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Lolitas creepy yet cute

March 21, 2004|Gendy Alimurung

If Alice fell down the rabbit hole and came out a vampire, she might look something like Japan's elegant Gothic Lolitas.

The Gothic Lolita style, in which young girls dress as elaborate dolls, is a counterculture trend that has been percolating in Japan for years but only recently has broken into the mainstream. The look is a modern variant of what an exquisite Victorian child might wear to a formal tea party -- or a funeral. The archetypal Gothic Lolita wears a frilly knee-length skirt supported by a crinoline or a frothy lace petticoat. She wears a blouse with a Peter Pan collar, opaque knee-high stockings and a tiny headdress or bonnet atop a waterfall of Shirley Temple curls or straight black hair. Disproportionately large platform Mary Jane shoes and oversized purses complete the ensemble.

The Gothic Lolita is a study in contrasts: She is both deathly and childlike. Gothic refers to the romanticized darkness of the style; Lolita to the idea of an innocent yet alluring young girl who may or may not be aware of her sexuality.

The look is assembled according to a rigid code. A hefty quarterly magazine -- the Gothic & Lolita Bible -- teases out the nuances and gives instructions on how best to put together an outfit, sewing patterns included. Are you "Aristocrat Gothic Lolita" or "Country Gothic Lolita"? Do you like whites and pastel pinks and blues, or pure black? In Tokyo's trendy, touristy Harajuku district, a teenage girl might go for a Sunday stroll underneath a frilly black parasol while wearing a gothy variant of the French maid uniform. Inevitably, her skin will be pale with minimal makeup. She will strike a coy, demure pose.

Partly the Gothic Lolita phenomenon is a subset of Japan's rich "cosplay," or costume play, culture. Youths will dress for shows, conventions or clubs as popular manga or anime characters, or as cult figures culled from literature, television, advertising and music. But the outrageous onstage antics of Japan's "visual rock" bands, which have taken glam rock to whimsical extremes, also play a role. Traditionally, androgynous guitarist Mana, frontman of the band Malice Mizer, is credited as the first Gothic Lolita.

Think kabuki geisha meets heavy metal, with a touch of Sailor Moon drag queen chic. Wonderland never looked so creepy. Or so cute.

-- Gendy Alimurung

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