessive consumerism, a consumerism that in recent years afflicts us like sleepwalking… We all have become the forever-young Lolita herself. We are driven by night and day to be relentless consumers…. The ‘shoujo,’ that new human species born of modern commodification, has today commodified everything and everyone.” (363)

You can think of Lolita as a fetish, or not, as in my interview, and it does have “a place in Japan’s sex industry--the school uniform, especially… but this particular trend [Lolita] has remained outside the realm of men’s magazines and pornography” (Parker). And indeed, the term from the look comes from Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita, “about a middle-age man’s obsession with a little girl. The frumpy, frilly fashion, however, is not considered particularly sexy by Japanese men” (Parker). But when the style came to America, immediately a difference is seen in Japanese men and American men with regards to Lolita fashion. Holson writes that:

“the Gothic and Lolita aesthetic, once fetishized by a few, might be moving out into the mainstream, where it could be co-opted and corrupted by the many… Gothic and Lolita blog sites have been infiltrated by men seeking pictures of girls in sexed-up Gothic and Lolita fare.” (Holson)

However, the style in America tries to stick as close to the original modesty and elegancy of the Japanese style. Sex might be part of someone’s identity, but not of the whole group. It is how the person wants the clothing to function when they are wearing them, what kind of message he/she wants to send.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, fashion in general shows our identity, and we gather around those who dress the same way, forming groups, and creating folklore around the anxieties surrounding the group dynamic. Lolita fashion is only one example of this, and my group of Lolitas is only one example within this broad spectrum of groups of fashionistas.

Interview transcription can be found here: <http://bunny-jean.livejournal.com/3710.html>

Bibliography:
Cameron, Don, Japanese Studies, Vol 20, No.2: “Off-the-rack Identities: Japanese Street Fashion Magazines and the Commodification of Style,” 2000, Japanese Studies Association of Australia, viewed November 17, 2008,
<http://0-web.ebscohost.com.janus.uoregon.edu/ehost/pdf?vid=3&hid=12&sid=72f3ffdb-0ae0-4ba8-b106-f71f9e494bdc%40sessionmgr3>

Holson, Laura M., The New York Times: “Gothic Lolitas: Demure vs. Dominatrix,” The New York Times Company, March 13, 2005, Section 9; Column 3; Style Desk; Pg. 8, viewed November 17, 2008,
<http://0-www.lexisnexis.com.janus.uoregon.edu/us/lnacademic/api/version1/sr?csi=6742&sr=byline%28laura+w%2f3+m.+holson%29+and+hlead%28gothic+lolitas%3a+demure+vs.+dominatrix.%29+and+date+is+2005&shr=t&secondredirectindicator=true>

Ishikawa, Katsuhiko, Gothic & Lolita Foreword, Phaidon Press Limited, 2007.

Parker, Ginny, The Wall Street Journal: “The Little-Girl Look Is Big in Japan Now -- Among the Brave; “Lolitas” Dress as Baby Dolls, And Take A Lot Of Guff; “This Is the Real Me,’” New York, N.Y.: Sep 17, 2004. pg. A.1, viewed November 17, 2008,
<http://0-proquest.umi.com.janus.uoregon.edu/pqdweb?index=0&did=694424711&srchmode=1&sid=3&fmt=3&vinst=prod&vtype=pqd&rqt=309&vname=pqd&ts=1227215286&clientid=11238>

Treat, John Whittier, Journal of Japanese Studies, 19:2: “Yoshimoto Banana Writes Home: Shoujo Culture and the Nostalgic Subject,” 1993, Society for Japanese Studies, viewed November 17, 2008,
<http://0-www.jstor.org.janus.uoregon.edu/stable/pdfplus/132644.pdf>





The Role of the Internet in the Global Lolita Fashion Community
[written in 2010]

Introduction:

Fan culture has just become a very popular subject for researchers in the last ten to fifteen years, accelerated by the accessibility of the internet, and I am a researcher no different from the rest. My primary focus is Japanese Lolita fashion as a fan com-munity, and the role of the internet in this global community. This subject is of high interest to me because I belong to this community. Lolita is a Japanese street fashion dedicated to elegance, youth, Rococo, and the Victorian Era. The silhouette of the average Lolita ensemble is a high neckline, knee-length bell-shaped skirt, knee socks, and Mary Jane platforms, although not all forms of Lolita come in this silhouette. For girls interested in the fashion, but who are not in Japan, it can be difficult to gain knowledge about the fashion, meet other Lolitas, and even acquire clothing. This study seeks to answer some questions about what kind of role the internet plays in the lives of Lolitas around the world and how it effects their participation in the fashion.

Method:

This study consisted of a nineteen question survey (included this packet) in two parts which included demographic questions such as gender, age group, and region. It also included questions about wearing the clothing, such as how often, under what circumstances, and what styles are worn by the survey takers. Also, comparison questions about how many hours per week are spent participating in Lolita fan culture online versus in real life were included. More specific questions about internet usage were included as well; these included questions about which sites are used and how many Lolita related links are saved/bookmarked. Extraneous broad, fan-related questions were also included, such as “Do you think it’s necessary to put a certain amount of money into a hobby to be a fan of it?”, “How much money do you spend on Lolita in a month?”, “Do you have any Lolita fashion idols, and who are they?”, and “Are you a fan of any other activities/hobbies?”

I posted my survey (in two parts) on the LiveJournal community EGL (http://community.livejournal.com/egl/), which has over 15,000 members, and I got 138 responses for the first part and 125 responses for the second part. However, I used the survey engine Survey Monkey, which only allows you to see the first 100 responses unless you pay a fee. Because of this, I am only using the first 100 responses from each survey. Also because I was using a free Survey Monkey account, each of my surveys could only be 10 questions long, so my demographics from my first survey could not be compared with the second survey unless IP addresses from each of the 100 responses were compared, but even then, 13 people took the first survey, but did not take the second, so there would be 13 or less survey takers on the second part that I would not have data for the first, and vice versa. So I decided to treat them as two separate surveys with the same overarching theme.

Another problem I ran into was that Survey Monkey will not filter your results if you have a free account, so I had to do all of the comparison and filtered data on my own, which probably led to some counting errors. However, this also proved to be a good thing because I discovered at least one troll: he/she said, on the first survey, he/she was transgender, but less than 14 years old (you must be 18 to receive transgender surgery in the US), from North America, had been a fan of Lolita for more than 10 years, wore Lolita everyday, checked every possible box; and on the second survey (from IP address comparison), he/she had bookmarked more than 100 Lolita related links, said you did not need to spend money to be a fan, it was very important to own brand name clothes, spent over $1000 a month on Lolita, and did not have any Lolita fashion idols or other fan activities. This information has been taken into consideration when the data was analyzed. There was also one person who took the first survey that only marked their age and left everything else blank, this data has also been thrown out. All of the raw data has been included on a case by case basis on the handwritten sheets in this packet.

Demographic Analysis:

From the first part of my survey, I found that 98.9% (94/98) of survey takers were female, while 2.0% were male (2/98), and 1.0% (1/98) each were transgender or “other.” This is the typical demographic for the members of EGL, when compared to other studies such as Ramble Rori’s studies. Male Lolitas are most commonly called “Brolitas” and have had much controversy surrounding them, but that is a topic for another study.

79.6% of survey takers were between the ages of 15 and 22 (38.8% 15-18, 40.8% 19-22), which is also a very common demographic for the group. These two age groups cover high school and college aged Lolitas, who are arguably more likely to experiment with fashion subcultures than those older than 22 (out of college and more likely to tone down for work) and those younger than 14 (still in middle school and influenced by parents more).

64.3% of respondents were from North America, 26.5% were from Europe, 4.1% were from Australia, and the other 5.0% were from South America, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. No one surveyed was from the Middle East or Africa, the other two regions to choose from. Again, very similar results to those of Ramble Rori. I suspect that the reason that most Lolitas that frequent EGL are from North America, Europe, or Australia because EGL is and English based community, and English is a very dominant language in these areas.

50% of respondents had been fans of Lolita for 3-5 years, 29.6% for 1-2 years, 15.3% for 6-10 years, 5.1% for 0-12 months, and 2.0% for more than 10 years. I specifically distinguished being a fan of Lolita as different from wearing/being a Lolita for the sake of the fandom aspect of this research. From Ramble Rori’s survey about Lolita and Internet usage, 36% had been a Lolita for 3-5 years (still the most common category), 24% for 1-2 years, 14% for 7 months to 1 year, 10% each for 6-8 years and less than 6 months, 4% have never been a Lolita, 2% for 9-10 years, and 1 vote out of 320 was cast for more than 10 years. By comparison, you can see that generally survey takers had been fans longer than they had actually been a Lolita, but this is common with any fandom, generally one will investigate a hobby/activity before deciding to invest oneself in it.

In response to the question “how often do you wear Lolita?” 53.1% said they wore Lolita occasionally and to meet-ups, 14.3% said to meet-ups and special occasions, 12.2% said almost everyday, 7.1% said they don’t wear Lolita yet, 6.1% said “other” (which I assume means whenever they feel like it, or that it is to sporadic to generalize), 5.1% said they wear it everyday, and 1.0% each said they wear it to meet-ups only and they don’t wear Lolita anymore. I was a little surprised by the “almost everyday” and the “everyday” results because outside of Japan the public eye seems more critical of fashion minorities. I was not surprised by the total of 67.4% that wore it occasionally, for special occasions, and to meet-ups because this seems to be what most of the Lolitas I know personally do.

For the sake of brevity, the data for the different styles of Lolita are included in this packet, but not discussed here as they are not particularly connected to the role of the internet, although they do contribute a little to the fan culture.

Part 1 In-Depth Analysis:

The first part of the survey, after the demographics, focused on the differences between participation in Lolita online and in real life. Overall 22.8% spend 11-15 hours a week participating online, 18.4% spend 6-10 hours, 17.3% spend 16-20 hours, 16.3% spend 20-30 hours, 10.2% spend 0-5 hours, 9.1% spend 30-40 hours, and 6.1% spend more than 40 hours a week participating in Lolita online. On the other hand, 52.0% spend 0-5 hours a week participating in Lolita in real life, 19.4% spend 6-10 hours, 13.2% spend 11-15 hours, 5.1% each for spending 20-30 and more than 40 hours, 4.0% spend 16-20, and 1.0% spend 30-40 hours a week participating in Lolita in real life. These are quite dramatic results. Also, overall, 69.4% of respondents spent more time online participating than in real life, while 15% each spent equal time and more time in real life than online.

Of the 14 and under age group, 42.9% said they didn’t wear Lolita yet, while the other 47.1% wore it everyday, almost everyday, occasionally and meet-ups, and meet-ups and special occasions (each with one vote out of seven). One out of the seven participated online 0-5 hours a week, two out of the seven for 6-10 hours, three out of the seven for 16-20 hours, and one out of the seven for more than 40 hours a week. However, participation in real life mirrored the larger group and more than half (four out of the seven) only participated 0-5 hours a week, one participated each in the 11-15, 20-30, and more than 40 categories. The high percentage of “I don’t wear Lolita, yet” answers indicates their age, financial independence, and possible lack of dedication to the fashion as deterrents from actually wearing or buying outfits and “becoming a Lolita.”

Of the 15-18 category, the second largest of the age groups, 57.9% said they wore Lolita occasionally and to meet-ups, 13.2% to meet-ups and special occasions, 10.5% said other, 7.9% said almost everyday, and 2.6% each said everyday, meet-ups only, and “I don’t wear Lolita, yet.” And in the 19-22 group, the largest of the age groups, 55% wore Lolita occasionally and to meet-ups, 17.5% to meet-ups and special occasions, 5% each said almost everyday and they didn’t wear Lolita yet, and 2.5% each said other, “I don’t wear Lolita anymore,” and everyday. Again, the data for each group for how many hours a week is spent participating online and in real life mirrors that of the larger group. When we get into the core of the larger group, the 15-18 and 19-22 categories, the larger demographic of how often Lolita is worn is also most obvious.

The last group, the 23-28 group generally followed the same trend as the other groups, and consisted of 13 Lolitas. I was surprised that the one Lolita that answered “I don’t wear Lolita anymore” was not in this category. I was also surprised that no one over the age of 28 took the survey.

Since I had posted my survey on LiveJournal, 100% of the respondents use the social networking site. 57.1% use web-shops (overseas and domestic), 43.9% use blogs (such as Ramble Rori, or blogs that follow brands or certain idols), 40.8% use Poupee Girl (http://pupe.ameba.jp/), 34.7% use Facebook, 22.4% use 4Chan, and 7.1% use MySpace. Among the 14 and under age group, Poupee Girl and web-shops were used most (LiveJournal not included), Facebook and blogs used second most, and Myspace and 4Chan used the least. In the 15-18 age group, from used most to used least: web-shops, blogs, Facebook, Poupee Girl, 4Chan, local community forums, and tied for last were DeviantArt and Myspace. In the 19-22 group, the order was web-shops, Poupee Girl, blogs, Facebook, 4Chan, Myspace, Deviantart, Gaia Online, and tied for last were 6 different other websites suggested through the “other” option. In the 23-28 category: Poupee Girl and web-shops, Facebook and blogs, 4chan, and lastly Myspace. The comparison of the age groups is very interesting because the youngest and the oldest groups seemed to use the same sites at the same frequency, while the 15-18 group used web-shops, blogs, and Facebook most and the 19-22 group used web-shops, Poupee Girl, and blogs most. For some reason the 15-18 year-olds do not use Poupee Girl very much, but it seems like the perfect website for high school students because you get to show off all of your girly clothes.

To the question “what occasions do you wear Lolita to (besides meet-ups)?” overall the groups, 67.3% said they go shopping, 59.2% said to conventions, 55.1% said hanging out with non-Lolita friends, 46.9% said family events, 39.8% said school events, 6.1% said I don’t wear Lolita, 3.1% said church in the “other” section, and there were 23 total “other” section. Each of the age groups tended to mirror these numbers.

Part 2 In-Depth Analysis:

The second part of the survey was focused on more specifics of Lolita as a fan culture, including the questions about how many Lolita related links they had bookmarked, whether it’s necessary to put money into a hobby to be a fan, how much they spent a month on Lolita, if they had any fashion idols, and if they were fans of anything else.

Across all respondents, 25.3% had 10-20 links bookmarked, 22.2% had 20-30 bookmarked, 21.2% had 0-10 bookmarked, 10.1% each had 30-40 and 100 or more links bookmarked, 5.1% had 40-50, 4.0% had 50-75, and 2.0% had 75-100 bookmarked links related to Lolita. Of those that had 0-10 links bookmarked, 42.9% spent $0-20 per month on Lolita, 23.8% spent $20-50, 19.0% spent $50-100, 9.5% spent $100-250, and 4.8% (one out of 21) spent $500-$750 per month on Lolita. Of those that had 10-20 links bookmarked, 36% spent $20-50, 20% spent $50-100, 16% each spent $0-20 and $250-500 per month on Lolita, and 12% spent $100-250. Of those who had bookmarked 20-30 links, 40.9% spent $50-100 on Lolita per month, 31.8% spent $20-50, 13.6% spent $100-250, and 4.5% each spent $0-20, $250-500, and $500-750 on Lolita per month. For those that had saved between 30 and 100 links 38.1% spent $20-50 per month, 33.3% spent $50-100, 9.5% each spent $0-20 and $100-250 per month, and 4.8% spent $250-500 per month on Lolita. Lastly, of those that had saved over 100 links 33.3% each spent $0-20 and $50-100, and 11.1% each spent $20-50, $250-500, and $500-750 on Lolita each month. When this data is analyzed, those that had saved 20-30 links spent more money on average than those that had saved less or more links. Those that saved 10-20 or between 30 and 100 spent about the same, and those that had saved 0-10 spent the least on average. Those that had saved 100 or more links were very spread out and without more data, no real conclusions could be made.

The question of how important it is to spend money on a hobby to be a fan did seem to have a slight effect on how much money was spent a month. The overall results for the first question is that 51.5% said that you do not need to spend money, 30.3% said yes you do need to spend money, and 18.2% were unsure. The totals for how much money was spent is that 31.3% spent $20-50, 28.3% spent $50-100 per month, 19.2% spent $0-20, 11.1% spent $100-250, 7.1% spent $250-500, and 3.0% spent $500-750 per month on Lolita. Of those that said that you should spend money 41.4% spent between $20 and $50 on Lolita per month, 20.7% spent $50-100, 13.8% each spent $100-250, and $250-500, and only 10.3% spent $0-20 per month on Lolita. Of those that said that you did not need to spend money, 26.2% spent $50-100 per month, 21.3% spent $0-20, 19.7% spent $20-50, 9.8% spent $100-250, and 3.3% each spend $250-500 and $500-750. Of those that were unsure, 38.9% spent $20-50, 27.8% spent $50-100 per month, 16.7% spent $0-20, and 5.6% each (one vote each) spent $100-250, $250-500, and $500-750 per month on Lolita. When we look at the groupings, those that said yes were more likely to spend more than $100 per month than the other groups, while those that were in the no category were more likely to spend less than $20 than the other groups, and those that were unsure were in the $20-100 range. This shows that although it is slight, feeling you should spend money on a hobby does effect your likelihood to spend more on the hobby.

Last I compared the question “how important is owning ‘burando’ clothing?” and money spent per month on Lolita. Out of everyone, 40.4% were indifferent to whether owning brand was important, 26.3% said it was very important or moderately important, and 33.4% said it was not important or seriously not important. Like with the comparison results from whether thinking you should spend money on a hobby and money spent per month, the effect of believing you should own brand on how much money was spent was slight. Those that said it was important were more likely to spend more than $50, those that said they were indifferent spent more in the $20-$100 range, and those that said it was not important spent less than $100 on average per month.

Conclusion:

Overall I found this survey to be very informative about the role of the internet on the Lolita community, and confirm some aspects of fan culture in the group. Most comments I got on the survey had to do with how the internet is a key factor in how Lolitas communicate and shop. Communication is a big issue. One commenter said “I don’t think there would be as many Lolitas if it weren’t for the internet, or there would be A LOT of itas, and they wouldn’t evolve much into good Lolitas.” “Ita” is a term used for people who think they are dressing Lolita, but are breaking some rules that a “good Lolita” would not break (for “rulebook”: http://lolita-handbook.livejournal.com/). Another commenter said, “What’s most interesting to me is when speaking about Lolita culture, is that, yes, it has really grown online, but the fact that the community has created a set of rules that they set as standards for the community as a whole, it’s so strange. Like out own civilization, we have do’s and don’ts, strong, opinionated people from all disciplines that share a common interest in Lolita fashion, who only gathered their interest by meeting online.”

As much as communication is a good thing because it allows Lolitas to share information with each other, ask questions, and make friends, there are negative aspects too. One commenter posted, “Anonymity from using the internet and not talking to other Lolitas in person seems to be the driving force of elitism and some snobbishness. This is not true with all Lolitas, but it does seem to be a trend that, sadly, drives new and even older Lolitas from the fashion. However, I cannot say for sure if it would be the same without the internet.” A lot of people that know about Lolita but are not in the community think that we are a bunch of snobbish, elitist, rich girls that wish to be stuck in our childhoods, but this is not generally true, as seen by how much people generally spend on the style. Yes, anonymity is a problem, and has led to even more real-world problems than just bullying. Scamming on our sales forum is also a big problem, but has been cut down thanks to more regulations in the past couple months. But, as a commenter stated, “Internet shopping is crucial if you’re not close to any stores.” And when the only stores outside of Japan are in San Francisco, New York, and Paris… That’s a lot of people without stores close by.

One last interesting fact from Ramble Rori’s survey about Lolita and the internet is that 41% of the Lolitas surveyed agreed that they have an internet addiction (I definitely do). When so much information about Lolita is exclusively on the internet, and you need to know where to look, it is difficult to think of the community without the internet. It also takes a lot of time to find correct and helpful information about the fashion, or shopping, or good places to meet local Lolitas. Without the internet (I would probably die of boredom) the whole world would probably go into chaos, but the Lolita community would probably disintegrate.
Tags: community: research/essays/projects, theme: october
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