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You undoubtedly know of Lolita, the controversial 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov that tells the story of an adult man's relationship with a sexually provocative 12-year-old "nymphet." You're also likely familiar with the Tokyo-born style subculture of the same name that consists of ruffled petticoats, lace hair bows, and pink parasols. And, if you're not part of that scene, you've probably conflated the two. Despite the little-girl attire and coquettish sensibilities, Lolita the style and Lolita the book come from completely different places.
Originating in Japan in the '70s, Lolita fashion was a reaction to the contemporary trend of showcasing a woman's body through formfitting clothing. For women who didn't want to show off their bodies, this was a way to set their own rules about getting dressed, engaging with their clothing, and what was considered a "good" outfit. Small communities grew throughout Tokyo, an industry sprouted up to accommodate demand, and pretty soon, Lolita fashion became renowned beyond the streets of Harajuku.
So, when we found a group of young women in Amsterdam who get together to dress up in Lolita gear, we weren't all that surprised. What did throw us for a loop, though, was how empowering they found it, as more than an activity but an identity and a community. A style subculture created by women, to dress women, and to be admired by women, it's one of very few that remove men from the equation entirely. Our host Asha Leo visits a group of women in The Netherlands who've come across a newfound confidence in a style that's traveled halfway around the world to find them.