Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lolita Treatise On Garments As Communal Property

Jake and Dinos Chapman, This is Worse, (2003)
There is an interesting phenomenon in the lolita community which creates quite a bit of controversy over issues which, in many other fashions, simply do not exist. Everything from outrage over altering brand to the common 'this fatty-chan is stretching my dream dress' secrets on Behind the Bows stems from the overarching idea that brand items are somehow also communal property as much as they are in the possession of a particular individual. I think that the major factors contributing to this widespread phenomenon are: the association of the culture with the material objects, prints as art, and lolita as a collective experience. Although these are certainly not the only factors which contribute, they are the largest or what I believe to be the most general and ingrained. As such, these factors are habits which are difficult to break which causes many of the pitchfork mobs to grow in number with otherwise neutral lolitas in response to occurrences of 'rule-breaking' or 'sacrilegious acts'.

Perhaps the strongest factor in creating the communal property culture within the lolita fashion community is the idea that the style has its own culture which is linked directly to the material items which power the fashion. Unlike many general styles of dress, lolita has its own language and culture associated with it. As such, the history, and continuance of the culture rests upon the preservation of the objects which are seen as having some sort of cultural value. Not unlike museums, the wardrobes of older lolitas often hold pieces which are held in very high regard whether due to their rarity, iconic style, or price. Because lolita dresses are made in such small numbers, these items have an attached value of being relatively difficult to obtain. Later brand releases have come with a reservation process of made-to-order such that the quantity is no longer quite so limited, but this does not keep lolitas from sniping at one another over alterations. Lolita dresses are seen as the foundation for the community and therefore have a sort of sacred aura around them. You don't have to be a gothic lolita to appreciate a beautiful Iron Gate, and more than a few rather neutral lolitas would be aghast to hear that an Iron Gate owner fashioned the OP into a salopette or a pair of boyshorts.

In order to justify the prices charged, many brands have trumpeted the idea that prints are unique pieces of art and on which you are spending most of your money. We live in a society that values art and no one finds it to be strange that someone would be willing to pay millions of dollars for a Van Gogh. Similarly, many lolitas do not bat an eyelash at $200, $300, and upwards price tags on new releases with a particularly lovely print. They see their purchase as a sort of investment and should that new print become the next Iron Gate, well they'll be sure to make some money should they ever opt to sell. I have met many lolitas who adore Mary Magdalene's Perfume Bottle series and for many classic lolitas it is a dream print. Perhaps its the amazing art by Sakizo, or the fact that it was Mary Magdalene's first non-floral print, but whatever the reason, this series is held in very high regard.

The final factor in establishing lolita dresses as communal property comes from the very idea that lolita fashion is essentially a collective experience. It is often touted that the most fulfilling lolita lives are those which are lived in the company of other lolitas hence the very existence of local communities. Lolita has become more of a community fashion in recent years with the steady rise in tea parties, conventions, and events around the world. More and more lolitas are encouraged to get involved, to model, to host, to teach panels, and create a culture of group experience and growth. As such, the fashion becomes about more than just the individual and more than a few lolita resources have urged budding lolitas to become knowledgeable about the fashion not only for themselves, but so that they may properly educate the masses. Lolita is shared and it has grown out of its humble backyard tea party beginnings into something much larger and unified than ever before.

Though I am a staunch supporter of the altering brand movement, I would be quite sad to see a Perfume Bottle piece go under the knife. Why is that? I believe that because the fashion encourages the idea of "dream dresses" or "dream prints" we perpetuate this idea that certain lolitas love and even deserve these pieces perhaps more than the people that currently own them. As such, for someone to alter a garment we see it as an admission that said individual doesn't love the piece enough to own it when another lolita would be perfectly happy with the garment as-is.

This idea is ridiculous when you really think about it, but it is fairly common in the art world as well. In 2003 the art world was stirred into a frenzy when Jake and Dinos Chapman presented their collection Insult to Injury. The pair had acquired one of the few complete sets of Goya's prints from the original plates in existence and had drawn over and altered them with grotesque clown and animal heads. People were outraged and that was essentially the point. Insult to Injury brought into question the rights of art owners and the idea of cultural preservation, heritage, and art stewardship. The debate never truly reached a conclusion and I don't believe that lolita fashion will either. While I think it is important to acknowledge the rights of the owner who bought and paid for the items, I believe that there is a kind of cultural value in many of the prints and pieces. That being said, unless we establish a museum of lolita fashion, the stewardship of the subculture's history falls into the hands of individuals. Don't like the idea of anyone altering brand? Then you'd best collect as many pieces as you can! The race is on ladies and gentlemen. Who will win will be determined entirely by financial means and a dash of luck. To buy or not to buy? That is the question.

What do you think? Share in the comments below!

Until next time, stay strong and beautiful, my lovelies,

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