A Beginner's Primer on Alternative Fashions

I tend to name-drop a lot of styles on my blog, so I thought I would create a quite, handy guide to the alternative fashion styles that I draw the most inspiration from. It was a tough challenge, but I managed to narrow it down to three main types: lolita fashion, steampunk fashion, and mori girl fashion.

Lolita fashion

Lolita fashion originated in Japan and has been adopted by young women and men all over the world. It blends Victorian, baroque, and rococo fashion influences while heavily emphasizing sweetness and innocence. Some classic basics of a lolita wardrobe are dresses (called "jumperskirts" or "one pieces," words inherited by the Japanese founders of the fashion - one pieces typically have sleeves and are meant to be worn alone, whereas jumperskirts are sleeveless and intended to be worn with a blouse), blouses (available in many styles, but the typical simple lolita blouse has puff sleeves and a peter pan collar), and skirts (within a few inches of knee-length and poofy). However, other necessary items are petticoats, as they hold the skirt up in the proper bell or cupcake shape, bloomers for modesty, a head piece of some kind (hats, bonnets, and headbands are all popular), and leg coverings, such as frilly knee socks or tights. Lolitas have historically been fairly fastidious in following these "rules," though hardcore by-the-book adherence has dropped off in recent years.
As to the lolita fashion aesthetic, types of lolita are broken into substyles of the fashion. While there used to be many official styles focusing aorund one central theme per outfit, many have fallen out of favor or are considered seasonal, such as sailor lolita or pirate lolita. These days, most of those smaller styles have been absorbed by the main three, which are and always have been:

Lolita Substyles - Classic Lolita, Gothic Lolita, Sweet Lolita

There used to be so many substyles of lolita fashion these days that sometimes they'll make your head spin! These days, there are only three main ones. Classic lolita fashion is comprised of muted colors and mature patterns, such as florals; expect to see luxurious or textured fabrics such as chiffon, velvet, and corduroy. Gothic lolita fashion takes a page from typical Western gothic fashion: monochrome looks in black or white are more common these days that those which combine the two, and motifs that pop up in gothic lolita are death imagery like coffins and skulls, religious iconography such crosses, and "creepy" things like bats and spiderwebs. Finally, Sweet lolita fashion is the most iconic form of lolita, and the one that many think of first when they hear the term "lolita." The baby sister of the other styles, sweet lolitas favor pastel or bright colors, childlike motifs such as food, fairytales, or toys, and common accessories are over-the-top handbags or printed knee-high socks. Sweet lolita used to be considered the most popular style, but many lolitas these days tend to lean more towards classic lolita. 


Imagine a future inspired by the steam-powered Victorian era and populated by history- and book-lovers, and you start to understand what steampunk look like. This fashion style is intrinsically rooted in literature, with many citing the work of 19th century science fiction novelists like Jules Verne as inspiration. Because of this, steampunk is iconic for blurring the lines between fashion, lifestyle, and costume; many steampunk aficionados create characters with backstories behind their every outfit, and sometimes even create their own worlds in which their characters interact with others. Steampunk groups are one way that people live out these creations, which can be organized by geographic location, style, or era of inspiration. Common elements of a steampunk outfit are earth tones like brown and cream, antiqued metals in accessories and clothing, and props that suit the "character" or world (goggles are classic, but seem to be falling out of favor a bit).

Steampunk is notably different from the other styles in this list, as it's the only one that originated in the West. Specifically, steampunk seems to be most popular in the United States and Europe, as these are the cultures that are taken as inspiration in the style.

Related styles: Dieselpunk, Atomicpunk, etc.

Just like steampunk draws inspiration from the steam-powered Victorian era, other technologies have inspired subgenres like Dieselpunk, a gritty take on the eras of World War I and II, plus the years in between. Atomicpunk starts where Dieselpunk leaves off, drawing inspiration from the Atomic Age of about the 1950s-60s. There are a whole slew of other "-punk" styles which incorporate a vast ranges of eras, so if there's a specific time period that you're fascinated by, it's fairly likely that other people have felt the same and are already using it as inspiration for their clothing, fiction, and lifestyles. Even if not, there's no reason no to experiment with it yourself!

Mori-Girl / Mori-kei

Derived from the Japanese word for "woods," mori-kei enthusiasts tend to have the look of forest maidens or even hermits with lots of layers and earth tones like cream and brown. Heavy inspiration comes from fairy tales, particularly the Brothers Grimm stories of European descent. This style is one of the few which have an easily-traced history, as it was developed by a small group of girls on the Japanese social networking site Mixi to describe a style they were already wearing. These girls also drafted up a checklist of a mori girl's preferences - everything from hair and beauty to general lifestyle traits that describe followers of the style. Makeup is typically kept natural with blush and light eye makeup, and hair is often worn long and loose with a natural wave. Accessories run the gambit from big scarves/shawls to small, delicate jewelry, and shoe choices typically favor flats and boots over heels. Deconstructed, "shabby chic" styles are common, with antiqued discoloration/tea-dying and sometimes even tears being fashionable. Comfort is the name of them game with mori-girl, hence the long, loose layers and understated beauty style.

Dark Mori

If mori-kei is inspired by the enchanted forest, dark mori dwells in the haunted woods. The same aesthetics as mori girl applies, but with a more twisted gothic air. Instead of creams and browns, black is very common, sometimes with red or white accents. Layers are still long and plentiful, with similar accessory choices as above. Dark mori sometimes features more elaborate makeup than its softer sister, taking inspiration from gothic beauty with heavy liner and pale foundation.

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