Sweet, gothic, and classic.
Whether you started out 10+ years ago and read a guide on LJ or joined yesterday and asked someone on FB, people will tell you these are the 3 main substyles of lolita fashion. And yet, with each passing year, it seems classic lolita is more and more irrelevant. One could argue that defining classic as one of the top 3 substyles may be immaterial at this point — and many of us would argue the substyle is in fact dead.
But I'm not here to argue whether or not classic is dead. Rather, I want to talk about factors that have contributed to it being so unpopular, common misconceptions about what classic even is, and what the future of classic lolita might be. While I'll be drawing from facts, a lot of this is just my personal theories, so don't take this as the holy grail opinion on the topic! I'm someone who happens to wear a lot of classic lolita and considers it their main substyle, but I was not active in lolita fashion during the years in which classic brands were most active.
What is classic lolita?
Sometimes I joke that if I had a dollar for every time someone posts a "classic" coord online, only for it to be sweet lolita with florals, I'd be rich. And yet, this is all too common. It's hard to say without sounding like an asshole or elitist but frankly, there seems to be a lack of understanding in the lolita community about what classic lolita actually is. I think this is largely because of the lack of examples or active brands, or the "everything Innocent World releases is pure classic" mentality, but anyway.
|Classic lolita examples.|
Classic lolita can be defined, in my opinion, by 3 main traits.
First: an A-line shape. Pretty much no classic dresses will have the bell/cupcake shape that sweet dresses do.
Second: historical influence. This isn't to say classic lolita is "historically accurate", but that there is a clearer line drawn between classic cuts/motifs and Victorian, or Rococo, or Edwardian styles. This is tangentially related but you will almost never see border prints in classic either. Solids or all-over print fabric is much more common.
Third: Relatively simple styling. OTT classic is a thing but even then, it does not come close to OTT sweet. A lot of classic lolitas I know reuse the same brown shoes a lot, simple blouse, a hat or headdress, plain socks. By normie standards this is really extravagant, of course, but by lolita standards classic lolitas can look pretty plain!
|Florals do not a classic dress make! These are sweet.|
Common mistakes I see are people assuming any floral/antique pattern is automatically classic, or any jewel tones are classic. In reality, classic lolita can come in all colors, including light pink and black. I also see people taking solid dresses with simple styling and call them classic, when the dress they're wearing has like 10 bows, lace and ruffles everywhere. This is technically possible in classic, but 9 times out of 10, a more cutesy, ruffly cut is a sweet dress.
The brands (where are they now?)
The 3 most well-known classic lolita brands are Victorian Maiden, Mary Magdalene, and Innocent World — with a major mention to Juliette & Justine as well. Of these brands, the most active currently are Victorian Maiden and Innocent World.
Victorian Maiden did shut down briefly, only to make a comeback and now are releasing things pretty regularly — though we haven't seen a full return in my opinion. No shoes, much less headwear, and an overall decline in quality (not to say they're terrible, just not quite the same). Most recently, designer Lumi announced her retirement. It's too early to say what impact this will have on the brand, but fingers crossed everything is OK. I do think a few of their newer releases have really scratched the classic itch, notably their recent Antique Rose release. I was also really into the Swan Lake series and am strongly debating getting the OP in black.
Innocent World is very active and has found their niche with older lolitas. They release longer cuts almost exclusively now. They never seem to give their models long enough petticoats, though. Lampshade city. I haven't bought IW new in years, as I find their quality is very much lacking for the price — but almost all their releases sell out, so clearly they have a dedicated audience. Since I'm unsure how much of any design they produce, it's hard to say how much they're selling, but in any case older Japanese Lolitas seem to love them. I can't grumble about this as it's keeping classic alive, but my elitist self can't help but feel like the quality of their materials is not representative of what true classic should be lol. You can judge me if you want. I'm just saying, I bought an apron from them new like 2 years ago and it was riddled with loose threads. I was not impressed.
[I also want to note that a lot of IW releases — the most popular ones, anyway — really toe the line for me. Lotta and Revival Anette are two of their most beloved releases, but both of them read as sweet to me. Toned down, maybe country-inspired sweet, but sweet nonetheless. Totally aware that people will disagree with me on this, but that's just what I think!]
|Often thought of as "the" classic dress — I'm not so sure.|
Mary Magdalene is very likely dead. Even in their heyday, they were comprised of a handful of people designing garments in an apartment in Kyoto (or Osaka? Someone correct me!). MM has been in slow decline for a few years now — they had a preorder for a Farutetto rerelease a few years ago which they didn't end up honoring (they refunded people). Then they had a coat preorder last year which seems to have done well, and those did indeed ship out, but we've heard nothing from them since February 2021. It's depressing, as I think people were excited to welcome them back. I'm particularly heartbroken since I love Mary Magdalene and I think they are quintessentially classic… but their designs have been famously ripped off over the years by Milanoo-type sites. I think newbies to the fashion still fall for those. I always facepalm when I see that — like, in what world could you buy a dress like Ekaterina or Petit Four OP for under 100$? Come on, people!
Juliette & Justine is the brand I know the least about, but they seem to still be active. They're a bit more niche and definitely not for everyone. Personally, I'm not into their painting prints and some of their cuts are straight up weird, lol. Anyway!
Overall unpopularity of classic lolita : The reasons
Regardless of each brand's situation, classic lolita as a whole is much less popular compared to sweet and gothic. When the pandemic first started, the other 2 substyles BOOMED, while classic remained more or less the same. I think there are two main reasons for this, which I'll get into now.
It's no secret that the majority of classic lolita is small. Like, REALLY small. I'm 5"3 and quite thin but I can't fit into most older Victorian Maiden. The average waist on their older releases seems to be around 64-65cm, which as a fully grown 28-year-old man is not an option for me. I suspect this is small for many Japanese women as well! Mary Magdalene is also quite small, most of it unshirred. Basically, classic is the least size inclusive of the 3 substyles. And while there are Taobao brands offering some classic designs, I don't feel like a lot of them nail the "look" of classic lolita in the same way VM and MM do. (For the record, I think gothic isn't that size-inclusive either, but I see less comments to this effect.)
It's sort of a Catch-22, because I think classic brands for the most part didn't take off the way Angelic Pretty did. If you're not selling a lot, it's less likely you'll expand and branch out to larger sizes. But then if they had larger sizes, they might sell more. Hence the Catch-22. But suffice to say the teeny tiny sizing has not helped classic boom in popularity.
Performance on social media
It's cynical, sure, but the reality is classic lolita does not perform as well as sweet or gothic. There is probably another blog post somewhere in this point, but I do think a lot of people in 2021 get into alt fashion for their social media presence, having a cool feed, and so on. OTT sweet and gothic do so much better in this regard! Sweet lolita is the most visible substyle and many people interested in lolita fashion think sweet is the only side of the fashion. Meanwhile, classic lolitas on IG often cater to totally different communities — historical fashion comms, vintage comms, and so on.
Basically, I think lolita fashion in the last few years has become a victim of the Hype. AP releases are more and more competitive, Wunderwelt crashes every time Moitie has a release…and classic just hasn't carried nearly the same amount of anticipation or status. You don't really get the "flex" of owning the newest print. I'm not saying I'm above this — I definitely fall for the Moitie hype, too! But I mean, when is the last time a classic dress has been so sought after that a Victorian Maiden release crashed Wunderwelt?
The current state (and future) of classic
These days, I can probably count on 2 hands the number of people I know who wear classic regularly. A lot of them (most of them) bought their wardrobes years ago. Many of us wait years and years for that elusive rare MM or VM to pop up on a secondhand site. We get wardrobe fillers from vintage stores or non-lolita shops. Next to the other two substyles, it's hard to see any resemblance.
|This poor dress has been replicated so many times. I think a lot of newbies don't even know it's MM!|
To me, it feels like classic lolitas are almost separate from the lolita community in general. Maybe I'm being negative, but it feels like classic lolita ""culture"" is just different — again, much less hype, fewer releases to discuss, more of an affinity with vintage or historical fans.
I think for classic to boom again, we'd need to see brands be more active. We'd need more sizing options. OTT classic would probably be popular over standard classic. These are just my theories, though.
I love classic lolita with a passion and I dearly love the dresses I've found over the years. I'll keep trying to complete my classic wishlist and I'll keep wearing classic even if it totally dies out. This blog post probably seems negative but I write it all because I love classic so much!