Given the many common elements between lolita fashion and 1950’s fashion, it’s unsurprising how many wear both styles. Retro lolita is very feminine and can lean more sweet or more classic to match your usual lolita style. And the best part? You can probably do it with what you already have! Or if you don’t, those pieces could also match your primary lolita style.
Oh, you thought there was just one kind of retro lolita? Think again!
When thinking of 1950’s fashion, you could divide it into more cutesy and more elegant. Similarly, your coordinates could be influenced by either of these. Depending on what lolita substyle you’re more comfortable with, you might need to approach retro lolita differently.
If you prefer sweet style, then you will probably like cutesy daywear-inspired outfits more. Think American diners, picnics, kitschy prints, cheesecake pin-up and bright, bold colours. On the other hand, if classic is more you, then ladylike eveningwear-inspired style will be a better match. It is more elegant and sophisticated, like Dior’s New Look, with pearl necklaces and opera gloves.
Both of these take inspiration from the same fashion period. Thus both can be retro, even if they achieve a different tone to a lolita coordinate. Pinpointing which one you’d like to wear will help you fine tune the details.
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of this substyle then. Sweet retro lolita is a more playful and colourful look. There are a few common themes here, which you should look out for in prints. These are: diners, food prints (especially cherries and cupcakes), nautical motifs and anything slightly on the kitschy side. If it gives you a retro poster or advertisement vibe, then you’ve hit the nail on the head.
Many of Metamorphose’s prints fit that category really well. From denim pieces like Telephone Print to sugary sweet ones like Dreaming Heart Lemon, their aesthetic encapsulates a lot of what sweet retro lolita is about. Of course, you can find suitable pieces from other brands. Some have obvious retro references, while some simply work with that style. Angelic Pretty’s Diner Doll is a great example of the former, while cute aprons and maid headdresses – of the latter. But be careful with how you work maid-style pieces into your coordinate. It’s easy to lose the retro element and make it look too much like an anime maid. Sticking to a retro-inspired colour palette, silhouette, hair and makeup will ensure you stay on the right tracks.
If an evening at the opera is more you than baking cupcakes and making lemonade, try classic retro lolita. Just like Dior’s New Look, this is more about the shape and fine details than prints. As such it’s best to look for solid pieces in simple cuts. As a classic lolita, you probably already have some that fit this brief perfectly. Having said this, you can certainly make use of simple patterns and some prints. Tartans, stripes and florals are excellent for both elegant daytime and evening retro outfits. Since this style relies less on bold prints, pay more attention to silhouette, colours, hair and makeup. Those will give your coordinate those much needed retro touches, without which it would just be a classic lolita look.
Brands like Innocent World and Victorian Maiden instantly come to mind when looking for this style. Many of their dresses have very few or very subtle details and they already draw inspiration from retro fashions. Similarly, brands like Excentrique or Sheglit, which aren’t strictly lolita, will have pieces that are just right for this style. As always though, you don’t have to forego your favourite brands to achieve the look. Pay attention to dress cuts and, where possible, go for A-line over bell shaped and you’re onto a winner.
The easiest way to achieve a retro feel to your coordinate is through hair and makeup. Luckily, the sheer diversity of retro hairstyles means that you can find something to suit everyone. Whether you opt for pincurls and victory rolls or something simple with a vintage headpiece, it can instantly add that retro flair to your outfit. Together with retro-inspired makeup you can transform a plain coordinate into something more 1950’s-esque. And with the right colour scheme a winged black eyeliner and bold red lip can change everything.
If you’re new to vintage hair and makeup, make sure to do plenty of research. The more iconic looks aren’t always the simplest, so practice a lot and don’t give up. Personally, I recommend Cherry Dollface and A Vintage Vanity YouTube channels for easy tutorials. However, you can also find plenty of inspiration on Pinterest, Instagram and even in vintage and rockabilly magazines. Look out for beauty salons specialising in vintage looks, since they may host workshops and taster sessions. You may find leaflets for those in your local vintage shops and at fairs, as well as through social media.
Luckily for you, the colours and patterns that commonly occur in retro and vintage fashion are also popular in lolita. You can never go wrong with red, white and blue or red, white and black colour palettes. Sometimes just having a well-balanced outfit in such a tricolour scheme can make it feel more retro. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to entirely forgo pastels or other colours.
One way around this is to focus on patterns instead. As well as simple non-printed pieces you can get polka dots, ginghams, houndstooth, florals, tartans and more. For now forget prints until you decide which kind of retro lolita you’d like to attempt. However, the overlap between lolita and 1950’s fashion really is wide. Take advantage of that to find pieces that will complement and work with both styles. And don’t forget to make it match the rest of your lolita wardrobe too.
Although lolita silhouette isn’t the same as that from the 1950’s, it is similar, which can help. Fashion in the 1950’s typically, though not exclusively, focused on a nipped in waist with a wide circle skirt. This is generally quite close to an A-line lolita main piece.
If you want to achieve a retro lolita look through silhouette, focus on accentuating your waist. Pick cuts that sit nearer to or on your natural waist. These will instantly draw attention to the smallest part of your body. However, belts, corsets, tightly tied waist ties, or corset lacing can also help to nip it in if necessary. A different way to make your waist look smaller it by making your shoulders appear a little wider. That will trick the eye into giving you that hourglass shape. Biker jackets can pad your shoulders a little and have been back in lolita favours recently.
Lastly, consider getting a halter neck JSK. This cut resembles the 1950’s and rockabilly dresses quite closely, making it easier to achieve the look. Note, however, that rockabilly dresses will not work for lolita. Some halter neck lolita JSKs can be worn in a 1950’s way, but it won’t work the other way round. Not without a lot of experience in both fashion and possibly some heavy tinkering with the original piece. Rockabilly and vintage dresses are made with a different style and aesthetic in mind, regardless of any similarities. Besides, just like with lolita fashion, a good quality rockabilly dress costs a bit more than high street clothes. For that money you could purchase a great lolita dress second hand from shops like Wunderwelt. Keep rockabilly dresses for rockabilly outfits.
This is the best part of retro lolita: you can find the majority of your accessories locally! This will make things like colour matching or getting the right fit much easier, as well as cheaper. At least by the cost of postage, since quality vintage items can still cost a fair bit. With the resurgence of popularity of retro fashion, you can also rely on vintage reproduction companies for these things. Whether you’re going thrifting, attending a vintage fair or still shopping online, you are bound to find something that works.
Sweet retro lolitas can let themselves loose and have fun with all the kitschy things. Colourful plastic jewellery and brooches can add charm to your look in seconds. As so can bags and purses. If you live in a chillier climate, consider getting a selection of cropped cardigans. These would also allow you to change up the look of OPs, which notoriously have fewer coordinating options than JSKs.
On the other hand, classic retro lolitas should search for elegant pieces that make you look like a lady. Vintage hats are perfect hair accessories and you can use them to show inspirations from other fashion eras. Use stoles and shawls to add extra elegance or instead of a blouse on particularly warm occasions. Another must have are gloves. Short or long, they come in all kinds of fabric and suitable for all budgets. And just like with lolita, avoid costume shop gloves, as these are too low quality to work. Lastly, a string of pearls is a must and these days you can get one anywhere. Consider buying a bunch of beads and having a crafty evening if you’re on a very tight budget.
Of course, since lolita already takes so much inspiration from retro fashion, you can use your lolita pieces too. From jewellery to cardigans and winter coats, mix and match pieces between these styles. Vintage fashion isn’t as strict on colour matching as lolita. A touch of mishmash in your coord can make it feel a little bit more authentic to the period.
Like I said at the beginning, plenty of lolitas are also into vintage fashion and often mix them together. Follow the retro lolita tag on Instagram to see both styles and vintage lolita for some extras. For more specific inspiration, I suggest following LotVDesigns. She does a great mix of both kinds of retro lolita and is my personal favourite. Lolitas like Petit_Piaf and FannyRosie tend to lean more classic with their styling. On the other end of the spectrum are Queran_Ruffles and Lacy_Dottie, whose coords range from quirky to pin-up-esque. However, none of the above wear exclusively retro lolita – or even exclusively lolita for that matter. Last but not least, remember that practice makes perfect. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find a retro lolita look that suits you. And then share it with us on Alice Holic!