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.
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