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Kimono Lolita Dress
There is perhaps no other article of clothing as synonymous with Japanese heritage as the kimono. Today, the Japanese kimono is seen as more of a costume than an article of everyday clothing, yet its significance and cultural poignancy remain deeply rooted in the Japanese way of life.
Up until the mid-nineteenth century, the kimono was a typical article of Japanese dress; in fact, the word “kimono” literally translates to “clothing.” Due to factors such as the pervading influence of Western culture and the female empowerment movement, the kimono gradually fell out of fashion. In present day, it is worn primarily to celebrate special occasions such as weddings, graduation ceremonies and “ikebana”, or flower arranging classes. Unmarried women and young girls wear a colorful kimono called “furisode”, which is distinctive by its brightly-colored obi (sash). Other, more casual kimono styles, such as the “edo komon” are simply printed with geometric patterns. The “shiromuku” is a heavily embroidered, white kimono traditionally worn by brides during weddings. While kimonos differ depending on the special occasion for which they are worn, their overall shape remains constant. A kimono’s style derives primarily from its patterns and accessories; for instance, kimonos appear in different colors and fabrics to mark the changing seasons, and unique motifs are also implemented to celebrate the creativity and philosophy of Japanese culture.
The kimono is notable for its layers. Its main features include not only the kimono (or “nagagi”) itself, but also the “obi” (belt or sash), and light garment called the “nagajūban”, which is worn underneath the kimono. The obi can be further enhanced with decorative string and smaller sashes, called “obijime” or “obiage.” All individual pieces carefully overlap each other. The final look of the kimono is complete only when harmony is achieved between the different patterns and colors.
As one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese culture, it is only fitting that the kimono has changed dramatically in tandem with the evolution of Japanese fashion. One example of progressive Japanese street fashion involving the kimono is a niche subculture called “Lolita,” which promotes the aesthetic of cuteness. Inspired by Victorian porcelain dolls, the trend gained popularity in Japan during the 1980s, and quickly spread to the UK and US as a means of creative expression. For many, Lolita fashion was seen as a reaction against stifling gender roles, expectations and responsibilities. People additionally gravitated towards lolita fashion as a way to escape the pressures of adulthood and preserve the beauty and innocence of childhood. For others, it was simply a fun way to express themselves, create an escape to a fantasy world, increase their self-confidence or express an alternative identity. Either way, the movement became so popular in Japan that the government promoted it by assigning models to spread Japanese pop culture. These models were affectionately dubbed “ambassadors of cuteness,” alluding to cuteness as a key trait of the Lolita look.
As well as its emphasis on cuteness, Lolita fashion is characterized by knee length skirts and bell-shaped dresses, along with petticoats, ruffles, blouses and knee high socks or stockings. It has several distinct sub-fashions – including of course, the Lolita take on Japan’s most famous article of clothing, the kimono! A few examples of Lolita sub-fashions include:
- Classic Lolita: This Lolita costume is the simplest take on the fashion style, characterized by simple print dresses and knee socks. It involves few embellishments and more color than the Lolita Gothic and Lolita Punk looks.
- Gothic Lolita: Gothic Lolita leans more on the romantic side, featuring black or darker colors, heavy boots and lace inspired by the Victorian era. It may also include petticoats, corsets, floor-length skirts and blouses.
- Sweet Lolita: With its frills, pink parasols, over-the-top embellishments and lace, Sweet Lolita is the opposite of Gothic Lolita and embodies the true baby doll look.
- Punk Lolita: The punk Lolita look involves clothing similar to Gothic Lolita, but with added elements of punk rock.
- Hime Lolita: Hime Lolita borrows aspects of Sweet Lolita, with its frills, ribbons and pink colors, but mixes in a theme of royalty and elegance.
- Wa Lolita: This style of Lolita fashion incorporates traditional Japanese clothing elements, such as the kimono, while adhering to the traditional Lolita silhouette. The prefix “Wa” is used to denote a relation to Japan – in this case, Japanese culture is both the origin and inspiration for the Wa lolita style.
Wa Lolita, or Kimono Lolita dress, typically includes a stylized kimono for its wearer to put on over a petticoat. The top of the outfit follows the kimono style, while the bottom half adheres to the bell-shaped skirt that characterizes lolita fashion. The kimono may also be long sleeved, in tribute to the “furisode” kimono, which is still worn by unmarried women and young girls in Japan today.
Alternately, Wa Lolita can also feature more typical Lolita dresses made from traditional Japanese fabrics. Wa Lolita is differentiated from other sub-fashions of Lolita by its focus on Japanese textile patterns as well as subtle details and nods to Japanese heritage. For instance, a Kimono lolita dress might feature the crossed front and waistband or large bow that mimics the look of a traditional “obi” sash.
Wa lolita is often paired with traditional Japanese hair styles, accessories and jewelry. Wearers can pick from ornamental hair clips, called “kanzashi” and traditional footwear, such as “geta” or “zouri.” Because modesty and innocence are integral parts of the Wa lolita style, kimono lolita makeup choices should project a light, open and natural look. Light colored eyeshadow, pink lipstick and blush are staple makeup features of the look. However, given Wa lolita’s focus on Japanese culture, some wearers of lolita may choose to emulate traditional geisha makeup, complete with bright red lips.
Ultimately, judging from the pivotal role that the kimono has played in influencing Japanese fashion – shaping everything from traditional dress a thousand years ago to the street culture of today – one thing remains very clear. It’s not going anywhere.