One couple, two perspectives, tons of geekery

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Princess's Garden: Cosplay vs. Lolita

Costume or Fashion - Some can't tell the difference

A friend recently sent me a flyer for a cosplay event featuring a lolita theme, because she knows of my interest in lolita fashion and also my previous history of cosplay. A month ago, another friend pointed out a group of maid cosplayers dancing on stage at a local event saying, “Oh hey look at the lolitas”. I’ve heard other stories about lolitas at events in which cosplayers swarmed them and tried to start discussing anime with them. It struck me how people outside of these two subcultures often lump these subcultures together. What’s more amazing to me is how people within these communities sometimes try to group them together when they are two totally different geekdoms.

For reference, cosplay stands for “costume play”. It is a subculture revolving around making and wearing costume replicas of various fandoms, popularly associated with anime and manga.  Lolita on the other hand is, to quote LolitaFashion.org, a Japanese street fashion inspired primarily by the clothing and general aesthetics of the Rococo and Victorian periods”.

The key words here are “costume” and “fashion”. While both subcultures revolve around clothing and originated in Japan, cosplay deals with costumes and lolita fashion about actual day-to-day wearable clothing. For cosplayers, the interest is focused on the fandom they are portraying and for lolitas, the interest is in a specific style of fashion. The dynamic divide which exists between these two groups has generated two emerging stereotypes – the annoying cosplayer and the bitchy lolita.

On the cosplayers side, they look to the lolitas and see girls (and boys, mind you) dressed in Japanese street fashion. They can relate to them – they both have a love of something originating from the same place and they aren’t afraid to go out in public dressed differently. And hey, even some of their favorite anime characters dress like that too!  It’s easy for the cosplayer to assume that they must share similar interests, hobbies, and fandoms (usually anime). However, sometimes the response is a rude rejection – a few terse words and a verbal slap to the face for daring to group the two together.

On the other side, here the lolita is dressing up day to day in her fashion of choice. Lolita fashion is her wardrobe. She endures society’s constant critical eye watching her with people taking her fashion as a joke. Society tries to tell her that what she is wearing is a costume and not a true fashion, a misconnection she continuously tries to clear up. And then she has to watch as all the hard work she’s done to get her fashion taken seriously be thrown out the window by a costume based subculture trying to bring them under the same banner.

For the cosplayer, she has only extended an olive branch of friendship as a way of banning together as fellow geeks and doesn’t understand the rejection. For the lolita, she is upset that assumptions are being made about her based solely on her clothes. And like the cosplayers who may make the assumptions that lolitas must like anime too, there are lolitas who make the assumption that cosplayers don’t understand the distinct differences between their two subcultures.  Obviously not all cosplayers and lolitas are the same. In fact, there are plenty who engage in both subcultures. But as a person who dresses in lolita fashion and who has once been involved in the cosplay community, I personally wish people would distinguish between the two subcultures. However, I think this can be done without getting flustered and rude about making the distinction. I think this needs to be something both subcultures work on – the cosplayers shouldn’t leap to assumptions that all lolitas share the same interests as them and the lolitas need not react in such a negative way if and when those assumptions are made.

Speaking from a lolitas point of view, I think it’s in the best interest of my fellow rufflebutts to keep calm and be polite when they are faced with this sort of assumption whether it’s from a cosplayer or someone outside of both subcultures. Yes, we do want our street style to be recognized as a legitimate fashion and not a costume. But snapping at others and making rude comments doesn’t help us look any better. We do not need our reputation to be one of elitism or rudeness. The best way to handle this situation is to calmly explain the differences between the two groups, educating them without chastising them for not being able to tell the difference. Because you know what? For many people not familiar with these groups, they look the same – they see a bunch of girls dressed in colorful and unusual clothing that looks reminiscent of something they might see in a cartoon. A girl dressed as Sakura Kinomoto might look the same as a girl wearing an Angelic Pretty dress. Don’t beret them for it. Simply educate them as politely as possible. And if a hyperactive cosplayer comes over and wants to discuss anime with you and anime isn’t your thing, again – be polite. It’s not hard just to smile and explain that you aren’t familiar with their interests. Either they will go away or you will find a common ground and maybe make a new friend. There’s no need to be condescending. We’re all geeks. We’re all different. No one hobby or interest is better than another. And at the end of the day, we all deserve to be accepted, by our fellow geeks more than anyone else.
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