Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wa-Lolita and Cultural Appropriation

I'm terribly sorry about not updating in months, I've been kinda depressed and unenthusiastic about everything. But on the bright side, that means I have a backlog of things to post about. First up is a long one that's been on my mind for a while.

As my twitter followers might have noticed around month ago, I went to my first Lolita meet-up. In honesty I was extremely nervous: my outfit was homemade, and I have met and seen very brand oriented people in Lolita; and I had chosen to wear Wa-Lolita, a subsection inspired by traditional Japanese clothing. I didn't want to be branded as a "weaboo" or seen as too costume-y, but I was in love with the style.

I never got a better picture with the parasol, so here's a selfie

and the final product of my hard work
I was really surprised by how nice everyone at the meet-up was. There were quite a few new people who I made friends with, as well as some really experienced members of the local group. Everyone was really impressed by my dress, and I figured maybe I had just been exposed to the wrong people. I, feeling more confident in the lolita community, looked on Tumblr to see if what others had worn in way of Wa-Loli since many of the girls I had talked to expressed interest in the subsection.

The most common phrase I found together with Wa-Loli was cultural appropriation. This was all soon after the whole Lone Ranger fiasco with teenage girls dressing up in what they thought of as Native American attire (suede with fringe and feather headdresses) to match Johny Depp's character, so the term was already on my radar. It was really surprising how vocal some people were, arguing to never wear wa-loli because it is cultural appropriation and offensive and bad and on the same level as wearing a geisha costume for Halloween. It got me thinking "had I just done a bad thing?"

My answer is no. I don't think I've done anything offensive. My first reason is tied to what Wa-Lolita is. As I stated earlier, Wa-Lolita is a subsection of the Lolita street fashion. Lolita originated in Japan and is designed to mimic European fashions usually from the Victorian era or the Rococo period. Wa-Lolita is a fusion of the Japanese kimono with the aesthetics and silhouette of Lolita fashion. Wa-Lolita is not a cultural symbol, but a fashion style.

"But in changing the kimono, a cultural symbol in Japan, you are being disrespectful."
I have been interested in and casually studying Japanese culture for five or so years. I researched how kimonos are made in order to make the pattern for this dress. Honestly, kimonos are not taken very strictly anymore. There are few rules, all of which I adhered to such as only closing it left-over-right and giving it as close to an accurate a fit as I could with my body type. There are kimonos for special occasions, sure, but I had based mine on the Yukata, which is a very casual garment. With the obi, I looked to find if there were any rules, but as far as I could find, it all comes down to aesthetics fro color and skill for the knot. There are even obi belts that hook closed with knots or bows that get hooked on the back

Along with the actual kimono, I paid close attention to what Japanese Wa-Lolita dresses look like. Here are some examples:
Wa-Lolita with a plaid print and accenting "obi" and underskirt (similar to what I had done) from Bodyline

Wa-Lolita with a traditionally Lolita print from Bodyline

Wa Lolita modern Japanese custom kimonos by Lacrima.
various Wa-Lolita from Japanese brand Lacrima
Wa-Lolita scan from a Gosurori magazine

I'm not trying to argue that just because a culture changes or misuses a piece of clothing or a symbol, it is then acceptable for everyone to do the same. I am just saying that before you try to argue that something is offensive to a culture, you should first learn if it is offensive. In the case of teenage girls wearing feather headdresses which are not only a ceremonial garment, but are also earned, that is totally a case of cultural appropriation which is very offensive. In the case of me, a white girl, wearing wa-lolita, it could be cultural appropriation in it's most basic definition. There are many reasons why I would be surprised if a Japanese person came up to me telling me that what I was wearing was offensive, but if that did happen I would retire this outfit. If someone from an altogether different culture tried to say that I was offending Japanese people with this dress, I would instead explain to them all the points I mentioned in this blog post.

While I can understand people being cautious about accidentally offending people, there are some people who I think are a bit too trigger happy about calling something offensive (to somebody else).


  1. Hello! I found your blog from googling some random lolita pages!

    I just have to say your outfit came out great, and like you I also want to make a wa-loli dress! I've seen some pages say it's something you shouldn't do as your first outfit.. but I love the style and the sleeves. As for someone saying it is offensive... That's just silly. That's as if saying you can never wear any piece of culturally styled clothing unless you are from that culture... That's silly. If you aren't trying to make fun of a culture but you wear it out of love and respect, whats the harm??

    Best of luck with ally our other sewing endeavors! :)

  2. The way I see cultural appropriation is when other people's cultures are used as costumes. Lolita is a fashion culture- NOT COSPLAY. So as long as you're not cosplaying as a wa-loli, I don't see the issue. :)