|An older diagram of the anatomy of a lolita coordinate|
1. Always be Mindful of Skirt to Petticoat Ratios
One of the key aspects of a lolita coordinate is the full skirt - whether it be A-line or cupcake shaped. This is easily achieved with any number of petticoats, but it is important to remember to only buy petticoats which suit the shape the fabric desires to fall into. Forcing an A-line dress over a bell-shaped petticoat will warp the silhouette and create a skirt that looks less full and more 'fit-to-burst' which is less than flattering. Petticoats should be a gentle guide for the intended fall of the fabric rather than a medieval stretching device designed to wrestle the skirt into a new and alien form.
The length of your skirts should also correspond roughly to your petticoats with longer A-line skirts requiring longer A-line petticoats which will end a few inches above the hem. A petticoat that ends any higher than this will create an odd shape at the bottom of your skirt with the fabric below the petticoat falling straight instead of continuing the gentle slope outwards from the waist. Naturally, any petticoat that is too long for the skirt will peak out the bottom which, depending on the aesthetic you are aiming for, might be an undesired effect.
2. Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes!
While the childhood song is excellent for teaching young children both coordination and the names of their various body parts, it is important to keep these key areas in mind while constructing a lolita coordinate. In general, you should strive to have something decorating your head to maintain a sense of balance in your outfit. A bare, unadorned head can look a bit light in comparison to the heaviness of the full skirts and ruffles of so many main pieces.
The shoulders should, in general, be covered unless you are aiming for a particular aesthetic like Ero or are channeling a particular historical period with off-the-shoulder bodices. A blouse is not necessary, but something light like a shawl, stole, or bolero are often a nice light way to keep your shoulders covered even on the hottest summer days. The shoulder-covering concept comes largely from Japanese culture where, until recently, it would have been very rare to see a woman with any kind of bare shoulders. Even today in Tokyo you won't see all too many women walking around in the summer with bare shoulders unless they are on the beach.
The knees should be the point you aim to have the ideal lolita skirt hit with a petticoat. For many taller lolitas who wear brand pieces, this is simply not possible as most of the clothes are made for much shorter figures. In general, lolita skirts should be well below mini-skirt range and hovering around the knee. Angelic Pretty has designed a number of different dresses with much shorter skirts with which I would suggest wearing tights or bloomers in case of a particularly strong gust of wind. At the end of the day, the fullness of the skirt is the most important aspect of lolita and as long as the length is reasonable, there is not real reason to nitpick.
Shoes are one of the most free aspects of the lolita aesthetic. You could wear anything from adorable sneakers with a cute punk coord to upscale heels with a more mature classic outfit. Either way, as long as your shoes tie in well with your overall outfit aesthetic, then it is hardly an issue. A few shoe types which are difficult to pull into a successful lolita outfit might be: flip flops, Crocs, or clown shoes. That being said, circus chic could be the new trend and you, dear reader, could be at the forefront of the clown shoe pioneers - who am I to judge?
3. The Importance of Versatility
Perhaps one of the most overlooked challenges of starting out as a lolita is the concept of wardrobe versatility. While it is not often written about, this is perhaps one of the most pivotal forces behind an excellent start in a beginner wardrobe. Because lolita is so often expensive and difficult to acquire, it is imperative that a beginner lolita not only acknowledges her own personal aesthetic and interest in a particular substyle of lolita, but also shops with a mission to build a wardrobe and not to simply buy beautiful things. Of course beauty is at the heart of lolita fashion, but buying pieces that catch your eye on a whim is bound to get a bit tricky in the long run. I did a much longer piece earlier about curating a wardrobe based on various points of interest such as color, cut, and theme, but that is much more suited for a lolita who is well into her style journey. For a beginner lolita I would highly suggest purchasing either JSKs or skirts (or adorable pumpkin breeches and pants for those ouji / kodona enthusiasts) in similar color schemes. JSKs and skirts are the most flexible pieces to coordinate with because they require some sort of blouse or, in the case of JSKs, a shoulder covering. As such, these more minor pieces like blouses and boleros can do most of the legwork in creating a number of different outfits using the same pieces. This is also achieved by layering different pieces whether that is adding a jacket or a waistcoat, or putting a scarf and a fancy belt on over a plain blouse / skirt combo. Either way, by limiting the colors you shop for and picking pieces which have a variety of coordinate possibilities, a beginner lolita is able to get more bang for her buck.
4. Go Offbrand for Minor Pieces
In order to save some money for those gorgeous prints produced regularly by your favorite brands, it is important to take a step back from the brandwagon and look to other sources for the minor pieces of your wardrobe. Blouses are an excellent example of this. While brands have some amazing designs for blouses, they are not necessarily the best source for the beginner lolita with a limited budget to spend on new clothes. One of my favorite sources for adorable blouses, boleros, and cardigans is ModCloth a pioneer in the vintage chic aesthetic. They also have fabulous shoes which are excellent for a classic lolita like myself and I often go window shopping while adding to my long wishlist. Thrifting is another good way to find great quality blouses and tops which will suit your lolita needs without breaking the bank. My biggest suggestion for beginner lolitas is to save your money to spend on big pieces which catch your eye while going bargain hunting for all the odds and ends. Every once in a while you can even find suitable pieces at places like Forever 21 or UNIQLO. Keep your eyes peeled for anything that could fit your wardrobe aesthetic and I can guarantee that you will be rewarded with more money to spend on the pieces you really want.
5. Customize Lolita to Your Personal Aesthetic
At the end of the day, the lolita rulebook is ultimately superfluous. Fashion is about expressing yourself and sharing your personal style with the world. This might mean that you actually come out of your brush with lolita realizing that your own interests are more in line with the aesthetics of fairy kei or cult party kei, but that only means that you're one step closer to finding a style to really suit your needs. Lolita fashion needs to keep its basic silhouette, but anything in between is a free-for-all. Maybe you love wearing pink converse with your AP, or you prefer long underskirts to create a longer leaner line - either way as long as you keep up that full skirt and those feminine flounces, you are as much a lolita as anyone else. Welcome to the tea party - we're all mad here.
Stay strong and beautiful my lovelies~