Fashion is a beast of many backs, layers, flavors and styles. Lolita as a style takes influences from the Rococo/Baroque decadence of the 17th and 18th Century, mixes it with other historical styles popular well into the late 1900s with a modern playfulness. Early modern influences include Vivienne Westwood, Young Edwardian and Gunne Sax – designers from the 1960’s to the late 80s who had touched on whimsical and romantic themes. Lolita is a very romantic fashion in the sense that it looks back to historical fashion, rose glasses squarely placed on the face of it and remixed with modern textiles (such as the plastic jewelry) and an ‘old world’ sensibility (Parasols, Petticoats and bloomers – things that are no longer a staple part of a modern wardrobe).
Taking a look back at this style is a good way to look back at the things that had also inspired Lolita and like Lolita looked to historical influences to create a unique and romantic aesthetic. For some people, these styles are a gateway to Lolita, some can be included into Lolita and some prefer it to Lolita. Retro/Vintage style is unquestionably popular and for some affords a comfortable, relaxed and unique way to dress stylishly in a romantic, adorned and textured dress without the tyranny of the Lolita silhouette.
White Lace dress by Gunne Sax
One of my favorite fashion brands is Gunne Sax (by Jessica McClintock) which during the 1970s popularized the Prairie-Revival and Medieval-Revival look. Essentially responsible for the Puffy-Sleeve craze of most of the 1980s – both leg-o-mutton and puff ball.
Puff sleeves, back bow - look familiar?
Gunne Sax made a lot of formal gowns, wedding dresses as well as party and casual dresses, favoring long and full skirts, puffed sleeves, layering lace, ruffle and trim and fitted bodices for a more ‘princess’ look. The Prairie style was more provincial in its styling, looking a little dirndl like and referencing the floral prints and styles worn by early 20th Century American settlers.
A related label are Young Edwardian for the vintage hunters out there who enjoy a less ‘bohemian’ look and a more 60’s Mod style that is still rather romantic.
Coat by Young Edwardian
In recent years the popularity of the “Maxi” style dress has made it a staple in most modern/mainstream wardrobes. I guess it took normal people a while to remember that long dresses that swoosh in the breeze and as you walk were fun, easy to wear, playfully feminine and stylish things. Unfortunately, most modern “Maxi” dresses are low plunging in their necklines, not full enough in the skirt and with a high waist making those who do have any slight curvature in their figures to look like little sail/salt shaker/chess pieces. Not to mention the choice of prints is rather dire; the look is too ‘modern’ and looses a lot of the charm those previous incarnations of the long dress had.
Long Black, lace overlay Dress by Gunne Sax
If you are looking for Gunne Sax dresses many are available as commercial paper patterns on Etsy (www.etsy.com) and hundreds of dresses, blouses and skirts are for sale on Etsy as well as eBay. Your local vintage store could also potentially have Gunne Sax dresses but do note that they are highly collectible items and some you will have to pay a lot of money for the more sought after dresses.