Lolita fashion, new media, and cultural hegemony in contemporary Japan



How to Cite

Shuai, Z. “Lolita Fashion, New Media, and Cultural Hegemony in Contemporary Japan”. Mutual Images Journal, no. 9, Dec. 2020, pp. 67-88, doi:10.32926/2020.9.shu.lolit.


This article seeks to present Lolita fashion, which emerged in Japan during the 1980s, as a case study in performed, postmodern identities that are negotiated through consumerism. Opening with a broad stroke introduction to Lolita fashion, with regard to its principal characteristics and its cultural origins, the article attempts to examine the Lolita phenomenon using a variety of theoretical tools and approaches. Firstly, the article considers Lolita fashion in the light of Antonio Gramsci's notion of cultural hegemony. I assert that Lolita fashion might usefully be read as a place of rupture or resistance against the orthodox hegemony of Japan's historically collectivist culture, one that provides its users with an alternate set of social values, particularly when it comes to traditional notions of femininity. Next, I lean, particularly, on Stuart Hall's ideas about modernity, and consider the question of agency, with regard to Lolita fashion, and attempt to locate the impetus for it, not in multinational fashion houses, but the participants of Lolita subculture themselves. In a third section, I go on to problematise that agency, drawing on John Storey's cultural theory work. While it is a commonplace to attribute the rise of a totalising, contemporary mass culture to the digital revolution, Storey locates a potential for new meanings to be generated, not so much within the act of buying - for that is largely determined by the market - but in what he calls the 'production in use' of those goods. The fashion adage, 'It's not what you wear, but how you wear it' seems to ring particularly true in Lolita fashion, and I explore that idea further with an in-depth, textual analysis of a select image. I conclude by considering Lolita fashion's exportation, out of Japan and into a globalised marketplace, and the signification thereof.


ARNOLD, REBECCA (eds) (2018), 30-Second Fashion. London: Ivy Press.

BARTHES, ROLAND (2014), Mythologies. Paris: Points.

BARTLETT, DJURDJA - COLE, SHAUN - ROCAMORA, AGNÈS (2018), Fashion media: Past and present. London: Bloomsbury.

BAUDRILLARD, JEAN (2014), Simulacra and simulation. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

BERGER, JOHN (1972), Ways of seeing: Based on the BBC television series with John Berger. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

BLAUERSOUTH, LISA (2011), Wherein the Author Documents Her Experience as a Porcelain Doll. Mechademia: Second Arc. Vol. 6. pp. 312-6.

BREWARD, CHRISTOPHER (2014), Fashion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

ÇOBAN, SAVAŞ (2018), Media, ideology and hegemony. Leiden: Brill.

COULDRY, NICK (2011), More sociology, more culture, more politics: Or, a modest proposal for "convergence" studies. Cultural Studies, 25(4-5), pp. 487-501.

CRANE, DIANA (2009), Fashion and its social agendas: Class, gender and identity in clothing. Johanneshov: TPB.

DEBORD, GUY (2016), Society of the spectacle. Detroit: Black & Red.

DOAK, KEVIN (2014), History of nationalism in modern Japan: Placing the people. Boston: BRILL.

FEATHERSTONE, MIKE (2014), Consumer culture and postmodernism. Los Angeles: Sage.

FRASER, PAMELA - ROTHMAN, ROGER (2018), Beyond critique: Contemporary art in theory, practice, and instruction. London: Bloomsbury Arts.

GAGNÉ, ISAAC (2008), Urban princesses: Performance and "women's language" in Japan's gothic/Lolita subculture. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 18(1), pp. 130-150.

GOODMAN, ROGER - IMOTO, YUKI - TOIVONEN, TUUKKA (2012), A sociology of Japanese youth: From returnees to NEETs. London: Routledge.

GRAMSCI, ANTONIO (1971), Selections from the Prison Books, trans. Q. Hoare and G. N. Smith. New York: International Publishers.

HALL, STUART (2011), Modernity: An introduction to modern societies. Malden: Blackwell.

HALL, STUART (2013), Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices. London: Sage.

HEBDIGE, DICK (2013), Subculture. Florence: Taylor and Francis.

KAWAMURA, YUNIYA (2006), Japanese teens as producers of street fashion. Current Sociology, 54(5), pp. 784-801.

KAWAMURA, YUNIYA (2013), Fashioning Japanese subcultures. Oxford: Berg.

LOLITA (1962), produced by James B. Harris, United States, Metro-Gold-Mayer, 152 minutes.

LANGLOIS, GANAELE (2013), Participatory culture and the new governance of communication: The paradox of participatory media. Television & New Media, 14(2), pp. 91-105.

LISTER, MARTIN (2010), New media: A critical introduction. London: Routledge.

MCVEIGH, BRIAN J. (2000), How Hello Kitty commodifies the cute, cool, and camp: "Consumtopia" versus "control" in Japan. Journal of Material Culture, 1, pp. 291-312.

NABOKOV, VLADIMIR (1955). Lolita. London: Penguin.

NAKAMURA, FUYUBI - PERKINS, MORGAN - KRISCHER, OLIVIER, ET AL. (2013), Asia through art and anthropology: Cultural translation across borders. London: Bloomsbury.

PETRI, ALEXANDRA (2016), Hello Kitty is not a cat. Everything is a lie. [Online] Washington Post. Available from: (accessed 12 Dec. 2020).

PILCHER, TIM (2009), Erotic Comics - A Graphic History, vol. 2. London: Skylight Edition.

PROWN, JULE DAVID (1982), Mind in matter: An introduction to material culture theory and method. Winterthur portfolio, 17(1), pp. 1-19.

RAHMAN, OSMUD (2011), Lolita: Imaginative self and elusive consumption, Fashion Theory, 15(1), pp. 7-27.

ROSE, GILLIAN (2012), Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. London: SAGE.

ROTTEN TOMATOES (2011), Sucker Punch - Movie Reviews. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Dec. 2020].

SAID, EDWARD (2003), Orientalism. London: Penguin.

SCOTT, JOHN (2014), A dictionary of sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

STOREY, JOHN (2019), Cultural theory and popular culture: A reader. London: Routledge.

VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM (2018), Lolita fashion: Japanese street style. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Nov 2018].

WINGE, THERESA (2008), Undressing and dressing Loli: A search for the identity of the Japanese Lolita. Mechademia, 3(1), pp. 47-63.

YOSHINAGA, MASAYUKI - ISHIKAWA, KATSUHIKO (2007), Gothic and Lolita. London: Phaidon Press.

YOUNG, JAMES O. (2010), Cultural appropriation and the arts. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2020 Ziwei Shuai