“It’s so cute!”
On this blustery day in the West Village, the gaggle of young women at Bosie Tea Parlor draws stares from patrons and passersby alike. The women, all in their twenties, wear outfits that look to have time-traveled more than a hundred years — and that would be better suited to girls less than half their age. Bright motifs, ornate ruffles, petticoats, and delicate lace are set off by accessories like bonnets, heart-shaped purses, and wigs.
These are Lolitas, devotees not of Vladimir Nabokov but of a fashion subculture that emerged in Japan in the 1980s and crosses a passion for period dress-up with a yen for pop-culture accoutrements. Many New York–area Lolitas spend hundreds of dollars on clothing imported from Japan (Baby, the Stars Shine Bright is one popular brand) and organize meet-ups on social media and have hosted visiting fashion icons from Japan.
Theresa Winge, who teaches fashion design and theory at Michigan State University and has researched Lolita, divides the genre into three main styles. Gothic Lolitas, inspired by the mourning clothes of the Victorian era, favor black. Classic Lolitas prefer a more elegant style that leans to neutral tones, while Sweet Lolitas gravitate to feminine colors and childlike patterns and prints.
Story and photos by Darwin Chan