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Since its origin around the late 90s, the Gothic Lolita scene has continually aroused curiosity and fascination in popular culture. As shown in many guidebooks to Tokyo, Sundays on Harajuku Bridge is a ritual of sorts for the Gothic Lolita (GothLoli for short)—they hang out to be seen, do their make-up, talk to friends, and get photographed. Any Sunday visit to the famous Harajuku “bridge” (it’s not an actual bridge) will show you more tourists snapping shots than actual GothLoli. The scene, along with other youth fashion movements, has died down some since the Tokyo Government decided to re-open the main road, Omotesando, for traffic in 1998, however, there are handfuls of die-hard GothLoli that continue to show up every Sunday.

So what exactly is Gothic Lolita? Some speculate that it is the social backlash to the Japanese appropriation of the sunny California beach Barbie look, known as “gyaru”, from neighboring youth shopping district Shibuya. Most GothLolis cite that they are merely imitating their favorite bands from the visual rock genre, known as "Visual Kei". Although it seems an obvious reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s scandalous Lolita, many Gothlolis will tell you that books (other than manga, Japanese comics, which are also at the heart of the scene) and art are not a part of their inspiration. Music is a major force in its creation. Visual Kei is exactly as it sounds: Rock music that incorporates visual effects and elaborate costumes to heighten the experience of the music and the show. Visual Kei started in the 80s and became so popular by the 90s that the nearly all-female fan base started dressing up as their favorite band members (known as “cosplay”) who were often males that wore make-up, crazy hair, and dressed androgynously or as females (usually, the more feminine the rocker, the more fans rush to emulate them). The Gothic Lolita scene was born.

GothLolis characterize their look by combining black and white (or pastels and white for the “sweet” GothLoli look) mini- or knee-length dresses with accents of crinoline and lace, corseting details and emblazoned with ribbons. Accessories are also an important part of the look: tiny top hats worn askew with a satin ribbon tied under the chin, bonnets or headbands, dolls or teddy bears, parasols, ruffled knee-high or thigh-high socks, opaque stockings or fishnets, white frilly aprons, and chokers with charms like cameos, spiders, coffins, cherries, or skulls. Their handbags can range from patterned rolling suitcases to hatboxes to Kelly bag styles. Most GothLolis love the high-end Vivienne Westwood (her infamous “Rocking Horse” wooden platform Mary Janes and boots are highly coveted) and Jean Paul Gaultier labels as well as the multitude of Japanese labels that have sprung up in answer to the demands of the scene’s popularity.

For the GothLoli face, the starting point is always porcelain skin (not only goth but also considered beautiful in Japan) usually achieved with make-up but oftentimes just bare skin, black eyeliner or no eyeliner at all, colored contacts, long bangs or Shirley Temple curls, fresh pink cheeks and bare or natural colored lips. There is a distinction: if the make-up is darker and the hemlines flow longer as being Gothic and not Gothic Lolita. Although the title “Lolita” certainly conjures up images of sexuality, the look seems mostly devoid of it and focused more on a puerile “cuteness”—a seemingly overused term and aesthetic in Japanese culture.

As all movements will, the popularity surrounding the Gothic Lolita scene in Japan has moved it into the realm of accepted mainstream popular culture, and is also becoming more popular among males (also referred to as GothLoli), who are now seen among the throng of girls in Harajuku. In the past, their costumes would be (and in some cases still are) hand-made, but now there are a multitude of stores within walking distance from the Harajuku Bridge that make it possible for anybody to purchase the entire look—although it is most certainly not cheap. In Shinjuku, a bustling business district in Tokyo, a major department store chain, Marui, houses only Gothic Lolita boutiques on its top floors; they let you fully experience their world with creepy facades, props and spooky lighting. Enthusiasts and GothLoli can also navigate the world of the GothLoli through the 100-plus pages of the infamous Gothic & Lolita Bible (available on or, now in its 18th issue.

Gothic Lolitas offer Japan the darker side of "cute", but don't necessarily offer much social commentary as to its phenomenon. Themes that do crop up are escapism from feeling isolated and anonymous in an over-crowded, cold city and a borderline creepy obsession with youth. Many Japanese youths are trying to escape entering the permanent, corporate hell of the “salarymen” (suit-wearing businessmen) of their parents’ generation. They attempt to forge individual paths of their own, completely reject society, or reject full-time work and go from one part-time job to another to retain some freedom in their lives.

Famed Japanese artist Takashi Murakami (who recently exhibited “Little Boy: The Art of Japan’s Exploding Subculture” and famously collaborated with Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton) links this obsession with “cute” to the loss of World War II: the upheaval of the country and the “infantilizing” effects of American occupation are expressed through cute, but passive, art and music as forms of escapism from the reality of post World War II Japan. You can ask many GothLolis why the dress-up and they will often respond matter-of-factly, “Because it’s cute.”

Interviews with real Gothic Lolitas in Tokyo: How Gothic Lolitas answered our questions out on Harajuku Bridge in this month. Being teenagers, this may or may not shed any light on the culture!

Nickname: Tomomi
Age: Secret
Time as GothLoli: 3 years

Do you enjoy the attention you get being a Gothic Lolita or would you be equally content if no one saw what you were wearing?

Rather than enjoying the attention when people see me, it’s kind of troublesome and a nuisance to me. I wouldn’t mind it if no one saw me because I am satisfied with wearing the clothes I like.

Who/what are your influences? Fashion? Books? Art? Music?

There is no relationship to fashion and books, I am not influenced by artists or writers. I have no specific fashion influences or favorite designers—I just like Lolita fashion so that's why I wear it.

What does Gothic Lolita mean to you?

It's a part of me—it's the way he expresses myself through fashion. I thought, “What a cool idea!” and became a Gothic Lolita. Why do you think Gothic Lolita has retained its staying power and not died out? The people who wear the clothes really believe in them and the philosophy so it lives on.

Nickname: Koko
Age: 17
Years as a GothLoli: Can’t remember

Who/what are your influences? Fashion? Books? Art? Music?

I’m not influenced by books—I’m mostly influenced by the band Dir En Grey. Also, I’m not influenced by authors or designers, but by Visual Kei band fashion.

What do Sundays on Harajuku Bridge mean to you?

They mean I get to talk to my friends.

Why did you start dressing as a Gothic Lolita?

Someone told me to and I did.

Nickname: Hikitsu
Age: 19
Years as a GothLoli: 2.5 years

What does Gothic Lolita mean to you?

It’s cute.

Why do you think Gothic Lolita has retained it's staying power and not died out?

I think it has stayed around because people think the fashion is cute.

Nickname: Haruma
Age: ?
Years as a GothLoli: 2 years

Who/what are your influences? Fashion? Books? Art? Music?

No book has influenced me! I am influenced by the artist Joker and keep up on Lolita fashion. I am influenced by designer Baby, The Stars Shine Bright and Young—it’s in Marui Young.

Why did you start dressing as a Gothic Lolita?

Because it’s cute.
Nickname: Minacho
Age: 17
Years as a GothLoli: 2 years

Who/what are your influences? Fashion? Books? Art? Music?

I am influenced by a book called Tomodachi Kara and Visual Kei. I’m also influenced by princess fashion called “ohime sama”.

What does Gothic Lolita mean to you?

It’s my hobby and it’s cute.

Nickname: Kayu
Age: 16
Years as a GothLoli: Just started

Do you enjoy the attention you get being a Gothic Lolita or would you be equally content if no one saw what you were wearing?

I don’t enjoy the attention. I really don’t care if people see me or not.

Who/what are your influences? Fashion? Books? Art? Music?

I am influenced by the book Shoxx and Visual Kei (for example Dir En Grey, Pierrot, Janne Da Arc).

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