Monday, January 21, 2019

Ten years later: Just be yourself

“Lolitas do not recognize any authority. They follow only the values they have chosen for themselves, regardless of what anybody might say.” 

― Novala Takemoto, Kamikaze Girls

New York is where you find yourself, which for me was discovering Lolita fashion.  Since I was in high school I was always fascinated by the bell-shaped skirts and lace-trimmed bonnets that were clearly inspired by another time (but still entirely unique).  I could never fathom wearing something so outrageous down the street let alone meeting people who actually wore the fashion. Staring at the Baby, Stars Shine Bright website to distract me from college essays was enough.  I could never bring myself to think to wear clothes like that in real life. 

Then I moved to New York for various reasons: the probability of a job was higher, closer to my boyfriend (now husband), to get away from my parents and finally be the adult you're supposed to be (whatever that was).  Of course, moving to the big city after a childhood in the suburbs can be an overwhelming experience and you're not sure how to survive alone.  You drift to what you're comfortable with - which ends up to be anime and fashion.  In the early ideas of New York Anime Festival, I was able to talk to people who loved to dress up and discover that they were just regular people who wanted to express themselves.  It fascinated me; it also made me curious. What compels people to wear such elaborate clothes that was clearly different from cosplay. Who are actually these people? How much confidence do you need to be so cool?

In the end, they were just people who loved to dress up no matter the day or the occassion.

I had those qualms like everyone else:
"Am I too old to dress up?"
"It's so expensive"
"People will look at me funny."
"What will happen once I get married/have kids."

Once I acquired my first job (after a year of nothing!) I knew exactly what to spend it on.  It was an In the Starlight skirt with cats on it and a petticoat. At the time $100 was crazy amount. I still thought the skirt was crazy.  At first I just hung out with friends, feeling comfortable in numbers.  But we're in New York, so eventually I wanted to venture out alone.  I wanted to prove to this city I exist; that I am my own creative, unique individual.  I can be just like that old school punk in Grand Central. Going out alone for the first time I had real confidence.  Not in others but myself.  People strangely opened doors for me. They never looked at me funny; in fact just compliments but rarely pictures.  They respected it (for the most part).  It's cool.  No big deal.  New York is filled with crazy stuff.  That's what makes New York, New York. 

The rest is history - I was on the road to finding that "real you."  Lolita fashion was no longer seen as a costume; it was just clothes that expressed who I wanted to be on the inside.  I created this website.  I read Lolita and found nothing but a good read. I started an Etsy shop that combines both a love of crochet and Lolita and the like. I held a 101 panel at a convention. I adopted a cat (and lost one a year and half later).  Some of those "weird people" are now friends I hold dear. That's what living in New York is all about. We are all living in New York trying to survive and trying to find our true selves. 

The NYC Lolita community is no different. There are more of us than in 2008. A lot more.  There's are actually stores you can shop in now.  No shopping service to translate Japanese, except for the truly elusive item.  Everything is much more accessible to the new generation it makes me jealous. We all love this weird frilly fashion and that is our bond.  Lolita can be seen as armor, to protect you from people who cannot see the way you do.  It is also a calling card to those that do. I see it as bringing out your confidence and true potential.  It's that wellspring of confidence that you gravitate to like a moth to a flame. It is the same with living in New York City. 

New York hardens you a bit. Whether you have been here all your life or you've come to experience the big city, in order to survive this city you have to make it work for you. Otherwise it will chew you up, tumble you in an overheated lint-filled dryer,  and wait an incredibly long time before spitting you out. It's a constant hustle. You'll feel lost a lot and forget why you want to be here - but then you'll pull out a beloved print and forget all those feelings just for a moment.

Lolita, and overall alternative fashion, hardens you a bit more. It helps you find that piece of yourself that inspires you to improve, to create, to grow as a person.  It also helps you thicken your skin to insults and misunderstandings. Only you can dictate who you want to be.

If after a decade you are still figuring things out that's ok.  If you are starting to feel a little bit lost, that's ok too.  If you have to let go, let go.

Most of all, remember not to stop whether you're graduating from wearing Lolita or are still loving every minute of it.  Once you've found what you truly love (what's true to you), keep going forward and never, ever look back.

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