Fashion Theory, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp. 7– 28
Reprints available directly from the Publishers.
Photocopying permitted by licence only.
© 2011 Berg.
Osmud Rahman, Liu
Wing-sun, Elita Lam and
Osmud Rahman is an Assistant
Professor in the School of Fashion at
Ryerson University, Toronto. Liu Wing-
sun is a Lecturer at the Institute of
Textiles and Clothing, The Hong Kong
Polytechnic University. Elita Lam is a
Lecturer at the Department of Fashion
and Image Design, Hong Kong Design
Institute. Chan Mong-tai is a graduate
of the Institute of Textiles & Clothing,
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Although the term “Lolita” originates from Vladimir Nabakov’s novel
Lolita (1955), the current Lolita subculture has no direct reference to
this novel or with any sexual connotation. It is more about personal
expression and manifestation. It is a form of escapism—a way of tak-
ing ﬂight from adolescence or adulthood and returning to childhood.
By wearing a childlike Lolita style in a fantasy setting, the wearer may
enter into an imaginary world and momentarily remove her/himself
from everyday reality. Lolita subculturists “wear more than one hat in
life” and their lives are ﬁlled with performance, imagination, illusions,
and even confusion.
8 Osmud Rahman, Liu Wing-sun, Elita Lam and Chan Mong-tai
In order to understand this ﬂuid, contingent, and contradictory identity,
a research project was initiated to investigate the signiﬁcance of this
subculture in Hong Kong, with an emphasis on Lolita behaviors and at-
titudes in particular. In-depth interviews, virtual ethnography and daily
observations were employed to uncover the underlying motives of those
engaged in the Lolita subculture.
According to this study, it is evident that today’s young consumers are
constantly searching for and constructing a personal and social identity
through symbolic consumption. A Lolita style enables young people to
achieve an image for which they would not be accepted in everyday life.
In short, Lolita consumption is a great source of pleasure, exhilaration,
and delight for many Lolita subculturists in Hong Kong.
KEYWORDS: Lolita, subculture, postmodernism, imaginative self,
Due to advancements in technology and the deepening of globaliza-
tion, information is transmitted and spread across nations at lightning
speed. Over the last two decades, many consumers in areas of Asia such
as Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland China, and Thailand have become
obsessed with Japanese cultural products. Manga comics and anime
(Japanese animated ﬁlms) are very popular among the Asian youths.
It is not uncommon to see young consumers indulging themselves in
“kawaii” or “cute” Japanese products (e.g. Hello Kitty and Melody),
women wearing atsuzokogutsu (chunky platform shoes) in high streets
(Toyoshima 2008), and college students carrying cellphones with Mon-
chhichi doll dangling ornaments.
Apart from the daily consumption of Japanese products, a Lolita
subculture has sprung up in Hong Kong and many parts of the world.
The Lolita subculture consists of many subtypes or subgenres, including
Gothic Lolita or GothLoli, Sweet Lolita, Punk Lolita, Classic Lolita,
Wa Lolita or Waloli, O
-uji (inspired by Victorian boys) and Hime Lolita
or “princess.” The GothLoli style was originally inspired by the cross-
dressing guitarist Mana1 of the Visual Kei or visual rock band Malice
Mizer. Some young people dress in Gothic Lolita to express their feel-
ings of gloom, while others may wear a Sweet Lolita style to portray
a childish or childlike world of “kawaii.” Youths who identify with a
subculture often use an inner group language/vocabulary (Gagné 2008),
facial/bodily expressions (e.g. naive, cute, childlike behavior), and out-
ward appearance/style to deﬁne/redeﬁne and construct/reconstruct their
desired or ideal image. It is not easy to fully understand the complexities
of the Lolita subculture. Nevertheless, this style has become popular in
“Lolita”: Imaginative Self and Elusive Consumption 9
Hong Kong. In recent years, many Lolita events and activities have been
held in this region, including Lolita fashion shows, Lolita dramas, and
the Kamikaze Girls’ movie (about Lolita and Yankee), which was shown
in the 31st Hong Kong International Film Festival. In addition, many
local artists, singers, and celebrities (e.g. 2R, I Love You Boys, Twins,
Kelly Chan, and Isabella Leong) have been inspired by this subculture
style and have dressed as Sweet Lolita or GothLoli on many occasions.
In order to understand the emergence and signiﬁcance of this sub-
culture in Hong Kong, we adopted the approach of daily observations
and ethnographic interviews to uncover the underlying motives of those
engaged in the Lolita subculture. The objective of this study is to inves-
tigate the signiﬁcance of this subculture in Hong Kong in general, and
Lolita behaviors and attitudes in particular.
“Subculture refers to a distinct cultural group that exists as an identiﬁ-
able segment within a larger, more complex social group” (Schiffman
and Kanuk 2000: G13). According to Goulding and Saren (2007: 240),
subcultures can also be viewed as cultures of consumption, “subcultures
may deﬁned as sites of praxis, ideologically, temporally, and socially
situated where fantasy and experimentation give way to the construc-
tion, expression and maintenance of particular consumption identities.”
From these perspectives, Lolita is a subculture group among many oth-
ers, and it is frequently viewed as such.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, the Birmingham Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) conducted many studies on
postwar youth subcultures. In spite of later criticisms of the CCCS’s
theories and deﬁnition of subculture (Huq 2006; Tait 1993a, b; Thorn-
ton 1996), many of their studies have provided valuable insights and
ground-breaking perspectives to the ﬁelds of cultural studies. It is
evident that many early American and British studies of youth cul-
ture were focused primarily on deviant behavior, youth gangs (Cohen
1955), and style-based youth cultures such as Teddy boys (Jefferson
1976), mods (Cohen 1972), rockers (Cohen 1972; Levine and Stumpf
1983) skinheads (Clarke 1976), and punk (Hebdige 1979). Starting
from the late 1980s, a paradigm shift occurred—many scholars moved
away from a structural- and class-based approach to the concept of
neo-tribalism and “postmodern” subcultures (Bennett 1999). Studies
have become more focused on cultural experiences of contemporary
youth, including subcultures/neo-tribes (Bennett 1999; Cova et al.
2007), rave and straightedge (Wilson and Atkinson 2005) and hip hop
(Mitchell 2003). Nevertheless, it seems that female-centered youth cul-
tures have received relatively little attention in the past, including those
10 Osmud Rahman, Liu Wing-sun, Elita Lam and Chan Mong-tai
Lolita is different from other realms of subculture (e.g. youth gangs);
it is not about violence, vandalism, and rebellion (at least not in any
obvious or aggressive way). In Hong Kong, the Lolita style has no di-
rect reference to Vladimir Nabakov’s novel Lolita (1955), or with any
sexual connotations. It is more about personal expression and mani-
festation. By wearing a childlike Lolita style in a fantasy setting, the
wearer may enter into an imaginary world and momentarily remove
her/himself from everyday reality. It is a form of escapism—a way of
escaping from adolescence or adulthood and returning to childhood. In
other words, Lolitas are often split between two different selves—their
present-day or real self (weekdays) and their imaginative or desired self
(weekends and leisure time). Indeed, Lolitas “wear more than one hat in
life” and their lives are ﬁlled with performance, imagination, illusions,
and even confusion.
In order to understand this ﬂuid, contingent, and contradictory iden-
tity, we attempted to look at this emerging subculture in Hong Kong
through the lens of postmodernism.
Imaginative Self: Lolita and Hyper-reality
Hyper-reality (Baudrillard 1983; Thomas 1997) can be described as that
which is above or beyond reality or realer-than-real. As Best and Kellner
(1991) asserted, “Hyper-reality thus points to a blurring of distinctions
between the real and the unreal in which the preﬁx ‘hyper’ signiﬁes
more real than real ...” In a state of postmodernity, when hyper-reality
has superseded the importance and signiﬁcance of reality, people do
not merely fantasize about their imaginary world but also create their
desired identity, and this process or lived experience becomes reality
itself (Bocock 1993). This phenomenon often occurs in the Lolita sub-
culture. For example, some youths wear the dark-colored clothing and
makeup of Gothic Lolita in order to create a darker and gloomier ap-
pearance and lifestyle. However, participation in the Lolita subculture is
not merely a manifestation of an individual’s dreams and fantasies, but
also an expression of socioeconomic uncertainty, academic discontent,
job disappointments, and a sense of personal failure or dissatisfaction.
There is a complex interplay of many sociocultural and psychological
factors behind engagement in a subculture. Nonetheless, subcultures
can offer youths an avenue to express their inner feelings about life
and a way to escape from reality (e.g. traditionally conformist norms
Clarke et al. (1976) asserted that subcultures can be about ﬁnding a
solution to an individual’s problems on an imaginary level, and this is
why the Lolita’s ﬂight or “getting away” is more about symbolic expres-
sion rather than a real-life transformation. In other words, Lolita styles
enable youths to create an image that they cannot fulﬁll in reality. When
“Lolita”: Imaginative Self and Elusive Consumption 11
they wear a Sweet Lolita outﬁt, they may feel juvenile, sweet, cute, and
ingenuous and may even fantasize about being a little girl. In addition,
some people also believe that wearing Lolita clothes can help them stop
thinking about their current problems. Through Lolita, young people
may enter into their dream/ideal world and create their own imaginary
self, such as a descendant of a noble family, a sweet girl, and even a
princess or prince. Indeed, they are living in a state of hyper-reality.
With this perspective, we posed the following question to guide our
inquiry: what are the individual’s underlying motives in becoming a
member of a Lolita subculture in Hong Kong?
Symbolic Image: Lolita and the Symbolic Project of Self
According to symbolic interactionists, socialization causes resource-
ful individuals to think, act, interact, and pursue their desired goals
or interests within the guidelines provided by their culture/subculture
(Sandstrom et al. 2006). Thompson described the self as a “symbolic
project” (Thompson 1995: 210). Individuals often use different arti-
facts to convey social values (Social Symbolism) and to construct their
individual identity (Self Symbolism) (Elliott 1997). Modern consumers
do not choose a product solely based on its utilitarian beneﬁts; rather,
they often search for symbolic values to develop, construct, and foster
their own image and identity (Bocock 1993; Elliott and Wattanasuwan
1998). For example, many young consumers use clothing to afﬁliate
themselves with their desired social or subcultural groups.
Many Lolita enthusiasts are engaging in a symbolic project and ac-
tively constructing their desired or ideal self through symbolic consump-
tion. Lolita brands such as Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, Metamorphose
Temp de Fille, Moi–même–Moitié, Victorian Maiden, and Heavy Red
play an important role and offer various symbolic meanings.2 In addi-
tion, some enthusiasts engage in do-it-yourself (DIY) Lolita to create a
unique individual style. In other words, Lolita clothing has been used as
a component of bricolage in the DIY process of constructing a new and
imaginative self (Elliott 1997).
In order to understand how Lolitas engage and construct their iden-
tity, we raised the following questions for this study: what kind of sym-
bolic image or identity would a Lolita member like to construct? What
are the salient sources of information on Lolita style?
Authentic Performance: Lolita and
the Performance of Identity
Goffman (1969) used a dramaturgical metaphor to discuss the perfor-
mance of identity—what he called “face work.” The emphasis is on the
12 Osmud Rahman, Liu Wing-sun, Elita Lam and Chan Mong-tai
body as a crucial part in a competent performance, where signals are
constantly sent to and decoded by other members of a group. In other
words, authentic performance is both the transmission and reception
of culturally appropriate actions. As such, many Lolita devotees often
perform and parade in shopping malls and high streets in Hong Kong
to display and manifest their imaginative self.
The nature of the self-concept is complex; the consumer may pos-
sess a variety of both actual selves (roles) and a variety of ideal
selves. A sense of social identity provides people with a relatively
coherent sense of who they are, of how they think of themselves
and how they wish others to perceive them. (Erikson 1959)
In order to create an ideal, Lolitas dress in a sweet Lolita style, that is,
in a puffy shirt, with a lot of lace, ribbons, and pink and white frills.
Lolitas perform in feminine ways and combat the uniformity of daily
life. Lolita fashions give them conﬁdence, bolster their girlish spirits,
and make them feel stronger. On the other hand, Gothic Lolitas por-
tray an image of coldness and gaudiness to manifest and express pes-
simism, sentimentality, desperation, and sympathy with the unsociable
However, subcultural codes and style repertoires have constantly
evolved over the course of time. With this changing phenomenon, many
Lolita performers are poised between the issues of “who am I” and
“who I want to be”—and it seems that the performance of identity
never comes to an end (Hall 1992).
With this context in mind, the following questions were raised: How
do Lolitas think, interact and perform in their imaginary world? To
what extent can facial and bodily expression of Lolita enhance their
performance of identity?
In order to understand what drives the Lolita subculture in Hong Kong,
in-depth interviews with a focus group of eight participants were con-
ducted; virtual ethnography (Elliott and Elliott 2003; Hine 2000) and
daily observations were also used for this project to understand the
lived experience of our participants. As Elliott and Elliott (2003: 222)
suggested, “ethnography reaches the parts other research approaches
cannot reach. It can access what people really do rather than what they
say (or even think) they do ... It helps us to understand the symbolism
and meanings of consumption behavior ...”
The participants were recruited from those engaged in various Lolita
activities. A total of eight Lolita informants participated in formal inter-
views (Table 1) and twelve participated in casual interviews (Table 2).
“Lolita”: Imaginative Self and Elusive Consumption 13
Summary of the formal interviews and the key informant’s proﬁle.
Key informants/Formal interviews
Pseudonym Sex Age Occupation Type of
Remarks Method of
Length of interview
Kitty F 19 Clerk Classic
4 years 2 Studied
for a long
1.5 to 3 hours
(followed up by
Yan F 19 Designer Sweet
4 years 12 Enjoys
1.5 to 3 hours
(followed up by
Tam M 19 Under-
2 years 2 No
1.5 to 3 hours
(followed up by
Kat F 18 Under-
2 years 9 Always
1.5 to 3 hours
(followed up by
Sin F 17 Under-
4 years 1 Dreams
of being a
1.5 to 3 hours
(followed up by
Sham F 18 Second-
2 years 4 Attained
1.5 to 3 hours
(followed up by
Ya Ya F 17 Second-
1 year 13 Enjoys
1.5 to 3 hours
(followed up by
Ann F 13 Second-
half a year 7 Born to a
1.5 to 3 hours
(followed up by
*Virtual ethnography: MSN (msn.com), ICQ (icq.com), and telephone.
14 Osmud Rahman, Liu Wing-sun, Elita Lam and Chan Mong-tai
A researcher or research assistant conducted a formal in-depth inter-
view twice with eight informants over a period of ﬁve months, with
each interview lasting about one-and-a-half to three hours in length.
The interviewer also communicated with each informant via the In-
ternet almost every night. With regard to the casual interviews, these
consisted of face-to-face interviews of 10–30 minutes (e.g. held outside
Lolita shops, Lolita cafes, and Lolita gathering venues) and the employ-
ment of virtual ethnography (e.g. MSN, ICQ, telephone). Interviews
were conducted until a point of saturation was reached (McCracken
1988). According to our results, most of the participants were not satis-
ﬁed with their actual self and the social milieu in which they lived. They
were constantly looking for things to transform their image and ways
to escape from reality. In short, Lolita was the ideal symbolic image for
them to create their desired fantasy.
Imaginative Self: Motives and Ambivalences
The frequency with which a participant wore a Lolita outﬁt was closely
related to the wearer’s subjective present feelings (Zajonc 1980; El-
liott 1994). In our interviews, many Lolita informants stated that they
seldom wear Lolita dresses except for Lolita events and photo shoots.
They did not consider Lolita dresses as daily attire.
One informant told the interviewer that she had had many unpleas-
ant experiences when wearing Lolita clothes. As a result, she was wear-
ing Lolita clothes less frequently.
Ka: “I was terriﬁed. I felt deeply hurt by the laughter and criticisms
from strangers and from my classmates. They liked to say, “She’s
crazy,” “She looks ridiculous,” “This is absurd,” ... and they some-
times could be pretty nasty ...; they said. “This is all bullshit.” I
don’t want to be laughed at by others. Now I only wear my Lolita
outﬁt when attending Lolita events or posing for pictures.
Summary of the casual interviews.
Casual informants/Casual interviews
Number of informants Method of interview Length of interview
9 Face-to-face interview (e.g.
outside Lolita shops, Lolita
cafés, and Lolita gathering
10 to 30 minutes per
3 Virtual interview (random
search via ICQ, Lolita forums,
and discussion rooms)
About 30 minutes
“Lolita”: Imaginative Self and Elusive Consumption 15
This indicates that past experiences can directly affect the psychological
state of Lolitas. One of the informants, Tam (Boy-Lolita or B-Lolita),
told the interviewer about his experiences wearing Lolita clothing. He
said, “Sometimes, I dress as a Lolita girl only in my bedroom, and keep
telling myself that I am not gay.” In fact, he always dresses in normal
men’s clothing such as T-shirts, jackets, and jeans. During the course
of interview, he was shy when telling the interviewer about his cross-
Tam: “I only wear Lolita dresses for several Lolita events. I sel-
dom go out in a Lolita outﬁt. I like to wear them in my bedroom.
When I dress in Sweet Lolita clothes, I feel like I’m a beautiful
sweet girl. I’m happy with my feminine image.
Thus, gender blurring by subcultural style does occur (Hodkinson
2002). From our observations, it seems that males dressing as females is
more common in Hong Kong than the other way around. It is possible
that if an individual feels incapable of fulﬁlling his masculine gender
roles, then a feminine gender identity and cross-dressing behavior may
develop. A person engaged in such behavior takes on a new and dif-
ferent social role, perceiving himself as being a more socially attractive
person and behaving accordingly. There is a sense of “role relief,” which
could generate excitement, pleasure, enjoyment, and an extraordinary
delight in life (Doctor 1988).
According to Comer (2005), B-Lolitas are engaging in a kind of
transvestic fetishism also known as cross-dressing. This is a desire to
dress in the manner of the opposite sex to create sexual arousal. In his
in-depth interview, Tam told the interviewer that he felt good when he
dressed like a little girl. It is reasonable to suggest that the relationships
between gender identity and self-identity are connected in this particular
case. During the conversation, he revealed that he had no friends, had a
poor relationship with his family, and felt alone in his daily life. The in-
terviewer asked him why he did not want to wear Lolita clothes during
the weekdays at school. His response was that his feminine appearance
would not be accepted by his classmates. Therefore, it was impossible
for him to wear it during any normal daily situations. While joining
Lolita events, he had more conﬁdence and felt more comfortable about
dressing in a Lolita outﬁt. The interviewer asked him to explain why he
felt this way. His answer was that “all of the Lolitas are my friends, and
they support and protect me.” Understanding and support are signiﬁ-
cant for many participants in a subculture. Schouten and McAlexander
(1995) have asserted that through consumption activities, people form
relationships that allow them to meet and mutually support each other.
Therefore, it is not difﬁcult to understand why Tam felt happier and
more conﬁdent when he mingled and hung out with his Lolita friends.
He also stated that withdrawing from his imaginative/desired Lolita
16 Osmud Rahman, Liu Wing-sun, Elita Lam and Chan Mong-tai
identity and returning back to the real life was very difﬁcult—“I just
wish I can live as a Lolita a bit longer.” This indicates a sense of contra-
diction and ambivalence between his Lolita self and his actual self.
An Imaginative (Desired) Self versus
the Present-day (Real) Self
From the in-depth interviews, we found that most of the informants
had a “double life,” wearing normal clothes when they went to work or
school, but dressing in “Lolita” style during weekends or in their leisure
time. They tended to use the Lolita style to construct a new identity or
an imaginative self. The possible explanation for this is that many Loli-
tas are in the midst of an “identity crisis”—they are striving to create an
image of what they would like to be. As Erikson (1959) observed, many
young consumers are constantly seeking identity through the acquisi-
tion, consumption and accumulation of artifacts/material goods during
the adolescent stage of their life.
Sin: I normally wear jeans and a T-shirt when going to school.
I only dress in the Lolita style during my days off. When I dress
in Lolita clothes, I can recapture the feeling of childishness that
I have been missing for many years.
Ya Ya: I want a total transformation. Dressing in Lolita gives me
conﬁdence, and helps me to feel stronger. It is important for me
to feel excited about life, and this is exactly what Lolita clothes
can allow me to have.
Fashion discourses have become a means by which consumers align
themselves with certain cultural viewpoints while resisting or subvert-
ing other viewpoints (Thompson and Haytko 1997). A desire to escape
from reality is one of the reasons for wearing Lolita dresses. Obviously,
many Lolita enthusiasts do not want to grow up. This behavioral ap-
proach seems to be a way for them to comfort themselves.
Ya Ya owns fourteen sets of Lolita clothes, including Gothic, Sweet,
and Classic Lolita dresses. During the course of the in-depth interview,
Ya Ya was persuasive in arguing that Lolita clothes really are power
suits that bring happiness and conﬁdence.
Ya Ya: Personally, I enjoy wearing each Lolita dress. I can use dif-
ferent styles of Lolita dress to create certain feelings and moods.
For example, I dream I am a cold-blooded and gaudy person
when I wear Gothic Lolita. It is wonderful, but I always feel con-
fused about identity.
Most of the informants claimed that wearing Lolita dresses represents
a refuge from adverse circumstances. They escape from their problems
“Lolita”: Imaginative Self and Elusive Consumption 17
and anesthetize themselves. Dreaming about acting and role-playing is
a habit among the informants. The possible reason for this is a fragmen-
tation of identity, and some scholars have argued that this is a part of
postmodernism, resulting from the saturation of human relationships
When the interviewer asked them about their dreams, half of the
informants expressed a desire to become a successful fashion designer.
Kitty: I want to be a famous photographer or fashion designer. I did
enroll in a fashion design course in the past. However, I couldn’t
complete my studies because of the ﬁnancial constraints.
Sin: Studying fashion design is my dream. Although it is difﬁ-
cult to be accepted [in a fashion program], I really like to design
unique and special Lolita dresses [she asked the interviewer about
requirements for entering a fashion design program].
Symbolic Boundaries and Level of Understanding
According to many prior studies on consumer culture, people use cloth-
ing to differentiate themselves from or to associate themselves with cer-
tain social groups or tribes (Maffesoli 1996). Therefore, wearing Lolita
clothing is a means to deﬁne a symbolic boundary for an individual
(Thompson 2000). It seems that many Lolita enthusiasts maintain group
cohesion because they have adopted a similar dress code, ideology, lan-
guage, and behavior. Nevertheless, Lolita identities vary because every
individual has a different interpretation and degree of ﬁdelity to the con-
cept of Lolita—some of them are Lolita fanatics, some are occasional
Lolita lovers, and some are beginners or even pretenders. For example,
Kitty was a Lolita enthusiast, whereas Ann and Ka were considered to
be beginners. Their views of Lolita were completely different.
Kitty: In the past, I appreciated Lolita because of its style. But now,
I discover that Lolita has a deeper connotation and meaning ...
it is not just clothing ... it can be interpreted as a culture. I enjoy
searching for and ﬁnding more information about this culture.
Ann: I think Lolita is a kind of “fashion.” It is trendy and “in”
right now, and many Lolita clothes are beautiful.
Ka: Lolita clothes are stylish and fashionable, just like many other
clothes. The only difference is that Lolita clothes can be used to
attract people’s attention and to “show off.”
It is evident that some Lolita enthusiasts do not merely appreciate the
clothing styles; they are fascinated by their origin, history, and culture.
In contrast, many Lolita beginners or pretenders were more concerned
18 Osmud Rahman, Liu Wing-sun, Elita Lam and Chan Mong-tai
about the clothing styles themselves, and they often viewed Lolita as a
major fashion trend.
The in-depth interviews revealed that the Lolita teenagers were very
much affected by their peers throughout the process of involvement in
Lolita clothing—from the stage of searching for information to those of
evaluation and consumption (Figure 1).
One of the informants, Sin, admitted that she was deeply inﬂuenced
by her Lolita friends. Once she connected with them, inner group news
and the Lolita experience became the central topics of their conversa-
tion. It is evident that peers had a tremendously inﬂuence and motiva-
tion on Sin’s consumption.
“Lolita”: Imaginative Self and Elusive Consumption 19
The Internet also plays a critical role in shaping a Lolita’s values,
beliefs, and attitudes. According to the information obtained from the
interviews, the Internet is a signiﬁcant channel from which to obtain
Lolita information, communicate with other Lolita friends, and even
create resonant and emotional bonds. Online to ofﬂine links do not only
demonstrate the power of the Internet to connect a Lolita with the com-
munity, but most importantly, the function of virtual communication
as truly a “real life” enhancer of subcultural participation (Hodkinson
2002). For example, Sham stated that the Internet aroused her interest
in Lolita fashion and culture.
Sham: I always search for Lolita information and make new
friends online. We often talk about our fondness for Lolita things,
share experiences ... we even arrange to meet up and attend Lol-
ita events together.
Ann: I always express my opinions in Lolita forums. Going online
is the most effective way to get Lolita information. I make Lolita
friends through the Internet.
It is clear that the Internet reinforces Lolita boundaries and strength-
ens its community. Through reading the threads of discussion groups
and accessing relevant web pages, users not only obtain abundant in-
formation about upcoming Lolita events and activities, but also about
the Lolita ideology, culture, clothing styles, and experiences. Moreover,
video conferencing (e.g. Skype) has emerged as an important tool for
communicating and building social relationships.
Other than peer and virtual inﬂuence, personal selling and customer
service also play a vital role in consumption, and many Lolita consum-
ers are loyal to a particular store and brand. It is important to point
out that Hong Kong is a collectivistic society; personal relationships
and connections (guanxi) are often emphasized and stressed (Markus
and Kitayama 1991). According to the interviews conducted outside the
Lolita shops, positive relationships and a sense of trust between a sales-
person and Lolita consumers were often built and established through
attentive care and service. The following comments frequently emerged
during the interviews.
Ann: I just buy the Lolita clothes in Lolita in Touch because the
product quality is great and the salesperson is nice and approach-
able. I really enjoy talking with Ruby (salesperson) and I always
learn a lot about “Lolita” from her.
Kitty: I just go to the Spider shop, which is owned by twin sisters.
They are very helpful, and willing to offer advice on my Lolita
image. I like to shop there!
20 Osmud Rahman, Liu Wing-sun, Elita Lam and Chan Mong-tai
Lolita and Consumption
Although Lolita dresses are relatively expensive, some Lolitas are will-
ing to spend a substantial amount of money on their desired outﬁt. In
our interviews, the overwhelming response on the decision to buy an
outﬁt was whether “I like it.” Price was not a major concern to a num-
ber of Lolita informants. Several informants even stated that they would
utilize various ﬁnancial means to make the purchase (e.g. credit cards,
salary, and/or pocket money). It became clear that the choice of product
was driven more by emotional feeling (Elliott 1998) than the result of a
cognitive or rational decision (Zajonc and Markus 1982).
Ka was one of the informants who was constantly belittling and
describing herself as an “ugly girl” during the in-depth interview. She
stated that she has had such negative attitude towards herself since she
was twelve years old. Due to her dissatisfaction with her physical ap-
pearance, self-transformation and self-enhancement was her primary
reason for wearing Lolita clothing.
Ka: Although I am ugly, wearing Lolita dresses can give me joy and
happiness. Honestly, price is never a concern to me when buying
Lolita clothes. Getting exactly what I want is my major concern.
Nevertheless, price still played a critical role in purchasing decisions for
some informants. In general, they had little money to spend on Lolita
items and thus were more sensitive about price. In many cases, if a desir-
able Lolita item was too expensive, many informants chose to postpone
their purchase or considered a DIY approach as an alternative. Ya Ya
and Yan were some examples among these informants.
Ya Ya: I paid HK$600 for my ﬁrst Lolita dress. Honestly, I can-
not afford to pay that much money all the time. DIY Lolita has
been an alternative to me. I’m proud of myself that I have sewn
fourteen unique Lolita dresses in the past.
Yan was one of our informants who had studied fashion design at one
of the major universities in Hong Kong. She expressed the view that
there is a substantial amount of peer support and encouragement within
the Lolita community.
Yan: I remember that I spent about HK$800 on my ﬁrst Lolita
dress. It was very expensive for me. I was born to a poor fam-
ily and I am working on a low-paying job, so every time when
I buy a Lolita dress, I have to think really hard and it is not an
easy decision for me to make. DIY Lolita headdresses such as
hairpins and headscarves are one of my ways to save money. I
have many Lolita friends. Because of what I know about sewing
“Lolita”: Imaginative Self and Elusive Consumption 21
and pattern drafting, I always teach them how to make their own
It is evident that some informants were more sensitive about price than
others, yet the desire to possess and consume Lolita dresses was their
In the casual interviews conducted outside Lolita shops, many in-
formants said that they evaluated and selected Lolita dresses/products
based on their originality and uniqueness. In many cases, limited edition,
one-of-a-kind or handmade items were their favorites. They tended to
use unique outﬁts to express their individuality and personality. In other
words, the symbolic meanings of a product could play an important
role in the Lolita subculture. Therefore, DIY Lolita dresses/accessories
have become increasingly popular among the enthusiasts (Figure 2).
Lolita enthusiast was posing in her
22 Osmud Rahman, Liu Wing-sun, Elita Lam and Chan Mong-tai
Lolita Expression and Identity
In this study, most of the participants were not satisﬁed with their actual
self, or with their social milieu. As a result, Lolita clothes were being used
to reconstruct their self-image at least in two different ways. First, some
Lolita subculturists used the Lolita style as a tool to hide their undesirable
self or to shift the attention of the beholders/viewers from their real self.
For example, doll-like aesthetics and cute expressions were used as an al-
ternative to physical attractiveness because being “cute” does not require
possessing beautiful facial features or a tall and curvaceous body. Goffman
(1959) asserted that an alternative image could be produced through the
front-stage performances, including “clothing; sex, age, and racial charac-
teristics, size and looks; posture, speech patterns; facial expressions, bodily
gestures and the like” rather than solely through natural beauty. Therefore,
non-verbal expression could play an important role in the construction of
the individual self as well as in the accomplishment of signiﬁcant moments
in social interaction. In Figures 3–5, several common Lolita postural, ges-
tural, and facial expressions are shown and identiﬁed. Second, many infor-
mants also used Lolita clothing styles to construct their individual image.
For instance, Tam (B-Lolita) pointed out that men’s clothing is sober, som-
ber and static, whereas women’s clothing is stylish, fashionable, and ﬂat-
tering. Dressing as a woman gave him greater freedom to express himself.
Facial expressions (cute, innocent).
Posing with a baby doll.
or hugging a
(e.g. a teddy
bear or baby
Childish or •
toes turned in
skirt out (simi-
lar to a curtsy)
Childish or •
toes turned in
hand on top of
Childish or •
toes turned in
up two ﬁngers
in front of the
face (similar to
a peace sign or
Postural and gestural
24 Osmud Rahman, Liu Wing-sun, Elita Lam and Chan Mong-tai
In an era of postmodernity, everyone can be anyone: some Sweet Lolita
followers use elaborate, childish, doll-like fashions to express sweetness,
cuteness, and demureness; and some GothLoli followers using dark
clothing and make up to emphasis darkness and gloominess. The Lolita
community in Hong Kong is not homogeneous, but is full of diversity
It is obvious that today’s young consumers are constantly searching
for and constructing their identity through symbolic consumption. As
Cova et al. (2007: 8) described, “ ... ‘consumer experience’ is a complex,
moment-by-moment, situated occurrence. Lived experience is never sim-
ple and binary, but ever-shifting, full of adjustments and hybridizations.”
According to the present study, it is evident that it would be difﬁcult for
a young individual to fulﬁll or perform her/his dream (e.g. being cute or
childish) through ordinary means of consumption. This is the reason why
young people choose to dress, perform, and behave as Lolitas during their
leisure time to express their inner feelings and construct their ideal self.
In their imaginative world, they are princesses and cute little girls, but in
real life, they are ordinary individuals. According to Clarke et al. (1976),
subcultures can solve problems at an imaginary level but not at the con-
crete material level, and this is why the solution is more symbolic in form.
A Lolita style enables young people to achieve an image for which they
would not be accepted in everyday life. Therefore, making and dressing
in Lolita clothing is a great source of pleasure, exhilaration, and delight
for many Lolita subculturists in Hong Kong. It is an ideal symbolic means
by which they can create their desired fantasy and hyper-reality, and each
individual becomes the director of her/his own cinematic self.3
1. Mana is a founder and designer of a Lolita clothing label Moi–
même–Moitié. He created two sub-styles of Gothic Lolita—Elegant
Gothic Lolita (EGL) and Elegant Gothic Aristocrat (EGA).
2. Every Lolita brand features different types of style and look—Baby,
the Stars Shine Bright depicts Sweet Lolita whereas Moi–même–
Moitié exempliﬁes Gothic Lolita.
3. Here the term cinematic self is used to describe a Lolita self that is
directed or created through learning, interacting, and modeling of
other Lolita performers.
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