Thursday, 16 June 2016

Conflicting Feelings on Punk and Punk Lolita

As I write this post on a rainy afternoon in April (EDIT- yes, this post was meant to be published April 2016!), I have my earphones firmly stuck in and I am taking a serious nostalgia trip. One of my favourite albums of all time is playing and despite only being at the start of this post, I have already had to stop a couple of times to simply close my eyes and immerse myself in the sound of buzz-saw guitars and a voice that gets under my skin the very second I hear it. As it happens, the Ramones' self-titled debut album turns 40 this month, and my favourite band and the genre of music they helped to create is firmly in the forefront on my mind. Long before I had ever heard about lolita fashion or even met my future husband James, I was in love with punk rock music and in particular the Ramones. The Ramones spoke to me in a way that nobody else could and this little reject had finally felt like she had found a place in the world she could call her own. I can still remember the first time I was hit by the full force of Blitzkrieg Bop as it blasted out of my computer speakers, how I melted as Joey sang I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend and smiling at the bizarre lyrics of Havana Affair. Punk rock will always be a part of my life.

So when I first got in to lolita fashion, you would think that punk lolita would pique my interest. I mean, I listen to punk rock, so surely punk lolita is a dream come true for me? It was a way I could combine 2 of my favourite things. Well, the truth is that the idea of punk lolita has never been an idea I have been comfortable with. On the day the Ramones' debut album turns 40 I will be in London with Sammi and Shalisa, wearing lolita and not really doing anything remotely 'punk rock'. I guess because this trip to London falls on this anniversary, the idea of punk and punk lolita have been playing on my mind a lot lately.

To put it simply, I just don't feel that the whole ethos behind lolita and punk really combine that well. If you look at the punk lifestyle of the late 1970's and then compare it to the 'rules' of lolita fashion, there is a conflict of ideas. Although the 'rules' of lolita are more like a set of guidelines, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of lolitas do follow these same rules. When you look at a lolita outfit, most of the skin is covered. Despite the clothing being very flamboyant at times, a big ideal of lolita fashion is to appear modest. I appreciate that the idea of the lifestyle lolita is not as popular nowadays as it was when I first got in to the fashion in 2009, but I still feel there is this sort of lolita 'attitude' I guess you could call it. We all have an idea of what a lolita should look like and how we behave when we are dresses up. A typical lolita meet would be a trip to a fancy tea place or a picnic. Whilst there are some more 'out there' meets which get a bit more inventive, the majority of meets probably still fit in to the old lifestyle ideals in some way or another.

Let's now have a think about how the punk scene, and in particular the fashion, grew from its early roots. Right from the start the Ramones had their 'uniform' of a leather jacket, keds and tattered jeans which were full of holes. They were constantly booed, had bottles chucked at them and had a bad reputation. Johnny Rotten was apparently nervous to meet the Ramones when they came to the UK. As the scene spread to the UK, the fashion developed more and the Sex Pistols sort of became the poster boys of the punk scene. Ripped clothes, swastikas, leather jackets and loads of safety pins. What I loved about the punk fashion was that even though the likes of Vivienne Westwood were popular in the scene, it was still possible to join in. There was a lot of DIY going on and even hand-me-downs were prevalent. The fashion was as controversial as the music. It shocked people and was considered offensive by many.

Although lolita fashion stands out just like the early punks did, I think the fashions stand out in very different ways. Lolita is colourful, puffy and full of frills, but could you ever really call it offensive? Even when you look at punk lolita, I don't think many people would call it obscene.

Although lolita fashion has been around since the 80's, the look that we associate with modern day lolita really only started to properly develop in the early 2000's. Incidentally, it was around this time that pop-punk was having a bit of a moment in the charts. Musicians like Avril Lavigne (I hate Avril so much, but that is a long story...) burst in to the music industry with guitar-led pop songs and a distinct look that involved a lot of tartan and ties. This look was being touted as punk rock, only this time around it was a lot less offensive and was marketed in a more cutesy way. Lots of teenagers raided Hot Topic to get the Avril look. The tartan was back, but this time there were ruffly skirts. You could now buy tops with holes pre-ripped in them, but a lot of the time there was fabric underneath to stop skin from showing. Skulls were a popular theme, but this time the eye sockets were heart shaped and the skulls wore bows. To be frank, it was not the same punk from the 1970's.

And I feel it is from this new wave of watered down punk fashion, that punk lolita was truly born from. It is worth noting that Avril Lavigne was very popular in Japan. Punk lolita typically features a lot of tartan, maybe with the odd band t-shirt thrown in, and even then some complain about the use of plain t-shirts instead of cutsews. You may get the odd safety pin, but a lot of the accessories are not that different from other sub-styles of lolita. And I think this is what puts me off attempting punk lolita. It is not the style of punk that I fell in love with. It lacks the 'rough edges' and the rawness I feel when I listen to my favourite bands. The trouble is, I feel that if one were to do a punk lolita outfit based on the ideals of the 1970's fashion, it would be shouted down as being ita.

Maybe my issue is not with the idea of punk lolita itself, but with the name. Punk is a very specific genre of music, with a very well-known look, and punk lolita is not what I picture when I think of that music. Perhaps a slightly more generic name like "Rock Lolita" would be more suitable? Despite this being a topic I feel quite passionate about, I really struggled with writing this post. I don't wish to come across as some sort of prude who feel lolitas have to act in a certain way! But I think it is safe to say that lolita does have specific guidelines and these guidelines are sometimes at odds with the old school punk ideals. I love punk and I love lolita fashion but I am happy to keep them separate from each other, and that is just how I choose to go about my personal life choices. If you choose to wear punk lolita, I am not going to judge you for it!


  1. Ugh, I love a text-heavy post.
    Fun fact: I used to write my English literature essays with the Ramones providing the soundtrack. If I needed to get a lot of writing done, then that was the perfect way to get myself pumped up for it.

    While I associate the stereotypical DIY, ripped up/torn-clothing look with punk, it was never something that really appealed to me, and felt a bit try-hard somehow. I find the punk scene in general to be very contradictory, with a constant undertone of conformism that's disguised as rebellion.

    I remember falling in love with Poly Styrene in my teens because she went against everything a "real" punk was supposed to be: this mixed-race girl wearing colourful clothes, braces on her teeth, and short, natural curly hair. I finally had someone I could identify with in a scene that seemed to be pretty intent on excluding me for not fitting into the expected punk look or ideals. I felt she embodied punk better than anybody on both an aesthetic and attitude level, and when I got deeper into lolita I felt that same kind of "punk-ness" when I looked at old school street snaps. I loved to see those glaring girls on Harajuku Bridge, looking like slightly bedraggled antique dolls you don't want to mess with. For me, that is the closest you can ever get to true punk lolita. The fashion is so standardised now. Those old street snaps show a time when the fashion was still finding its feet, and the outfits had a more unassuming, slightly disorganised look that I find appealing even to this day, as the focus on extravagance hadn't come into play. Sadly, that era is over. I can wear old school now, but the culture surrounding those loitering young Japanese people from various alt/J-fashion subcultures is kind of hard to replicate in England in 2016.

    I think lolita has certain aspects to it that could be considered punk, but the stylistic aspects don't mesh well with it. Traditional punk was so deconstructed, and had heavy fetish themes which are a far cry from the modesty of lolita. The often excessively consumerist nature of lolita is also at odds with the more humble, throw-together-what-you-have mentality often found in punk.

    This was so tangential that I forgot what my overall point was meant to be but yeah... this is a really interesting topic to discuss and I'm glad you made this post!

    1. I think this is why the Ramones in particular drew me to punk music. Although they had that "uniform", it was the clothing that they happened to be like wearing anyway. There is a quote from Dee Dee Ramone somewhere (I tried to find it, but I can't seem to locate it right now) about how in the early days the band spoke about how they were going to dress and in the end they just decided to wear the clothing they had on. The ripped up, worn out look sort of came a bit more naturally. I do agree there are a lot of contradictions in the punk scene, but at the same time I kind of like that feeling of solidarity of all the losers and delinquents having a 'family' and a place that belonged, which I guess loosely touches on the idea of conformity.

      Oh, I loved Poly Styrene (may she R.I.P...) and you just reminded me that I haven't listened to Germ Free Adolescents in ages! I completely agree that she is somebody who embodied the whole punk attitude. This is something I was trying to (and really struggling to) get across in my post about how the fashion was only really one part of the whole punk ethos and how whilst there are lifestyle aspects to lolita, the focus is primarily on the fashion, especially now. I loved your point about the glaring girls on the Harajuku Bridge! It is such a shame that era is well and truly over.

      I am glad you found this an interesting topic and I just wish I could have written this better, as there is so much I want to say on this topic but I can't get the words out for some reason!

  2. I know what you mean, I feel the same way about punk Lolita. Although it was actually metal (especially symphonic metal) where I discovered myself, I have a very soft spot for punk as well, especially as punk fashion is easier to wear than full on metal/goth. But punk is all about anarchy and disobeying the rules, which, as you said, is the total opposite of Lolita. And there is a lot more to punk than just tartan - you can have leather, and denim, and chains, and Doc Martens, and Converse, and checked shirts, and so much more. Rock Lolita would be a bit better as a name, as it'd also include all other similar music-genres-turn-fashion-styles if necessary (like Emo, which is how I always classed Avril Lavigne and the likes). Even if it does feel that calling it Avril Lolita would describe the whole frilly-but-a-tiny-bit-messy tartan look spot on. :P

    1. There is definitely a lot more to punk fashion than tartan, as you mentioned! I actually went through your list, trying to think of examples in lolita, and I couldn't come up with much. The only pieces that immediately come to mind are that Emily Temple Cute leather jacket and that Metamorphose denim skirt with the telephone print on it. And those examples are still quite cutesy in design. I guess tartan is used a lot with punk lolita, as it is a good example of a pattern that can have a vague hint of punk to it, but at the same time it can still fit the lolita aesthetic as well. I just feel a name like 'Rock Lolita' is a lot broader and as you said, it could also include a lot of similar music genres.

  3. I don't know much about punk, but when you say that lolita doesn't fit with it because it couldn't be called offensive, I have to disagree. I'm thinking of really old-school, late nineties and early aughts, visual kei, Malice Mizer era. It was elegant, beautiful, and modest, yes, but it was creepy, it was gothy even when it didn't fit into what folks would now call gothic lolita, it was unsettling. I'm thinking of the old Harajuku snaps like Spiffykidd mentions. Back then, it was common to see gothic, punk, guro, and even slightly fetishy elements worked into all kinds of outfits. And I know it's not the trend now; everything is so neatly cordoned off and categorized and the gothic part is pretty unemphasized compared to classic and sweet, but that old school creepy ambiance will always be truest lolita to me.

    1. Personally, I don't find those late nineties Harajuku snaps that offensive looking, but I do get what you mean about them having a creepy, unsettling look about them. I guess at that time the fashion was still trying to find its feet and as time has gone on, more 'guidelines' have become available and the style has evolved to the point where we have lost a lot of that initial 'chaos' and experimenting. I still love lolita fashion, but I do sometimes mourn those older days of the fashion and it does feel that punk lolita has sort of not lost its place in the fashion, but isn't as relevant as it once was.


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