Thrills and frills of Lolita

SINGAPORE - Unlike many women her age, Ms Carrie Chia, 23, is not into the latest fashion trends or "It" accessories.

She is into dressing up in frilly Victorian-inspired outfits, complete with accessories such as headdresses and parasols.

She has been a fan of Lolita fashion for the last seven years. Lolita is a form of Japanese sub-culture fashion and is distinguished by its Victorian-inspired looks and often elaborate, intricate garments that incorporate delicate embellishments.

Ms Chia, who works in sales, has about 30 Lolita-style full-length dresses, 20 skirts, 10 blouses and numerous accessories. Most dresses were bought online secondhand or from shops in Japan for between $90 and $190.

She became intrigued by the sub-culture seven years ago after attending a Japanese culture convention here, where she saw a group of girls dressed in Lolita fashion.

She read up about it and was drawn to the attention paid to details, from the lace to the frills to the intricate prints.

She bought her first outfit in 2007. The lavender dress with floral print cost about $60 to $70, which she paid for using her allowance.

These days, she dresses up Lolita- style on some weekends when she meets members of the Lolita community or attends events such as Japanese pop culture conventions.

All her fellow hobbyists are friends she met online and there are about 100 members in their private Facebook group.

She also goes for tea parties organised by these Lolita enthusiasts, who range in age from 16 to 30 years old. Tea parties are held at cafes around Singapore about once in two months.

Sometimes, they meet for movie outings or get together for informal photo shoots at places such as the Botanic Gardens, fully dressed in their elaborate outfits.

"To me, it's not just fashion but a lifestyle," says Ms Chia. "Through this hobby, I meet a lot of people."

She has gotten used to strangers' curious stares when they see her dressed up in public.

Ms Chia, who usually dresses in a more conservative style for work, recalls: "When I first wore Lolita out, it was quite nerve-racking. Some people commented on my dress so I was really self-conscious."

She has been called names such as Sailor Moon and Little Bo Peep.

If there is one misconception that Ms Chia would like to correct, it is this - cosplay and Lolita fashion are not the same thing.

She says: "Cosplay is the expression of a certain character and Lolita is just a kind of fashion."

Her parents frown upon her costly hobby - her most expensive dress set her back about $470. Its steep price was due to the amount of details on it.

Ms Chia says she finances her hobby by reselling her pieces online. Reselling is a common practice within the Lolita community. She adds that during Christmas and Halloween, the appropriately themed dresses and accessories sell especially well.

She usually sells her clothes for about 70 per cent of the original price, depending on the condition and rarity.

"Once you start to buy and sell, you don't actually lose that much. Sometimes, you can even get money back because of the rarity of some items."

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This article was first published on September 27, 2014.
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